Each of us needs to be aware that over the last few years Montclair’s public servants, who want only the best for our children, are being bullied and attacked.
Come to a Board of Education meeting. Go on social media. Attack is the tactic of choice by a small group of people in our community.
They use buzzwords like “McCarthyism,” and “corporatization.” They cite easy to understand, political driven and poll tested reasons for the state of our District. They disrupt meetings like the AGAP group, where good people are trying to come together to build consensus. They create lawsuits against Board members. They issue OPRA, after OPRA request to the our school’s headquarters. They publicly question the integrity of long serving, beloved District staff. Most of all, they assume the worst in anyone who may disagree with their point of view. This is the playbook we now have grown accustomed in Montclair. If you look at these actions, solutions or ideas are not offered, only blame and criticism.
Now, even though we had been warned of projected budget concerns for years (please look it up, you will find it in the public record and in the press clips year after year) these same people in our community are now simplifying the issue by taking aim, attacking and blaming Board of Education Chair David Deutsch and District Chief Operating Officer Brian Fleischer and calling for their resignations.
At this moment for our community, after everything we have witnessed recently, we do not need to create any more new targets. Instead, let’s strive to face the facts together as a community. Our recent budget issues are not the result of the state mandatory PARCC test, it’s not the fault of the common core, its not the result of a bloated Central Office, which, based on population, is one of the smallest in the State. Any review of the actual budget lines, which are available for public consumption and have been reviewed by independent auditors, will prove this fact.
There are bigger issues we must address. Providing over the cap salary increases without tax increases creates instability. Personally, as a parent, I do not know the answer to this tough problem, nor am I disputing the merits of salary increases, but I do not think we need to address this issue with calls for more resignation.
I am grateful we have leadership that is admitting and communicating that problems exist and suggesting actual solutions. People like David and Brian have an extraordinary list of professional accomplishments. They have a long history of respect in other environments, professional and personal. Yet in Montclair they are now receiving the same old response by the same members of our community – attack, destroy, embarrass and attack again.
The attacks and calls for resignations we have seen in recent days have been a convenient rewriting of history aimed to hurt good people for quick political gain. Problems and issues occur in local governments, they do, and it is up to the community to work together to create solutions, not to simply blame others.
It is so important to debate and disagree, but for the interest of our community, can’t we do it without hurting more people? Can’t we debate potential solutions and ideas, rather than always attack our public leaders, many of whom are simply volunteers? Can’t Montclair be better than the culture of blame we see everyday in Washington, DC?
Rather than calling for resignations at the town’s monthly Board meeting, where press and public access cable conveniently attend, couldn’t the folks who are quick to blame publicly release their own budget, so we can debate different ideas together? Instead of booing and shouting, can’t we also look together to build bridges and new approaches? Perhaps efforts can be made to attend local PTA meetings, serve on committees like the AGAP or work with the tireless parents who are leading low-dollar fundraising efforts so we can actually improve a wide variety of initiatives in our schools.
Our members of the Board of Education and the District staff deserve better. Next time you hear a member of the Board attacked, please remember each are volunteering and doing the best job they can.
Understand, I am not advocating against Freedom of Speech, if this is the road some people in our community want to go down that is their choice. But we need to realize there are consequences to these tactics.
There are many parents, like me, who greatly respect David, Brian and the volunteers that serve our community. Perhaps we do not agree with everything they do, but we are tired to see these good people easily blamed and in some cases destroyed.
More importantly, there are now parents who no longer engage in our community, who do not share their voice, for fear that they will be booed, called out on social media and embarrassed. And, even worse, there are others parents who are angry by the tactics we are seen and getting more and more frustrated each day.
My wife and I chose Montclair because of the unity of this community. We believed in a small town like ours we can choose not to be limited by political sides, but instead figure out sensible customized solutions. Little by little, this ideal is being destroyed.
On Monday night, at the Board of Education meeting, in addition to the calls for resignation and the booing, many questions were asked. The people asking those questions did not come with answers or their own solutions, they were left open ended for someone else to take responsibility for.
Perhaps, as a community, before the next meeting, we can all think about a new set of questions and reflect on what our answer should be.
How are we going to possibly find a new Superintendent if all we do as a community is demand more resignations and pass more blame?
How many more volunteer citizens will want to serve the Board of Education if these attacks are the new normal?
How will the town continue to attract talented educators who will want to teach in our District if we are more focused on running people out of town and constantly assuming the worst in people?
Most of all, I hope we can all ask ourselves – what will become of our great community if we continue this kind of discourse?
I hope each of us, no matter what our political or personal belief might be, can unite around one single answer to these questions. At this specific moment, with all the issues we need to address, we need to be coming together to find solutions – not blaming others.
It is time that the people who are being attacked are finally defended and protected and that the people who are doing the attacking to please stop. If those calling for the resignations of David, Brian and others, do not like the ideas they are being presented with, create an alternative solution for the community to address and debate. Let’s end the call for resignations, the booing, the blame. If we do not, these tactics will only escalate. David and Brian deserve better, our children deserve better and our community deserves better as well.
Matthew Frankel, a Montclair parent, served as Asst. to the Superintendent before resigning last week.