UPDATED: Spiller Responds To New Montclair Education Group’s BSE Resignation Demand

MontclairHigh_MainFrontEditor’s Note: Post has been updated with Sean Spiller’s and Shavar Jeffries’ comments.

A new organization focusing on education in Montclair announced its launch last week and then immediately upped the ante by calling for Councilman Sean Spiller to resign from the Board of Schools Estimates.

Montclair Kids First says that Spiller’s personal and business interests trigger four separate violations of the Montclair Code of Ethics. In a formal complaint filed on March 4, Shavar Jeffries, former Newark mayoral candidate and a senior partner at Lowenstein Sandler LLP, wrote that the Montclair Ethics Code requires Spiller’s removal because the BSE’s business involves his financial and personal interests as a paid, senior member of NJEA and as a paid official of the Wayne Education Association. You can see the full complaint here.

“Both Montclair and state law require public officials to disqualify themselves from votes or action involving the official’s financial or personal interests,” Jeffries tells Baristanet. “Because Spiller is employed by the NJEA to fight for the economic interests of NJEA members, including those represented by the MEA, and the sole responsibility of the BSE is to decide financial matters involving the economic interests of these same MEA members, Spiller plainly falls within the Ethics Code’s prohibitions, and must resign or be removed.”

Spiller responded to Baristanet with this statement:

I am aware of the complaint filed by a newly-formed, anonymous group. I have consulted with the attorney for the Township and it is clear that there is no conflict of interest in my service on the Board of School Estimate. This is a politically motivated attempt to silence me and to disenfranchise the voters who elected me to represent them.

We’ve seen this tactic used recently against other progressive public education advocates. It will not succeed. My role as a union member and leader does not preclude me from carrying out my duties as an elected official. In fact, my background as a high school science teacher and a progressive public education advocate is an asset to that work. I am proudly committed to helping build and maintain world-class schools in Montclair and across New Jersey, and I am confident we can do so in a fiscally responsible way. My actions as both a member of the Town Council and the Board of School Estimate over the past two years demonstrate that.

Of course, I am willing to meet with Montclair Kids First, or any other group, so long as the conversation relates to how we can ensure that every child in Montclair has excellent educational opportunities.

Montclair Kids First has so far remained anonymous and appears to be aligned with Montclair Schools Watch in its opposition to Montclair Cares About Schools (MCAS). MCAS has questioned the wisdom of PARCC testing and was fiercely opposed to Superintendent Penny MacCormack, who announced her resignation last month. Both MCAS and Montclair Schools Watch are also anonymous in that these groups do not identify founders, members or organizers on their respective Facebook or web pages (although the MEA website identifies Michelle Fine as the founder of MCAS here).

In a March 5 “call to action,” Montclair Kids First wrote:

Over the past two years, we have watched as our community has grown more fractured, our public schools more divided, and our parents increasingly disenfranchised from a process that directly impacts the educational welfare of their children.  Today, we announce the launch of Montclair Kids First (MKF), a coalition of Montclair parents and residents who believe that putting our kids first means that every Montclair child should have access to a world-class education and that every parent should be empowered with accurate, timely information and a strong voice.

The site also described the “debate concerning our schools” as one that “has been co-opted by political agendas, greed, blame and the quest for more power” and said Dr. MacCormack “should have been given a chance.”

MKF is retaining the law firm Lowenstein Sandler to advise the group of legal matters and options “to ensure greater transparency and understanding regarding recent decisions involving the school District.”  Leading the efforts will be Jeffries, who made education a central part of his mayoral campaign.

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  1. Gee! Another anonymous group to protect the greater social order over any one of our fractious issues.

  2. Thank god this group of anonymous, um, people? Is here to protect us from ourselves through the use of their lawyers! Surely these unknown parents and residents will put an end to all the political agendas, greed, blame and power hunger! At last, a voice for the little guy has appeared on the horizon!!

  3. Oh, good. An anonymous group fronted by a carpetbagging attorney. That oughta promote collaboration and cooperation.

  4. Didn’t see this group/people when there was/is conflict of interest on the BOE and Newark Academy. Funny how they seem to want to really improve the discourse by immediately going after the MEA on their FAQ page too. I’m sure that’ll lead to the healthy dialogue that they so crave.

