Complaint Filed Against Montclair Board Member Larson Will Go To Hearing

David Herron

In August 2013, Montclair resident David Herron filed a complaint against Montclair Board member Leslie Larson claiming she had a conflict of interest in violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24 School Ethics Code. The exact complaint is as follows:

Larson, as a Montclair Board of Education member, on January 28, 2013, voted to approve a contract to Uncommon Schools LLC, for employees of the “District” to attend a conference/workshop run by UNCOMMON SCHOOLS, LLC. The conference was held from February 7, 2013, to February 9, 2013, on the campus of the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a cost to the District of $ 7300. The conference was run by Santoyo [a resident of Montclair and the Managing Director of Uncommon Schools LLC] and was to provide consultant services to the District of Montclair.  Lawson had full knowledge that her spouse, Katz, is a founding member and current trustee of UNCOMMON SCHOOLS LLC, and that Santoyo is the Managing Director of UNCOMMON SCHOOLS LLC. Larson by voting as a Montclair Board of Education member, to award a contract to UNCOMMON SCHOOLS LLC, Larson did create a conflict of interest in violation of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24, (a),(b),(c),(d),(e),(f), which states in part:

                                   “No school official or member of his immediate family shall have an interest in a business organization or engage in any business, transaction, or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest.

WHEREFORE, I, as the Complainant, request that the School Ethics Commission find and determine that the above-named Respondent, Leslie Larson, has violated the School Ethics Act and that she be subject to such penalty as provided by the Act.

On January 28, 2014, the School Ethics Commission of New Jersey reviewed the complaint and “found probable cause to credit the allegations that the respondent [Larson] violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24, (a),(b),(c),and (f) as alleged in Count 1 and Count 2 of the complaint”: 

a. No school official or member of his immediate family shall have an interest in a business organization or engage in any business, transaction, or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest;

b. No school official shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges, advantages or employment for himself, members of his immediate family or others;

c. No school official shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he, a member of his immediate family, or a business organization in which he has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair his objectivity or independence of judgment. No school official shall act in his official capacity in any matter where he or a member of his immediate family has a personal involvement that is or creates some benefit to the school official or member of his immediate family;

f. No school official shall use, or allow to be used, his public office or employment, or any information, not generally available to the members of the public, which he receives or acquires in the course of and by reason of his office or employment, for the purpose of securing financial gain for himself, any member of his immediate family, or any business organization with which he is associated;

The Commission dismissed alleged violations of N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24, (d) and (e) as alleged in both Counts of the complaint:

d. No school official shall undertake any employment or service, whether compensated or not, which might reasonably be expected to prejudice his independence of judgment in the exercise of his official duties;

e. No school official, or member of his immediate family, or business organization in which he has an interest, shall solicit or accept any gift, favor, loan, political contribution, service, promise of future employment, or other thing of value based upon an understanding that the gift, favor, loan, contribution, service, promise, or other thing of value was given or offered for the purpose of influencing him, directly or indirectly, in the discharge of his official duties.  This provision shall not apply to the solicitation or acceptance of contributions to the campaign of an announced candidate for elective public office, if the school official has no knowledge or reason to believe that the campaign contribution, if accepted, was given with the intent to influence the school official in the discharge of his official duties;

The Commission voted to transmit the matter to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for hearing.

Larson and her counsel, Board attorney Mark Tabakin, say they “will present a vigorous defense of what we believe are baseless allegations that lack merit. We look forward to the matter being dismissed.”

The Board is paying for Ms. Larson’s legal fees and have not yet decided whether it will reimburse board member David Cummings’s fees from his attorney Stuart Ball, which are $69,000.

Tabakin explained that when Herron’s School Ethics complaint was received, Larson immediately and formally requested that the Board indemnify her because the SEC complaint alleged that she violated the New Jersey School Ethics Act by voting to approve the payment of certain bills.

“After reviewing the Complaint, the Board determined that the actions alleged to have been improperly taken by Ms. Larson were in her official capacity as a member of the Montclair Board of Education.,” says Tabakin. He added, “Accordingly, the Board approved her indemnification via resolution passed at a public Board meeting.”

According to Tabakin, Cummings did not formally request indemnification until several months had elapsed and long after he retained counsel on his own accord.

“Mr. Cummings is not a named party in any legal action arising from actions taken in his official capacity. Put differently, unlike Ms. Larson, he is not a defendant.  Instead, he is making a claim against the Board for reimbursement of legal fees,” Tabakin clarified.

The Board is still deliberating on Cummings’s request for reimbursement and no decision has yet been made.

 

 

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91 COMMENTS

  1. I really wonder how this plays out when people google Montclair Public Schools before deciding where to buy a house where they want the best schools for their kids? I think all this legal stuff would turn me away.

  2. Do you really think people care? I don’t. Kids graduate from our schools and go to the best colleges and service academies in America.

    Others get arrested.

    That’s who we are. If you’re considering Montclair, I don’t think a dumb lawsuit (and really, who isn’t being sued these days?) is going to turn you away.

    A Government that comes down on a quiet Winter Farmers Market? That’s another story.

  3. Prof…..I really try to not ever say offensive things to others, but I have to say, you’re comments on here completely depress me. I think smart people would care about the ridiculousness of what has been going on in our schools the past couple of years. The taxpayers deserve so much better. People like my husband and I moved to this town to try and give our kid the best education we could find. We couldn’t afford a house here at first and after I’ve seen what I would never now anyway. If things don’t change soon we are out of here, just like many others in my circle. We DO care.

  4. Yes, I seriously doubt any negative impact whatsoever.

    Actually, Montclair & MPS should intentionally lose the lawsuits from a PR POV. The financial hit can be bonded for the next cohort of parents.

    H/e, we should try our mightiest to be vindicated by the State’s investigations. I think we are a lock on both, but so many changes in Trenton these days.

