Tensions over meeting dates arise at Montclair BOE meeting
By ERIN ROLL
Wednesday night's board of education meeting was Kendra Johnson's first as superintendent, and several board and audience members took a moment to wish her welcome.
However, the meeting got off to a tense start, with BOE President Laura Hertzog and board member Eve Robinson having a disagreement over what led to three members being absent from Johnson’s confirmation meeting in April.
Johnson was confirmed as superintendent during a special BOE meeting on April 11. Three board members - Robinson, Jessica de Koninck and Anne Mernin - had been absent from that meeting.
Before Johnson made her opening remarks as superintendent, Robinson asked to say a few words, first taking a moment to congratulate Johnson on her appointment.
“I want to make clear that it was never my intention to skip, or not attend, a meeting of such importance, as has been said. I simply was not afforded the opportunity to attend this hastily called meeting, a meeting organized with the knowledge that three of the seven board members could not attend,” Robinson said.
She said that it was “surprising” to see a tape of the April 11 meeting and see it suggested that the board members chose not to be present. “Nothing could be less accurate than that,” she said. She said that she had a prior obligation that could not be rescheduled, and that the board did not notify members of the meeting date until the preceding Sunday.
She added, “When three of seven board members are unable to attend a meeting, how does the blame fall on those who did not attend?”
Hertzog apologized to Johnson before making a statement of her own, which gave a different account of events from what Robinson had described.
She said that on March 28, the board was advised of the forthcoming special meeting to confirm Johnson, and the board made the decision to have the confirmation prior to the next scheduled meeting on April 16. “That was clearly discussed with every single one of the seven members of this board,” she said. At no time on March 28 or the week following, she said, did any member tell her that they had a conflict between March 29 and April 16. “At no time,” she emphasized.
She further alleged that three board members did not respond to an email that she had sent with two alternative meeting dates. She sent a follow-up text on April 8, and it was on that evening, she said, that three board members told her that they would not be available. And the reasons for cancelling, she said, included dinner plans.
Hertzog said that since then, there had been suspicion building in the community that the board had tried to shut out some of its members, a suspicion that was unfounded.
“I apologize, Dr. Johnson, the floor is yours,” she finished.
“And welcome to the district,” board member Joe Kavesh said.
Prior to becoming superintendent, Johnson served as the district's assistant superintendent for equity, curriculum and instruction.
During the BOE meeting, Johnson announced that the district would be holding a “listening session” with the public later in the month.
Members of the Robotics Club came to the microphone to talk briefly about the upcoming Robot Petting Zoo on May 12. It was also announced that one of the club members, Serena Wurmser, had just been selected to participate in a prestigious internship with NASA this summer.
This is a developing story. Follow the Montclair Local for more information.