  5. I looked at the complaint and the ethics issues aren’t out of thin air. Even if they aren’t major he does seem to have a number of conflicts of interests.

  6. A conflict of interest… Like, say, having an interest in creating a rival for-profit educational system while weighing in on policy for the current non-profit model?

  7. Saw the announcement of this new group last week, with their supposed agenda of civility and “think of the children!” Wondered why a law firm figured so prominently in their announcement. Now I know.

  8. I perceive his membership as a blatant conflict of interest compared to the intent of our local code. My understanding from reading the Montclair Times is the NJEA was to provide contract negotiators to the MEA for the last contract and, if they in fact did, I believe it would be likely they would do so again.

    It is immaterial whether there are other current or pasts perceived conflicts. Maybe we should go back and see how this code has been the justification for any past changes in our government. Change the code if you like, but that is opening up a whole other can of worms.

    Spiller should resign in order not to be a distraction and, as an elected official, to show his support for our ethics code.

  9. Even if he doesn’t resign he should have to excuse himself from all votes where it looks like there are overlapping priorities. Though with so many conflicts he would be effectively absent so it makes more sense to me that he step down.

  10. I’m not using my real name on Baristanet because I know what an unrelenting stream of negativity can do to a person. Some people don’t want to be attacked for speaking freely and honestly and I absolutely support their right to remain anonymous. Really, it’s sad that things have come to such a head in Montclair, but it is what it is and the MEA and MCAS have played no small part in getting us here.

  11. Who’s in for the “Montclair is sick of this sh*t” group?

    While I am not happy to see another partisan and anonymous group in this back and forth, their point on Spiller seems reasonable. In the same way many question Jackson’s role as real estate developer when planning and development is being discussed – so should Spiller’s teacher/union role be questioned when the school budget is being created or union contracts are being discussed.

  12. I will join your group cspn55!

    How will Spiller address the facts of the complaint, though? As far as I can tell it’s true that the Board of School Estimate’s job is deciding financial issues and his job at the NJEA is to fight for their economic interests. If he has a foot in both camps he’s essentially lobbying himself for better financial terms. I wasn’t aware this was the situation before but it’s a pretty obvious conflict.

  13. Ah, I suspect this is only the preliminaries. When I connect the legal dots and looking forward to next month’s BoE appointments, it is likely to be even more litigious.

    The possibility of appointing more educators, who could likely be union, adds another dimension to the issue under our system versus an elected board. Not an important one to me, but maybe to MFK. In our system, the BoSE is the check and that is why I think Spiller needs to step down. Under an elected board, the voters are the check.

  14. LOL! Yeah, kick out all the educators and bring in more folks with degrees in finance, because that’s been working so well. And of course, listen to the lawyers, because they really just want to help.

    Wow. This is just so sad. If there was any question that Montclair is an educational battle ground this pretty much answers it. The education “reform” folks see Montclair as the high ground that must be won for them to succeed in suburban schools, regardless of the cost. They’re not taking the Super’s flame out, the public’s revolt, or the current budget debacle as a sign. They have money and they are going to spend it. The Spiller offensive is just the beginning. This will get uglier. I really feel for all the parents who just want a good education for their kids, especially the ones who moved to town expecting to get something completely different from what they are getting now.

  15. Moving to Montclair for its education system would be like moving to Raqqa for democracy and peace.

  16. I’m glad that he checked with an attorney – what, three years after he was elected? – to make sure his conflicts of interests pass the legal test. Unfortunately they don’t pass the laugh test.

  17. Both Montclair and state law require public officials to disqualify themselves from votes or action involving the official’s financial or personal interests.

    Because Spiller is a Montclair Taxpayer, and the sole responsibility of the BSE is to decide financial matters involving the economic interests of these same Taxpayers, Spiller plainly falls within the Ethics Code’s prohibitions, and must resign or be removed.

    Case Closed.

  18. I can see if the councilors on the BoSE, like the Mayor, were voted in by all the voters like the At-Large councilors. But, they are not.

