UPDATE: Board Vice President Shelley Lombard contacted Barista Kids to respond publicly, on behalf of herself, on the Council’s vote to deny the Board access to its shared server.
“We really need to understand how our system was breached and learn about its security. We keep highly confidential data on that server, if there was a security breach, we need to know.” She added that since the Township shares a server with the district, “I don’t know how they’re so confident that their own security hasn’t been compromised.”
On some of the council members decision to vote against access, she said, “I cannot understand how two heads of teacher’s unions and an MFEE employee, don’t appreciate the importance of protecting data of our children and keeping student confidentiality.”
At last night’s Township Council meeting, which included the closed session meeting of the Montclair Board of Education and the council regarding the investigation of assessments leaks, the council publicly voted to deny the Board access to a network joint server as part of the assessment leak investigation 5-2, with only Mayor Jackson and First Ward Councilman Bill Hurlock voting in favor of allowing them access.
Councilor Hurlock explained his vote to Barista Kids, “From my standpoint, I didn’t think that there was a basis for us to proclude the BoE access for entrance into a jointly shared server. Much like, in the future, if the Council or municipal services, needed to get access.” He added, “I think they’re entitled to access on their own server.”
Deputy Mayor Robert Russo said he voted against allowing the Board access because, “It’s time to move on, stop spending time and mounting legal fees, and end the divisive conflict in town over these tests. Let’s focus on teaching and healing our community.”
Third Ward Councilor Spiller replied, “”The decision to deny access was driven by the unfortunate fact that this issue has pitted neighbor against neighbor and has created a divide in our community. A majority of us on the Council simply felt that as leaders, it is time to look for ways to come together. This current process seems only to be pushing families further apart from one another and solutions further away.”
The district and Township’s data are on a shared server, but is separated except for archived emails. The network administrator is Alan Benezra, a former computer science teacher at Montclair High School, who now resides in Boulder, Colorado, but still holds the position he was given many years ago from the district. His salary is paid for 95% by the BoE and 5% by the Township.
According to Board President Robin Kulwin, the senior staff member responsible for technology in the district worked with the Township to set up the shared server many years ago, under a prior Director of Personnel for the Montclair Board of Education and Superintendent Alvarez.
“The MBOE has been informed that archived email data on this shared server exists in separate and distinct segments of the server: one for the BOE and one for the Township. However, all archived e-mails for the Township and the Board of Education are co-mingled on the system, Kulwin explained to Barista Kids. “In conducting its investigation of the inappropriately released testing materials, the MBOE is concerned with access to the District’s own data and information narrowly focused on the released information, not with Township emails or data,” she added.
When asked why would the BoE have to go to the Council for access to its own information, Kulwin explains, “We did not know the Township was voting on anything. We were told that the meeting was pro forma and access should not be an issue. We were there at the invitation of the Mayor to give an update. This is something that will be looked into. The problem is that the servers are physically located on Township property and we were trying to be good neighbors seeking to access our own property that is located in a Township facility.”
Kulwin says the Council’s vote to deny access will prevent the district from determining the circumstances surrounding the released materials. “It is a roadblock that is an extreme disservice to Montclair Public Schools educators, who worked on the materials, and to the 6,500 Montclair children they serve. Giving that the personnel costs to administer the network is 95% borne by the District, it is also a disservice to every tax payer in Montclair.”
As part of the ongoing assessment leak investigation, Weiner Lesniak has brought in an IT forensic expert, as well as issue subpoenas for information.