People are talking about it at the bus stop, at cocktail parties, bumping into each other at Bluestone or downtown. It’s an issue people feel strongly about, even if they haven’t taken a side or decided which way to vote. The appointed-vs.elected board debate sparks a lot of opinion. Last Thursday, in a letter to the Montclair Times, Newsweek columnist and Montclair parent Jonathan Alter came out in favor of continuing Montclair’s 60-plus year tradition of an appointed board. In recent days, both sides have sent out press releases, further defining their stance on the issue, and both offer more information on their websites: Appointed Board Coalition and ElectThe Board.
The Appointed Board Coalition asserts that it would be difficult to elect a diverse board, because voter turnout for school board elections is very low — about 12% to 15% of registered voters. Additionally, they assert that since candidates need only 10 signatures to get on the ballot, compared to 275 to run for an at-large seat on the Montclair Town Council, it will attract single-issue candidates.
The Elected Board supporters cite Roger Terry and Renee Baskerville, the newest members in a decades long history of African-Americans elected to council, as evidence that a diverse elected BOE can be achieved (Terry received the most votes of any candidate during the last election). Baskerville had previously lost a seat as an appointed member of the BOE, when Remsen did not reappoint her in 2007, despite a public outcry. Based on her popularity in the recent council election, would she have kept her BOE seat if an elected BOE system was in place?
Both sides will also meet in town council chambers in Tuesday, October 20, for a special forum on the issue. We’d like to take your pulse now — and after the 20th — on this issue. Go the web sites and read the arguments. Then, weigh in, letting us know if you are undecided, or if you’ve made a choice. Tell us in comments how you’ll vote — and why.