    So, I am surprised Councilor Spiller & Mr Karasick are hanging their hat on the disenfranchised voters hook. That’s just really bothersome and opportunistic. I would have preferred that they just say there is a big gray legal area here how the law & code applies to a body that spans school law and municipal law and we think we’re on solid ground…and we’re going to fight it out of the municipal budget. I can almost hear Mr Fleischer saying “Phew!”

  19. “Montclair Kids First has so far remained anonymous” but has retained a law firm because it wants to “ensure greater transparency and understanding regarding recent decisions involving the school District”?

  20. I agree with you Frank, he is trying to hide behind his constituents instead of addressing the simple facts. He cannot ethically carry out the missions of both jobs since he has a fiduciary responsibility to the union. The way he went after MKF instead of bringing up the legal fuzziness of the situation says he knows what he is doing is wrong.

    By the way, I’ve watched the yelling, name calling, and character assassination to give a pass to anyone who wants to stay anonymous.

  21. The “conversations” here in our township are driven by the loudest, most aggressive groups and seem designed to hurt individuals instead of helping kids. I know more than a few people who aren’t comfortable speaking out publicly because they see the constant harassment and attacks on the BoE and our Supervisors. I’m not surprised they want to stay anonymous. I’d say the complaint itself is more than just an attack on Sean and the unions. Lowenstein’s complaint has the cites to support its accusations.

  22. “I’m glad that he checked with an attorney – what, three years after he was elected? – to make sure his conflicts of interests pass the legal test. Unfortunately they don’t pass the laugh test.”

    About as funny as crying conflict of interest after the guy’s been in office for three years. He may well have a conflict, but the timing doesn’t strike you as at all fishy? Let’s not pretend someone has suddenly found something new all of a sudden.

  23. How is it that people seem to be willfully ignorant of the conflict of interest on the BOE? The one that is currently actually working itself through the State Ethics Commission?

  24. knashville, when discussing those who aren’t comfortable speaking out publicly, try to keep in mind that it was the BoE and Super that were the ones firing off illegal subpoenas to unmask their critics. Let’s be real here.

  25. I assumed Councilor Spiller would be provided the legal representation by the township because he checked with the Township Attorney. Now I’m not sure who would be responsible. If it is municipal taking up the representation, does that argue that he has to abide by the municipal code? But, why shouldn’t the BoE assume the costs as the conflict arises from their product?

  26. I read these posts and have two thoughts. The first is that it is anonymous groups and posters, some of whom represent groups (other than our kids) with vested and funded interests (including both the union and the anti union) crowds that do a terrible disservice to what is of value in this good town where we have chosen to live. The anonymity is toxic. Second, I have no idea what “progressive” means in the context of these discussions. It must be code for something but I do not know what it is and suspect it has nothing to do with solving budget problems.

  27. The anonymity is necessary. I’ve attended BOE meetings and seen the bullying, booing and cackling by many wearing their MEA blue t-shirts aimed at parents who speak publicly in support of the BOE, superintend or anything that might no align with the MEA’s opinion. It’s old fashioned bullying and intimidation. If my child were to behave the way these “professionals” do at the meetings, I’d be requiring him to write a note of apology to those directing the meeting. The behavior is really appalling.

    The last thing a parent wants to do is put their child at risk of being judged negatively by their teacher and have it impact their grades. It is a power the MEA has over parents who might disagree with the MEA’s views. This group allows for anonymity and having an attorney to speak on the parents’ behalf is very long overdue. Whoever is behind it, thanks.

  28. Sorry, not buying the sudden rush of puppet posts here. Same kind of bs that showed up here whenever MSW was mentioned. Now we have MKF critters about.

  29. Spiller plainly has a conflict between his two roles…..this seems like Governance 101. How can you receive compensation from the teachers union and then, in your position representing the Town, vote on teachers’ pay/school budget? I’m surprised this hasn’t been dealt with already….better late than never! And I am surprised that Mr. Spiller would even attempt to defend this arrangement. I hope the Township attorney did not actually green-light this, as Mr. Spiller indicated.