    Enrollment is at records levels this year. Kindergarten classrooms are so overcrowded, we are adding 3 more classrooms. As we pass $19,000 per pupil costs, Montclair will only help attract more families.

    Of course, if we do something dumb like put the elected BOE issue back on the ballet, then property values will plummet. So, right now, it’s all good.

  5. Definitely a conflict of interest, and a clear indication of where most of this BOE’s loyalties lie.

    Why, Frank, would you make that remark about an elected Board? Why shouldn’t the townspeople have a direct say about who is running the public schools?

  6. The plaintiff, David Herron, has a history of initiating irrelevant and spurious lawsuits against the Board of Education and its employees. Notice that the alleged cost of the seminar was $7300. I suspect the cost of this lawsuit will be far greater to the BOE. Prior lawsuits brought by Mr. Herron in Federal District Court have been dismissed without prejudice. It is unfortunate that when there are so many real problems in this district that Mr. Herron chooses to apply his prodigious energy in this way, instead of offering real help to the district. For example, there are many student below grade level in reading and math; it would be far more helpful if Mr. Herron tutored these students than sued the BOE. I predict this suit will also be dismissed without cause.

  7. Quoting Regina Tuma in a letter to the Montclair Times last August about this topic-

    “it is important to note that Larson headed the search committee that last year hired a superintendent trained by an outfit financed by the Broad Foundation, which is also a major funder of Uncommon Schools and the charter school movement more broadly. It is under this superintendent, Larson and board Chairwoman Robin Kulwin, who defends Larson in the article, that our district is making sweeping and rapid changes to our schools that mirror the approach of many charter schools, including a data-driven standardization of curriculum and overuse of testing. The danger is not in Larson’s approval of this particular training. It is in her power to influence our district in adopting, without meaningful public dialogue, some of the most questionable and troubling practices of charter schools.”

  8. Does anyone wonder who attended this conference/workshop in question (or the category of employee, i.e., principal, AP, teacher?) What were the topics discussed? Is travel to these types of professional development workshops usual and are they valued by the staff? Wonder if s/he came away with anything specific that might impact the educational experience of our students? Could Bnet find out?

  9. Frank not sure where you get your info, but not all Kindergarten classes are any more overcrowded than before. Only one school had that problem. Some of the other schools have fairly small classes sizes compared to previous years. Get your facts straight. They are adding 3 more classes for next year to make classes smaller than ever before. They mention class sizes closer to 20 instead of 25.

  10. It appears Mr Herron’s objections have been validated by the State by moving this matter to a formal hearing. It is really not a question of the amount of money involved. I also think in hindsight, many people would agree Ms Larsen should have just abstained to avoid the appearance of impartiality. On the municipal side, the Township’s recent ethics ordinance was written expressly to remove the appearance of conflicted interests as well as preventing them.

    Mr Heron is a self-proclaimed local education activist and has a long history of speaking out on many issues involving the MPS. I have found myself on the opposite side of several past concerns of his, sometimes vociferously so. However, Mr Herron uses the appropriate tools available to all of us – from the bully pulpit to the legal system – in his prodigious attempts to redress the inequities he sees.

  11. latebloomer,
    Because advocates of both an appointed BOE and teacher tenure believe education in Montclair will go to hell in a hand basket if either is eliminated.

  12. Not me! I support an elected board AND teacher tenure. But there’s this weird little “liberal” enclave in town that doesn’t want us to be able to elect our own BOE.

  13. I find it troubling, some are so willing to “look the other way” when ethics violations are broken. Larson herself previously called any perception of a conflict of interest as “silly.” While BOE president Kulwin, along with Superintendent MacCormack, quickly dismissed any claim that a BOE member had a conflict of interest. How could they be so sure? Had they even read the Ethics Laws?

    It appears that the state Ethics Commission doesn’t agree with any of them. The Commission’s decision said that the complaint was not frivolous. The Commission found probable cause to credit the allegations and sent the complaint to a judge. So much for- frivolous complaints. Incidentally, it is the State of New Jersey who is suing the BOE.

    I find it more troubling that some suggest what, and how I spend my time and energy, even suggesting that I tutor students who are not performing on grade level. Such advice is both condescending and patronizing.

    I have chosen to use the legal system, which is there for all to use, even me. Unless, some think such use should be denied me.

  14. Larson and her counsel, Board attorney Mark Tabakin, say they “will present a vigorous defense of what we believe are baseless allegations that lack merit. We look forward to the matter being dismissed.”

    Mr. Tabakin seems to have a real gift for offering advice to the BOE that results in more billable hours for his law firm. Heaven knows how much us taxpayers will end up spending for his “vigorous” investigation into the “leaked” assessments. How am I not surprised that he insisted on “casting a very wide net” even after being provided with information that there was no intentional leak?

  15. Problem is; Lawyers never lose. Even when they don’t win, they still get paid. I still wonder why the BOE did not simply ask Trenton for an advisory opinion. It would not have cost the BOE a dime and they could have avoided this mess. I would have done so, myself, but the Ethics Commission does not render opinions to private citizens. But any BOE member could have requested such an advisory opinion, without involving an attorney. But then again, the BOE was insisting that any claims of conflict of interest was just, well, “Silly.” Such hubris.

    I wonder; is there any ethics commission which oversees attorneys who give bad advice? Because more ethics complaints are on the horizon, many more.

  16. David Herron is correct here. Ms. Larson should have recused herself. The law seems pretty clear to me.

    But while we’re speaking about conflicts of interest, can someone please explain to me why a single dime of taxpayer money is still going into Mr. Tabakin’s pocket? How does he have the nerve to say that he’ll represent Ms. Larson when he put himself in the position of being unable to represent Mr. Cummings (due to the conflict of interest Mr. Tabakin created when he allowed himself to be paid as an investigator and the board’s lawyer at the same time, and then subpoenaed Mr. Cummings when he should have been representing his interests). Is the board’s lawyer supposed to pick favorites like this? He is either available to represent individual board members on board matters or he is not.

