Notes from Montclair school board committee meetings often not shared with public
The Montclair Board of Education regularly approves and shares board meeting minutes. But the details of its committee meetings — the entities that do much of the board’s gruntwork — are not as readily available.
While the board is not required to share minutes from its committee meetings and no formal action is taken at the meetings, calls for transparency in the district during the 2021-22 school year have asked for more insight into the board’s decision-making processes. Discussions about staffing, student curriculum, building improvements and more take place in committee meetings.
As of Friday, there are 27 committee meeting reports posted to the district’s website. The reports, representing six of the board’s eight committees, cover meetings between June 2021 and July 2022.
The district website also lists meeting schedules for the committees, showing each committee has planned to meet at least once each month. If all six of the committees active during the 2021-22 school year met once a month since June 2021, there would have been 90 committee meetings during that time.
The compiling and posting process of committee meeting reports is not clear — whether there are guidelines, timelines or any internal policies in place to dictate how the reports are to be shared.
Board president Latifah Jannah said Friday she would be working with the committee chairs to ensure committee meeting reports are posted. The committee meeting schedule for the 2022-23 school year is also being updated and will be available soon, she said.
Allison Silverstein, chair of the board’s communications committee, has not yet responded to emails sent to her board address since Wednesday with questions about the reports and the posting process.
The board has eight committees, according to appointments made at the board’s June 20 meeting: Board of School Estimate, culture and climate, communications, finance and facilities, policy, personnel, budget and curriculum, special education and technology. There is also a calendar subcommittee.
Montclair’s Board of School Estimate, the body charged with voting on the school district's capital improvements in Type I systems in the state, was eliminated last November when Montclair voters approved changing the school district from a Type I system to a Type II system. Under the Type II system, bonds for capital projects are placed before voters through referendums, as the district plans to do in November for a $188 million capital improvement plan to repair and upgrade Montclair school district facilities.
The culture and climate committee has one committee report posted on the website from a March 2022 meeting. The communications committee has seven reports on the website from meetings between June 2021 and March 2022. The finance and facilities committee has five reports posted, from meetings between June and December 2021. The personnel committee has four reports posted, from meetings between October 2021 and May 2022. The policy committee has four reports posted, from meetings between July 2021 and July 2022. The curriculum, special education and technology committee has six reports posted from meetings between July and December 2021.
The committees have met more frequently than the posted reports imply. Committee chairs provide verbal updates each month at board meetings. The most recent updates were provided at the board’s June 1 meeting. Committee updates before that were provided at the board’s May 4, April 6, March 2, Feb. 2 and Jan. 5 meetings.
In preparation for the November bond referendum, the finance and facilities committee met frequently in the spring, according to comments by committee chair Eric Scherzer at board meetings earlier this year. But the committee’s last posted board report is from a Dec. 6, 2021 meeting.
The district has employed three different business administrators and board secretaries during the past year, which may contribute to the inconsistencies — board members have not responded to questions about why reports have not been posted.
Former business administrator Nicholas Cipriano, appointed in August 2021, was replaced by an acting business administrator in April. Cipriano was present at the March 2 Board of Education meeting, but he has not been at any board meetings since. He last responded to an email from Montclair Local on March 3, regarding school board election results.
The district appointed its current business administrator Christina Hunt at its July 13 meeting.
The district is in the process of hiring an executive director of communications and community engagement. One of the director’s tasks will be supporting and assisting board leaders by “facilitating intentional communications among the board, the administration, the district community and the media.”
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