I have been a public educator in a nearby community with an elected board of education for the last 15 years, and therefore have been personally and professionally affected by the policies that board has set for the school system to which I am extremely dedicated. I am also a Montclair public school parent. While I won’t pretend to know the right answer for the future of Montclair public schools, I wish to offer my perspective to the Montclair public. I do not believe that changing from an appointed to an elected board system will alleviate any of the issues that the school system currently faces.  

Both Type I and Type II districts lack a credible and transparent system for vetting qualified potential school board candidates. In the elected vs. appointed school board forum presented by Montclair Local, Sergio Gonzalez and Diane Anglin argued against an appointed board on the grounds that the mayor’s process for selecting new members is not transparent. They refer to the appointment system as a “secret society” funded by “dark money,” and subject to the whims of the mayor’s office.

On the other hand, an elected board of education system guided by the New Jersey School Boards Association sets very few requirements for potential candidates beyond the ability to read and write, possess U.S. citizenship, and establish one year of residency in the community. There is also a nominating petition period, but state law requires school board candidates to gather signatures of only 10 qualified voters in their district, including themselves. This ensures only that a candidate has the support of nine other "concerned citizens." Overall, a potential candidate may be concerned about how the school system is functioning, and may have some opinions on how to improve the system, but this process does not ensure that this candidate is well-informed or even well-intended in making these decisions.  

My experience as a teacher in a public school has made me very aware that the public often has great power to express its opinion but not necessarily the professional experience or due diligence to turn those opinions into viable strategic plans that will guide the future of a school district in a responsible way. To illustrate my point, I attended a board of education meeting in my district this past summer where a “concerned citizen” addressed the board to express his opinion against the mask mandate put into place by Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday, Aug. 9.  He argued that masks are not an effective precaution against COVID-19, and that they have caused psychological harm to his children who are students in the district. He supplied no research nor materials to support his findings, but he did have enough signatures to procure candidacy for a board of education seat. The “concerned citizens” in this community who signed his petition will make a decision on him in the Nov. 2 election.  

Let us remember not to overinflate the opinions of concerned citizens and disregard the real issue — ensuring quality candidates in our existing system. 

Katie Toledano


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