  17. A bigger problem for the BOE is beginning to materialize.

    Back in May 2013, the BOE voted to hire Mark Tabakin as their attorney. He was put on retainer to represent the BOE. That representation extends to all BOE members, (including David Cummings), as well as central office senior staff. After the craziness about the assessments, the BOE held a special meeting on November 1, 2013. At that meeting, (attended by about 10 residents, including David Herron), the BOE passed a resolution which stated in part;

    “Whereas, the Montclair Board of Education wishes to appoint independent counsel for the purpose of prosecuting the investigation and hearings;

    Now, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Montclair Board of Education appoints Mark Tabakin, Esq., to conduct this investigation and hearings pursuant to the terms of his appointment as General Counsel to the Board.

    Tabakin, could not be the General Counsel to the Board and be hired as an independent counsel to conduct the BOE investigation. Nope, can’t do that.

    It’s unethical and no doubt violates the state’s ethics laws

  18. I just want to correct any earlier poster, Frank Rubacky, when he said ,”It appears Mr Herron’s objections have been validated by the State.”

    I believe that the objections have in fact actually been validated, at least for sections a, b, c, and f. As such, I also believe it is really inaccurate for Tabakin to categorize the allegations as “baseless”, and “lacking merit”. Of course, he can choose to believe this, but I believe that his belief is baseless.

  19. I would like to point out that not only has the court determined the grievance is legitimate, it is not between David Herron and Leslie Larson, but the State of NJ and Leslie Larson.

    Also, I find it very inappropriate that they paid for Tanya Coke’s Lawyer, are now paying for Leslie Larson’s but are considering not paying for David Cummings. All of this should go to the insurance company and get paid and they should drop the Subpoena already.

  20. Serious 60’s flashback….An activist the believes all legal services should be free.
    There is a MasterCard commercial somewhere in this!

  21. concernedmontclairparent,
    No, you’re mistaken. The process is confusing and Mr Herron has made it more so.
    The rule of thumb is to never take legal advice from an activist.

  22. nycmontclair,
    I don’t understand your comment at all. It is totally inaccurate and I gave up after “Also,…”

  23. Leslie Larson and Don Katz are two bright wonderful people that have not only given back to the town of Montclair but have given their time, energy, and money to help improve society as a whole. We need more like them…enough said.

  24. Flipside, I am sure both Leslie and Don are wonderful people and I have nothing against either on a personal level. However, it is their education policies I have issues with. We have to question these policies and can’t accept just on faith they are good and right for our children. Leslie’s views are impacting the education of my children. I have serious concerns about the increase in testing. I value them as Montclarians but democracy is the great equalizer and given what we have seen in NY, now NJ and the rest of the country — morally we must question.

  25. Interesting. Haven’t seen a comment removed in a while, and I don’t recall qby33’s comment being problematic. Curious to know why it’s gone.

  26. I would also like to ask why the comment was removed, as it portrayed quite a different side of Ms. Larson from the glowing account presented by flipside. Why should this also not be heard?

  27. No idea why that comment was removed…but I do enjoy the controversy…very telling and fun to see. My post was not meant to be a glowing account or opinion….just facts.

  28. Latebloomer…by any metric my statements are facts. You are free to refute if you can prove differently…I will retract wonderful because that could be taken as opinion…re everything else…have at at it.

  29. Yes, I wonder how much certain Lady and Lord Bountifuls understand about making $18K a year and having to pay for your own health insurance.

  30. Please don’t take qby33 latest post down….no comment needed. Anyone know a good real estate agent in Galt’s Gulch??

  31. @ latebloomer- Really, is that the best use of your time, posting names like that? Are we adults, or are we children? And is this how we should show our children how to act? Using silly names to taunt our neighbors? Do you know anything personally about the people involved here? Their background, work and or family history? This is turning into a nasty feed all around here. Comments like this make me embarrassed for Montclair.

  32. “how many people on our BOE are in education. I believe that number is zero now?”
    A quick review of the BoE bios shows one member with a teaching certificate. Certainly a good amount of community involvement among the members, as well as a majority with careers or experience with Wall Street firms.

  33. I guess the issue with qby33 comments goes beyond using a direct quote. I’m very curious as to why the comments have been removed.

  34. State Street Pete….and we’ve all seen how Great Wall Street can be. It seems America thinks the schools can be better run by business people now. Bill Gates seems to be an expert himself on Education. I thought it was a fair question to ask.

  35. Boy, I guess I better watch what I post. Next thing you know there is a subpoena out to find my identity. I sure hope it’s protected. I don’t prefer to post under an anonymous name, but I do feel it protects me. Sad that I feel like I need protecting even though I speak nothing but the truth.

  36. Wwll, alic314, what I know is that the Larsons are extremely wealthy. What I also know is that Ms. Larson supported cutting the benefits of aides who were making approximately $18K a year and who are crucial elements of our children’s education. And the third thing I know is that when I was buying health insurance on the open market it was costing my family over $20K a year. Do the math and then tell me how bountiful these people are.

  37. Don’t worry qby33 nobody is out get you, especially not me. Forums like this are very helpful in enlightening people about how others think and how they feel about their town. I am very happy you posted your feelings and opinions. It explains a lot…

  38. Why would one support cutting off the health insurance of those who have the very least ability to pay for it themselves? The trend continues with the current decision to hire long-term substitutes, with no benefits or union protections, instead of aides.

  39. All of us who disagree with the current administration DO have something to worry about, as evidenced by the attempts to find out the identities of dissenters in the past.