  30. This isn’t the first time Spiller’s conflicts have surfaced. There were burblings last summer on Patch, I believe, and an anti-Spiller website went up with charges similar to what MKS filed.

    Susanmom you hit the nail on the head. The MEA/MCAS crowd disrupts meetings, shouts down speakers and disparages board members. If you don’t share their point of view then you are the enemy, and it’s hard for one person to stand up to a large organization like that.

  31. Susan…as a parent I totally agree with your post. Whether this group is worthwhile I don’t know, but i also feel that disagreeing with the peanut gallery can negatively impact my kids in their day to day lives at school so why bother? In a similar way this happened when the town spent three minutes considering outsourcing garbage collection to save money….we got a municipal bldg room full of sanitation workers carrying on and being disruptive. The police dept also pulls this when something happens they don’t like.

    And SSP lots of oversight boards are comprised of outsiders intentionally to provide (hopefully) sensible and impartial oversight when both public sector employees/departments and the citizens they serve can be on opposite sides. Police have civilian oversight boards as an example. The BOE should .look out for the interests of all citizens of the town while striving to maintain a quality public school system. You don’t need to have a masters degree in education to be able to do the job and better that you are not in the education business at all (except maybe having kids in the system or who have gone through). That’s one of our big problems, the town government is too aligned with the public sector workers and then we all wonder why taxes keep going up and services often are poor.

  32. This whole thing is great! It’s like playing 3-D tic-tac-toe with X’s & O’s that are cloaked! I’m all for the anonymity and the more, the merrier. Pawns take pawns.

    The tension & the hypocrisy at the MFEE fundraisers must be unbelievable not knowing who the opposition is. Residents on both sides of the issues living in fear their children will pay for the adults running education in Montclair.

    Carpetbaggers? Did someone really say carpetbagger? If the New York Times editor is not to embarrassed to run this, it would be a good story.

    If the Planning Board can’t finalize the Master Plan while all this is going on, then there is no hope for them.

    What else…oh yes, all the above was for the kids! Education should be about the kids. At least a $100MM of it.

  33. Did someone say,
    “The anonymity is necessary,” oh really, on what planet. You can’t accuse someone, and expect to litigate your position and hide behind anonymity. We all keep saying, more transparency is better. Then people form anonymous groups to do their bidding. Not good. During the early 1900’s and throughout the Civil Rights era, night riders hiding behind their anonymity, enforced what they believed to be their vision for the country. Actually, it was more like hoods. Anonymity, nope, not for that at all. If Mr. Spiller has a conflict of interest, that should be discussed rationally and openly, not behind some veil of anonymity. Secret groups, like secret organizations, can be moving down a dangerous path, all in the name of anonymity. And does Mr. Jeffries really believe he can advance his complaint into a court room? I can see it now, “Your honor, I represent this Anonymous Group of parents.” Yea, good luck.

  34. Hey, can you all stop complaining about the rude people at the BOE meetings! Has anyone seen Bonesteel’s outrageous MontclairIdiot column? If my kid said the things he says in school he’d be suspended and I’d be forced to pay for private school! That on top of this ridiculous anonymous group with a lawyer, things are getting crazy around here. Spiller sat on the BOSE before, what’s different now? Maybe the massive cuts and the lost millions?

  35. It’s a bit far fetched to think that a parent can’t stand up and speak at a BOE meeting for fear their child’s grades will be affected!! Do you think all of your child’s teachers attend? Do you really think if they do they are making the connection of whose parent you are and then that they are making notes saying- hmmm, this woman doesn’t agree with me, be sure to mark that on their child’s next report card!! If the MEA has this kind of “power” over you, that is truly worrisome. And thank you qby33- having been on the receiving end of the idiot, reading the Schools Watch dreck and now the new group, it’s pretty obvious who is being rude and bullying. Of course, we don’t know exactly who these last two are but it’s starting to become a little bit obvious who is behind it.

  36. The loose interpretation in this complaint of “interest” isn’t at all what the NJ statute defines as “interest” (see NJ 40A:9-22.3 — Definitions). By Jeffries’s (and MKF’s) definition, anyone who pays taxes in the municipality would be in conflict if they served on the BoE or BoSE, since their direct financial “interest” would be materially affected by the outcome of any decision from those municipal bodies. Of course, that’s absurd.