  40. I know when I get that tingly feeling of indignation in my stomach that I’m likely overreacting and should step away from the keyboard and get on with the important business of the day, but I’d like to know what it is about qby33’s comments that are the problem.

    I’ve reread the ten commendments in the comment policy and I note the one about making accusations or attacks when posting under anonymity. Is this the issue? If so, can someone explain the difference between qby33’s comments and guineapig1’s takedown of Mr Herron above?

  41. Hmmm, Takedown. Oh I must have missed that. Actually, where I’m from, that’s not a takedown, just someone’s bias opinion. Guineapig was just stating some facts as they understood them. Some are accurate while others are not. So it goes.
    In a previous post by Frank Rubacky, he stated: “The process is confusing and Mr Herron has made it more so.”

    I do wish he had elaborated on his post about the process being confusing and Herron making it more so. It is not my intent to confuse or fail to be clear, so Frank, please explain, what you find confusing.

  42. Latebloomer! Good points! The long term sub thing continues in the schools. Why are they doing this? I don’t know. It’s not about not giving them benefits. As it stands I am disgusted that aides in the schools that were hired after a certain date aren’t allowed benefits anyway. Is it fair that some have them, and some do not? I don’t think so. If you read the Montclair Times today, Brian Fleischer is quoted in saying that three new Kindergarten teachers will be hired and three new aides, all with benefits. I am wondering if this is a mis-quote or misinformation or what?

  43. As someone who was on the receiving end of Mrs. Kulwin’s authorized subpoena as a result of my anonymous and critical comments about the Board, I very much understand qby33’s concern about being the BOE’s vindictiveness.

    Also, alic314, in terms of your disappointment with how people are posting and your comment about it being a poor example for our children: are you also concerned with how the BOE’s non-transparency, rule-bending, lack of ethics, hubris, and vengefulness are teaching horrible lessons to our kids?

  44. (… make that “I very much understand qby33’s concern about experiencing the BOE’s vindictiveness.”)

  45. David,

    Most importantly, advisory opinions would derive Ms Larson of her right to due process.

    Advisory opinions have to be requested before the fact and the request would need to be submitted 1-2 months prior to the event. The Commission does not guarantee they will issue an opinion. The Commission decides whether to make an advisory opinion public. Of course, I doubt that would stand up to a OPRA/MA request.

    Advisory opinions of a school official actions can be requested by ANY BoE member.

    Personally, I have no idea how the Commission justified their position on (a).
    From their own advisory opinion ( https://www.nj.gov/education/legal/ethics/advisory/cat4/A05-12.pdf) :
    “The act further defines “interest” to mean the “ownership or control of more than 10% of the profits, assets, or stock of a business but shall not include the control of assets in a labor union.” N.J.S.A. 18A:12-23. Clearly this doesn’t apply.”
    The language of sections (b) & (c) is so vague & confusing that unless a test has been established, the Commission is, in my opinion, has no choice but to push these to a hearing.

    You also file under N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24, (d) and (e) which were dismissed. What was your basis for filing under these two? It might help my confusion.

    Personally, I have no idea how the Commission justified their position on (f) and can’t say anything more on this one.

    Hope this answers your question.

  46. all along, defenders of the board members — mostly their friends — have complained bitterly about incivility in discussions from those who disagreed with policies — while ignoring ACTS of incivility on the part of the board. Lombard/Kulwin/Larson sat stone-faced while desperate folks begged for their health benefits. treated MEA president with no respect. never demanded accountability from super for several missteps, including failure to secure assessments. went after one board member who disagreed with them with a fury. on and on it goes. define incivility by what is done, not by what is said.

  47. I never realized that beneath the facade of Montclair’s liberal utopia there was such a deep “us” versus “them” mentality. Time and economics will eventually cause this to pass. If taxes keep increasing the “us” will be taxed out of town or the “them’s” will pack up and head for greener pastures…or vice versa. There seems to be a severe lack of communication or a lot of deaf ears…either way I feel saddened. It doesn’t have to be that way…I also own a house in another part of the country where the economic diversity is greater than Montclair’s. Totally opposite vibe…from both sides. Everything runs extremely well and taxes are 10% of what I pay in Montclair. More snow than Montclair and the roads were clear all winter….the rub is that Montclair is still great place but it seems to falling victim to it’s own success. I guess it doesn’t matter because the population turns over so often that by the time people get concerned they are ready to move on…

  48. “Hello Montclair? It’s the 2011 -2012 school year calling. What the heck have you been doing since I saw you last?”

    That’s a tongue-in-cheek plea I heard from a Montclair resident with a young child recently… for us all to please acknowledge that CCSS and the PARCC testing schedule was publicly approved in NJ in June 2010. Due to the previous Superintendent’s and other leaders’ inaction, we now have a mad rush to prepare for a state-mandated, really, really different standardized test in about a year’s time. And we’re surprised this ended up a big hot, political mess? I just wish the community, and the posters we see most frequently here, were paying this close attention and were applying their passion and advocacy to question the actions of our previous Superintendent and staff’s 10-year tenure. We ended up with steadily increasing budgets and tax rates, ‘unexpected’ surpluses, a widening achievement gap, no advances in technology, buildings and infrastructure failing down around the kids and staff, and no District-wide preparation for (or state-level advocacy for or against) the sea-change of the state-mandated CCSS and a new teacher evaluation system.

  49. Yes mcinmtc, you’re correct on all counts – but that doesn’t excuse, justify, or validate the way that the current Superintendent and BOE have chosen to address the challenges that you’ve mentioned.

  50. And to those piling on members of the Bkids community of posters who are quickly labeled as civility” folks or BoE “defenders”: The point many are trying to make is that when reviewing all the facts that are out there — in Montclair and the world outside of it — others hold a different perspective than you. Period. And these people, just as you state you are, put the kids at the absolute center of the equation. It is a fact that there are people in town who vigorously and consistently support the public schools, but who also welcome a chance to look at things differently in order to better support all our kids’ success and the teaching staff we admire greatly. We know that there are others who take an absolutely opposite view. In my case, at the HS level, I’m willing to give 4, non-cumulative marking period tests, termed “common assessments,” a look as a worthwhile experiment to replace the long-standing, cumulative and common mid-terms and finals that end up making up a full 20% of a student’s grade. There have been complaints about the unfairness – and “high-stakes-ness” — of the 20% mid-term/final model for years and years. Maybe this quarterly test model won’t work – maybe it will be thrown out, maybe it will be adapted, maybe it won’t apply to early elementary grades (where I also have a student) – I don’t know, but I’m not against trying it and evaluating results and its impact on the learning environment that is trying to prepare on a fast track for PARCC. I have very close friends who disagree with me completely and want no part of this change. Do we insult and question each others morality we we meet around town and spend time together? Ah….NO. Also, don’t assume that the posters you attack are applauding execution of the roll out of everything that has happened. The need for more training, the very poor teacher-CO relationships, the lawsuits, the operational lapses – which to me uncovered long-standing issues and lack of Board policy and vigorous oversight. Or that we haven’t expressed those disappointments in ways that we believe are more productive than Bkids discussion boards (no offense, Georgette). I doubt any critical thinking person would give a thumbs up to the way things have gone, and must be a candid and critical discussion on that, but I honestly believe Montclair feels the need to look forward and to work together on lots of levels. Name calling and degrading an individual on a discussion board – behavior we do no tolerate in our kids — may feel good for the poster, but it does not help the whole community – which, yes, does have different perspectives. It just doesn’t further or strengthen your argument, which I am, despite what you may say, open to hearing. I think the teacher presentations at the BoE meetings get us moving in a productive direction. In that environment the teachers, the Board and others in CO are working on a dialogue. What most of us see on these discussion boards is so often an angry monologue. (and BTW, I would really love the principals to begin to contribute to the Board meetings. Their voices and perspectives are of great interest to me)

  51. Mcinmtc….some really great points! I am also very interested in hearing what the Principals have to say! They have been awfully quiet through all of this. On thing I’d like to point out though. You say. “I think the teacher presentations at the BoE meetings get us moving in a productive direction.”. What I have heard is ALL 7 schools say the same things about the Quarterly Assessments. If 7 schools have asked for them to stop, why is no one listening? Hearing the HS teachers talk about how low their moral is has me wondering what CO is doing immediately to remedy this situation?

  52. flipside, please don’t cloud the issue here: all that “us” (Montclair parents, teachers, and students) wants from “them” (the Superintendent and BOE) is transparency, honesty, collaboration, and accountability. However, those that comprise “them” have chosen to take a different route, and that’s the source of the fury and frustration from “us”.

    The tension can be traced back to when BOE President infamously proclaimed “this is not a dialogue!” in 2013, making it very clear that the Board’s M.O. would be unlike any that the district had ever experienced. Rules would be bent, provocative actions would be taken, secrecy would be sought, funds would be spent as seen fit, unlawful subpoenas would be served, and questions/disagreements/criticism from the public would be perceived as threats, and responded to as such.

    “Us” vs. “them” is a dynamic that the Board and Superintendent have created, embraced, and perpetuated. It’s not a choice that any of “us” would prefer, but all of “them” seem comfortable with it, and aren’t doing anything constructive to change it.

  53. You have the wrong “us” and “them” but it doesn’t matter. Many of these “fights” are about money and how it is spent. https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/state-education-trends#/NJ
    As you can see taxpayers haven’t been getting much bang for the buck in any state. When you add in the cost of college it is easy to come to the conclusion that we need to dramatically change our educational system or spend a lot less money on it. That may sound like heresy but it is clear that the students haven’t benefitted from the increased money being spent and certainly not the taxpayers who have been footing the bill.

  54. qby33 — I think that once this test of the quarterly assessment started, we were into them for a full year of evaluation. Re general teacher moral at MHS — I honestly think there is much work to be done there. I’m not someone who would be privvy to what the next steps would be. There is an active parent School Action Team at MHS, and I know the chairs of that group stood up at the end of the teachers’ presentation and asked how the SAT could be a forum to discuss and hopefully address issues that would be appropriate in that setting. This is one of the reasons I’d like to hear from the principal/s. There are some big issues — many that predate Dr. MacCormack — that can need to be openly addressed by everyone (teacher, administrator, CO) involved. I will have to say that as a parent with two MHS students I have had experience with more than two dozen teachers over the years and numerous teacher-coaches. On balance, I continue to see them as engaged, dedicated and positive professionals and I believe they would embracing of change to help our students. It’s the introduction and management of change that has run off the rails…. much has come at them very quickly (see comment above) and a confrontational relationship has existed since the last contract negotiation. There can be exceptions to this description — and I’m sure the teachers say that honestly about the parents, too 😉

  55. I strongly feel what we are missing in these discussions is a context for reforms. We act as though these reforms have not been tried before. Across the country and especially in NY, parents are in an up roar. There has been 10 years or more of increased testing with no results. Parents are protesting because kids are being over tested. Montclair has a rich history that it brings to the way we educate our kids and this board is walking away from that history and instead embracing the test reforms of Cerf and Chrsitie. Other districts are trying to walk away from the Common Core, PARCC and quarterly assessments. Why aren’t we putting this BOE reforms into that context? Why are the reforms they are implementing different from other reforms which have failed across Marin and NY? They have never explained why the same testing here will be different and achieve different results. They are narrowing educational vision! The BOE needs to acknowledge themselves as the corporate reformers they are–then we can have the discussion. They need to represent and fight for their district. Those who have had issues with teachers are being used as pawns so a corporate reform BOE, very close to Newark corporate reforms, can implement corporate reforms that do not work.