    Read the statute yourself: https://www.state.nj.us/dca/divisions/dlgs/programs/ethics_docs/lgethics.pdf

    Pay special attention to this bit:

    “…under the principles of democracy, public officers and employees cannot and should not be expected to be without any personal interest in the decisions and policies of government; citizens who are government officers and employees have a right to private interests of a personal, financial and economic nature; and standards of conduct shall distinguish between those conflicts of interest which are legitimate and unavoidable in a free society and those which are prejudicial and material and are, therefore, corruptive of democracy and free society.”

  37. Frank, ’twas I who used the term carpetbagger.

    Webster’s definition:

    Carpetbagger: outsider; especially : a nonresident or new resident who seeks private gain from an area often by meddling in its business or politics

    Does that not seem to befit a failed candidate from another jurisdiction who has suddenly rode onto the scene with a shingle and a briefcase full of litigation?

  38. Yes, yes you clearly did. Too bad you didn’t check the etymology.

    On the minor distinction side, Newark is a couple of towns over in the same Essex County and the home of our Democratic Machine. He practices in the old Becker Farm (Roseland) where it seems like 80% of attorneys in North Jersey have their offices. I assume you have not lived here long.

  39. I used the secondary and quite accepted definition. I didn’t need to check the etymology because I know my history.

    My reference was to someone toting the Newark Schools reform agenda to Montclair in the hopes of a better outcome – not to a lawyer migrating the vast distance of a few miles. I assumed you’d pick up on that.

    Since you asked though, 30+ years. I’m probably still finding my way around though… 😉

  40. I’m sorry for doubting you that this was a play on our history. I actually liked your provocative characterization and was a good angle for a NYT piece. I now see how you used the reverse geographic reference to tie it together. Sorry for not getting it.

  41. Well, now that you’ve outed me, I’ll admit that I did kind of like the irony of the term since it classically references post war profiteering and the town has been a bit at war over the departing Super and her agenda.

  42. Not to mention that teachers from the North were the forerunners that contributed to the animosity leading to the term, and…”carpet” (needle point) hand bags are back in style.

  43. I think it’s great that those who complain the loudest here about a new anonymous group are themselves posting anonymously. The MontclairIdiot approves!

  44. Jon, you crack me up. I seriously chuckle when I see you rabble-rouse with obviously absurd comments like comparing anonymous chit-chat to the filing of lawsuits that the town must incur costs to defend against. Keep up the good work, sir. I love the Stephen Colbert-style grave delivery of silliness.

  45. Jon, there’s a considerable difference between people like me posting anonymously on a message board- and perhaps getting subpoenaed for their trouble- and some majorly well-heeled anonymous people instituting a lawsuit against a town official. If they would just talk among themselves and not be destructive no one would give a rat’s ass.

  46. The problem with all of the anonymous posters and groups is that there is simply no way for those of us without unspoken agendas to know whether the poster is a shill for an organized group including the teacher’s union or one of the groups that think the teacher’s union is the problem. The interests of our children and our taxpayers are not the same as the interests of the union or the groups who believe that we need more tests or more charter schools to weed out bad teachers. The organized groups shamelessly conflate their own interest with the interests of children and taxpayers and all one can hope is that in the end the issues that matter do not get resolved in a compromise between the two armed and mostly anonymous groups that ignore those of us who actually are interested in what matters.

  47. A future MontclairIdiot story will no doubt compare the cost of legal representation and the cost of green-lighted open ended MEA supported contracts that we taxpayers need to pony up for Miss Latebloomer. The MontclairIdiot, he is an idiot, but in his wisdom, he expects short term legal expenses to pale when compared to the other.