  56. nycmontclair,
    Montclair does not have a rich history in education. I know you are a relatively short-timer, so who told you that?
    The fact that this tread is way off topic give me special dispensation for my own divergence.

  57. And since we are way off topic….

    mcinmtc
    While you can wait for the principals to weigh in either way or a new way, it doesn’t really matter?
    We have a magnet system with whatever number of one-of-a-kind, custom schools with custom curriculums.
    We live in a State that is going the opposite way, by law, with standardization.
    Montclair’s system is the antithesis of State policy. There is no Common Core reconciliation with Montclair’s system. Either CC goes, or Montclair’s custom schools/curriculum goes. It is getting worse now because Montclair did not address its failing one of it’s core constituencies as a public system.
    I don’t see the principals impacting this in any way.

  58. Frank, let’s combine my 10 plus years in Montclair with my husband’s 20 plus years and then add in not only our own experiences and observations but those of the many parents, grandparents and former students we have spoken to over the years who have proudly shared the educational history with us.

    Now let’s address your Common Core statements and my corporate reform comments. In reality, the common core is driven by this corporate reform movement. So, Frank we are actually in agreement. The common core, like the rest of the corporate reform initiatives, promote a standardization and “one size fits all” mentality that is antithetical to what Montclair stands for. Our Magnet Schools, developed to fulfill a court order to end segregation, speak to the uniqueness and rich history of our schools and is antithetical to what the corporate reform movement and the common core stand for. If we want to hang on to the uniqueness of our schools then we must fight this standardization which will rather then resulting in a better education for all, will result in a lesser education for all and will only serve to widen the opportunity (aka achievement gap). Private schools in town have already seen a huge upsurge in Montclair applications, especially from the parents of 4th and 5th graders as a result of parents displeasure with this test driven move towards standardization. Tutoring services as well have seen an upsurge in students. And then what happens? Those who can’t afford private schools or tutors are left floundering and on average they are of course are the very children these corporate reform movements claim to be helping.

    It’s very easy to say, what can we do, we can’t fight the Common Core or Corporate Reform, but that is just not true. There is a large movement across this country fighting it. There was a large demonstration in Newark this week of people fighting against these reforms and making their voices heard. Next Thursday, there is a large demonstration taking place in Trenton opposing these reforms. And schools across NJ, NY and the rest of higher country are taking stands against high stakes testing, charter schools, vouchers and the Common Core. Shouldn’t Montclair take a lead in this fight and reclaim our position as forward thinking, progressive leaders in education?

  59. My mistake, you are not a short-timer. I retract.

    I find your use of the buzz phrase “Corporate REFORM” as counter-productive to the anti-CC movement. The continued use of ______ REFORM, regardless of adjective, reinforces the message that education needs ______ REFORM. Essentially, the CC advocates and opponents agree on REFORM, but not on the descriptor for REFORM.

    Could a middle ground be found if we drop ______ REFORM and just all call for REFORM? Could this be the simple first step in finding some consensus?

  60. Frank, I am very happy to drop that term and all labels if it would get people talking and working together. I just want a progressive, well rounded education for all children. I just don’t believe many of the methods currently being implemented in Montclair and across the country are achieving that goal. So yes, I agree what we need is an open dialogue on both sides and no one agenda being pushed. What we really need in Montclair is a town forum. I know there was a group of people working on one and at the BOE meeting Superintendent MacCormack explained she turned down the Mayor’s request (on behalf of this group) to use the HS auditorium for this forum. She claimed it was because she did not have enough information, though David Cummings commented he felt it was disrespectful to the Mayor. Regardless of the reason, I hope they can come to some sort of agreement or find another venue because I think if we could have an open, honest discussion as a community it would be beneficial to all.

  61. mcinmtc, while I understand your desire for patience with the assessments, I’m afraid that a year’s worth of a bad idea won’t make it better.

    None of the teachers from the schools that have presented at BOE meetings have said that they’re worth maintaining and that, with tweaks, they can be improved. On the contrary, the consensus is that the tests are hugely disruptive and unproductive. They were also very expensive to create.

    On top of that, their results – while called successful by the Superintendent – are unclear, as are their goals. For instance, how/why are they superior to teacher-designed, classroom-specific midterms and finals? And how are they good preparation for the upcoming PARCC exams, when none of our teachers or administrators have even seen the PARRCs?

    Most disturbing is our Superintendent’s claim that she’s had success with assessments in a previous job. It’s true that while in Hartford, CT, her assessments resulted in improved district test scores – but these results turned out to be fraudulent:

    https://articles.courant.com/2011-03-01/news/hc-op-cotto-hartford-schools-0301-20110301_1_test-scores-proficiency-rates-students

    Our Superintendent is determined to continue with her assessment tests, regardless of the proof that they’ve been a failure in Montclair. Given the unanimously negative teacher feedback so far, along with her ethically-challenged implementation of assessments in Hartford, how or why would any parents support the continuation of such a reckless experiment on their children?

  62. The majority of my child’s classmates are now using math tutors. Pretty much the entire algebra class is failing. Thanks to the Common Core, his teacher was forced to cram two years of course study into one year. For many of these kids, math was once their favorite subject. Now it is the complete opposite.

  63. Unfortunately, what complainerpuss is describing is going to become the norm. And just wait till next year’s PAARC exams. Remember, last year 70 percent of New York kid’s failed with a much higher failure rate for English learners and kids with learning disabilities.

    I urge everyone to learn more about the common core and the PAARC tests before allowing your children to take them. As another parent pointed out at the last BOE meeting and on Baristakids, they are much longer than current tests but also they are online adding a whole new layer of complications, especially for younger kids not proficient with keyboards. And as the parent pointed out, these exams coupled with the assessments is entirely. Too many hours given to testing. Hours that should be spent on instruction.

    Parents in other states, most notably NY. And Chicago are refusing their children take these standardized exams in much larger numbers of late. Must be a good reason.

  64. Don’t do that nycmontclair. Labels can expedite communication and understanding.
    My point was that the REFORM label strongly implies the existing education is not and has not been working well for a long time. You all can battle over who gets control over reforming it, but REFORM is being asked for across the board.

    This implication contradicted your view of the MPS history.

  65. Frank, this reform movement has become commonly known as The “corporate reform” movement because it is led by business people and politicians, not educators or for the most part anyone actually associated with education. I am so well versed in it, that for me the word “reform” has actually taken on an ugly connotation. However, I agree that it is a perception. My point is change for the sake of change is in itself not a worthwhile goal. I do happen to think on the whole the education system in this country and in Montclair was working well. That is not to say there were no room for improvements. Of course there were. You can always improve and should strive to do so. Times change and we need to keep up with those changes. However, I look to evidence based research and the evidence strongly shows that testing, charter schools and the common core are not positive changes. Just singling out testing, there is so much evidence that I really can not understand how anyone can justify it and I am still waiting for someone to do so. Children are losing so much instruction time and getting so stressed out over the tests. And as people have pointed out in Montclair the teachers are asking over and over again to end the quarterly assessments because they have no value. Even middle school students are feeling the need to speak at Board meetings to end the assessments. At least if Dr. MacCormack could explain how these tests are going to improve the educational experiences and outcomes for the students there would be some understanding and we could have a dialogue about it, but so far I have not seen such an explanation.

    Getting back to labels, of course you do need to use some to expedite conversation. I was only speaking to my exasperation over the lack of dialogue about these changes. As a parent and a tax payer, I expect to have a discussion before our entire education system is overhauled. And on that I am speaking to the government’s shoving the common core down our throats as much as I am to Dr. MacCormack’s changes.

  66. So, in brief, successful business people are greedy morons; ramming CC down our throats is because parents who have been in town 10 years ignored the CC mandate all this time because they wanted customized curriculum: and high stakes testing is making children sick.

  67. Oh, and I forgot….
    Everything between 2004-2012 was all good. Nothing but Gifted & Talented Student (& Parent) Cohorts in Montclair!. Weston Awards to Everyone. Absolutely amazing PTAs! Maybe even stupendous!

    Then a certain BOE hires a new superintendent 18 months ago and she created all these problems or was hired to take the hit for all the problems! Does it really matter for the narrative we’re peddling?

  68. Nah/ I was just doing a little experiment to see if I could suck the air out of the room via a Comcast Premium Plus plan.

  69. And does it really matter what I have to say Frank? I have never once blamed Maccormack for anything beyond her time in Montclair. I have been very clear that I do not like the policies she has instituted. And as for the common core, 10 minutes of reasearch shows this “state led” effort was led by lobby groups comprised greatly of business people and that Bill Gates largely paid for it and no actual educators were involved. It took only two signatures per state, most digned on before ever seeing the standards and were incented to do so by race to the top money. 23 states are pushing back.

    Anyone wants to give me credible evidence to show I am wrong not to embrace these reform policies, I am happy to read. I do not insult in my postings and I expect the same.

  70. When Bill Gates was largely engaged in running Microsoft, which he did aggressively–you might say ruthlessly–I could see perhaps tarring him as a “business” interest. But these days his main job is figuring out how to invest his fortune (and Warren Buffet’s) on fighting malaria in the developing world and other altruistic ventures, which he does in a highly active and intelligent way. I don’t agree with the Republican argument that philanthropy should take the place of government aid, but jeepers by the same token you cannot make a credible case that the Gates Foundation is a corporate tool whose purpose is to make more money for the super rich. That is just asinine.

    The motivation of Gates and many other “business people” in backing education reform is at least in part that their experience in the private sector has convinced them that there are better ways of managing the sprawling and dysfunctional US education system, which is more resistant to change than most organizations and seems to be the last bastion of Marxist ideology in this country. There is also a giant wave of technology breaking like a tsunami over our society at the moment that could be a force for good. Anyway, it will certainly be–is being–disruptive to the status quo in education.

    That, far more than insidious “business people” undermining education to line their pockets, is what this hullabaloo is really about, I suspect.

  71. That’s not really what it’s about, walleroo – at least not for me. In fact, I’d like to move away from the topic of education reform and focus specifically on what’s happening here in Montclair with our BOE.

    It seems that the only thing which thwarts the Board’s bad behavior is legal action (the ACLU’s lawsuit stopped the Board President’s flurry of subpoenas, and now the School Ethics Commission is challenging Leslie Larson’s ethical lapses). No other attempts to get the Board to refrain from their harmful, secretive agenda have been effective, including:

    • Protests by parents – they’re met with stone-faced silence, evasions, truth-bending, or patronizing replies at BOE meetings.
    • Ideas from community organizations – Montclair Cares’ well-researched, intelligently presented, and tested/proven enhancements of Common Core curriculum (as well as alternatives to the Superintendent’s assessments) are dismissed and ignored by the BOE.
    • Facts from teachers – every school that has presented at BOE meetings has said that the Superintendent’s assessment tests are an unproductive, disruptive waste of time/resources and should be stopped. The Superintendent is unyielding on this matter: she will adjust the tests as she sees fit and continue with their implementation.

    The Superintendent, Board president, and BOE members know that they can get away with the above because they’re unaccountable and unsupervised by the Mayor, who appointed them and theoretically should be overseeing them. (The Board’s vice-president Shelly Lombard acknowledged the Mayor’s compliance and acquiescence at the most recent Board meeting, when she said that the Mayor “has been very supportive of Dr. MacCormack and the Board.”) With no one setting limits on their actions, the Board has tested and pushed these limits, and we can expect them to continue to do so.

    The abusive antics and ethically-challenged behavior of the Superintendent, Board president, and Board’s members are walked back only when the law steps in. walleroo, flipside, and mcinmtc: if you’re looking for the underlying reason of what this is all about and why there’s such mistrust of – and antipathy towards – the BOE and Superintendent, this is it.

  72. Have been away for a few days. Hope everyone had a good weekend. I appreciate the details of this discussion. I think we can all agree that it is important to get our news and opinions from many different sources (not all “pro” or all “con” CCSS) so we can understand the biases and well-reasoned arguments of every “side” of these complex issues. Baristanet is only one of my sources, but one that I value. I agree with many points raised and disagree strongly on others but I am happy there is a forum where the discussion can take place. It can all be really overwhelming, exhausting and time consuming for parents..but no one ever said it would be easy, right?

    A few responses to particular questions and yes, Frank, we are certainly off the original topic. I fear this will come off as a chain of anecdotes, which may not be helpful at all (an n of 1 can be dangerous), but I can only speak as a parent and of my family’s experiences — which have been overwhelming positive at the elementary level, distinctly mixed at middle school, and generally very good at MHS.

    Re the principals: Their opinion does matter to parents. They are the heads of their schools and they know our kids at the elementary and middle school levels. As it is not uncommon for a family to be in a school for many years in a row, the principals are the educational leaders we have much more contact, comfort, knowledge about than the voices from Central Office. There are several who are new to their positions and seem like they have a promising career ahead of them. I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask to hear their voices and request them to give a clear, public opinions based on the nuts and bolts work implementing things with their colleague teachers.

    Re the question of the benefit of the quarterlies vs. mid-terms finals. I’m not an educational expert — just a member of the community that makes up and supports Montclair Public Schools. I definitely think roll out of these has been rough, and I am absolutely concerned about the quality of these tests and that, after a good attempt at them, they do what they have been promised to do. However, it is important to note that the HS midterm and finals have always been common. It bears repeating. MHS has always had common assessments — they were called mid terms and finals. They have always been teacher-designed, but have not been been classroom-specific. For example, every MHS Biology student took the same Biology mid-term and final and the results counted 20% of his/her grade. There was much dissatisfaction about the weight that these tests held on a student’s final grade and the uneven preparation and performance observed between kids of different teachers. So while I acknowledge that the quarterlies are a great deal of work because they are new and the teacher reaction to them has been negative….they don’t introduce something completely unknown and unused before at MHS (i.e., common assessments), and it can be reasonably said that they are an attempt address an expressed community concern about the HS midterm/final model. If there is a MHS teacher on the board who would like to clarify my perspective or add anything different, please jump in. I am not clear about the info the teachers are receiving back and will be inquiring about that. I think it is also illustrative to note there are many individual grades that go into a marking period’s/quarters overall grade for an MHS student. For example, the common quarterly assessment in 9th grade Global Studies this week will be one out of at least 22 teacher- and classroom-specific assignments/grades in this quarter (11+ classwork grades, 8+ homework grades and at least 1 project and 1 quiz grade.) In Biology this quarter/marking period, my student has 33 different teacher- and classroom-specific grade entries covering homework, labs, quizzes and tests for the quarter — before the common assessment is given. And the common quarterly will be worth the same weight as the quarter’s earlier 2 teacher- and classroom-specific tests. Again, I am not wedded to the idea of quarterly assessments as THE ONLY way to address the problems seen, but I am just not as passionately anti-assessment as others here.

    Re tutors…as someone with kids who span the grades 3 through 11 and who have only ever gone to Montclair schools, I have observed a steady and consistent increase in tutor use during the last decade and not just the last year. About 3 years ago, when my son was about to enter MHS I hear people say things like…”Line up that {Algebra or Chemistry }tutor now before the school year starts. or You have Teacher X. Start looking for a tutor now” Uh? The student isn’t even given a chance to prove his/her ability? Parents-students-teachers don’t work through issues together? Just bring in someone from the outside before even trying? Kids who with diligent work with a teacher could likely earn a very respectable B by themselves instead have a tutor brought in prospectively to ensure they “get” an A in a class — a class they may not even be well suited to be in. Very few people can afford this. It’s a disturbing trend the larger culture, let alone in Montclair. And yes, I absolutely feel it has been amplified this year.

    Here’s to tonight’s storm being the last gas of winter.

  73. mcinmtc, every aspect of MacCormack’s assessments are nebulous, including:

    1. How are they different from the midterms and finals?
    2. What are they supposed to be measuring?
    3. How do we know they’re “working”?
    4. If they’re supposed to prepare our kids for the PARCC tests, but no teachers have seen the PARCC tests, then what is the point of the assessments?
    5. Given that teachers from almost every school in the district have said that the tests are unproductive and disruptive, how can their continued usage be justified?

    These questions should be answered clearly, honestly, and with plenty of factual back-up/validation. MacCormack’s refusal to do so is the reason why so many of us in the district find her to be deceptive, evasive, and untrustworthy (her history of testing fraudulence, as pointed out above, raise doubts about her ethical compass).

    But as mentioned above, MacCormack will not back down: she’s dug in her heels and will continue to conduct the assessment tests. Giving her and her tests six months or a year or two years won’t improve the outcome or help to improve our schools/kids/teachers.

    In terms of the principals, don’t expect them to share their honest thoughts about the assessments with the BOE or MacCormack: they’re all nervous for their jobs, and none of them (while privately expressing their displeasure with the assessments) would ever let those thoughts hit the air. Remember: this is a vindictive bunch at Central Office who are quick to seek revenge on their critics. As a recipient of one of the BOE president’s subpoenas, I know that for a fact.

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