  48. What a day to be offline (yesterday). Much to shift through. I am interested to see how this develops. Mr. Spiller’s role within the Wayne District and then at the State level of the NJEA has been noted our community — at the time of the last Twnshp election and since. (I believe he won a state-wide office after being elected as 3rd Ward rep). Some people expressed their sincere concerns, some did not see a perceived conflict, most residents didn’t have a clue. I always wonder why our town newspaper and journalists did not pursue this to put the issue to bed one way or another. There was even a website (more than a year ago) which focused Mr. Spiller’s associations. I honestly don’t think the investigation of/judicial guidance for the matter is out of line and would encourage our Township Attorney to get the clarification once and for all. I’ll hold back my personal opinion about the lack of identity of the group involved because I don’t think an opinion on that negates the question the complaint poses. I also don’t believe Mr. Spiller is being asked to vacate his duly elected council seat — that would overstep. And I don’t think anyone is is saying that an educator can’t serve on the BoSE…it’s just the leadership role of Mr. Spiller’s day job that could make a reasonable person ask the question. I do understand that BoSE members are not directly involved in contract negotiations…but the Board does provide oversight and can request specific changes in the allocation of resources before approving a school budget. That’s the job of the BoSE — it’s what we elect our councilors to do! Honestly, this seems like a very specific and unique situation. In a town with an appointed board that does not vote directly on a school budget, we don’t want a faction/any faction questioning the veracity of the members of BoSE, do we? No matter what the professional connections of individuals are now — or in the future? No one councilor is promised a BoSE seat (I hope) when s/he is elected? We have others on the Council who could serve ably, yes? Are there other legal minds on the board who have an opinion to share?

  49. dblespresso,

    Mr Jeffries & MKF has filed a complaint with he Township per the procedure in the local code. There are no legal costs as yet. Yes, they have also notified the Township they would apply for injunctive relief if the full investigation by the Council rejects the complaint. I can’t really say if one week is an appropriate amount of time or not for the Council to conduct a full investigation. It seems the Council’s legal counsel, as Mr Spiller’s (premature?) statement seems to indicate, has come to a conclusion. However, the Council overall has to make the final formal determination. Since our ethics codes has never been tested that I know of, it is not necessarily a bad thing that an independent determination may be needed to validate our code. In some other matters, the township has amended our codes rather than test their validity in the courts.

  50. I understand, Frank… and as we all know, sending a saber-rattling letter is a low-cost/low-effort undertaking. However, unless that letter was sent on behalf of verifiable residents the town is under no obligation to even treat is a bona fide complaint – let alone respond to it or take action.

  51. “pawns take pawns”

    – harsh and funny but true

    Has anyone seen the old Leno skit, Point – What’s your point? Hilarious, but that is pretty much what the level of discourse above amounts to (both sides).

  52. pelberg, the issue of anonymous posting seems to be of great concern to you. I submit that if you hang around here long enough and read a variety of stories you get to know the regular commenters and their POV. Come often enough and you can spot the one hitters and the shills pretty easily.

    While outting the shills is out of bounds, and rightly so, there’s nothing wrong with challenging their comments. Regulars tend to respond as part of the conversation, but shills don’t often come back to see the challenge, or simply won’t respond.

    There are also fun ways of using Google to spot the shills, but I’m not giving up my methods.

  53. dblespresso,

    1) I see nothing in the local code about the requirements of the complainant.
    2) He also provided citations to State law and which local law can not supersede.
    3) We have many regulations that require an attorney to file/present on behalf of entities because of the status of attorneys in the system.
    3) Somehow I have to believe that an attorney with his education and experience did not make a filing mistake.

    Imagine the Council rejecting the complaint because it wasn’t filed by a resident? That is political Hara-Kiri. No, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle with procedural obstructions. I would imagine the Council has to let this go to the courts because of the way NJ State ethics laws are written. NJ has some of the strongest ethic laws in the country.

  54. @dherron you are getting awful close to confirming Godwin’s law https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

    The appropriate maxim here though is Occam’s razor. Step out of the legalese and subsections and you are left Sean Spiller working for the NJEA and advocating for union members while voting on a budget that is largely made up of their salaries. I have no doubt Spiller is a good man, a well-intentioned Board member, and an effective advocate for the union. The problem is the Board’s role isn’t to realize the goals of the NJEA, it is to direct our tax dollars for the betterment of the entire district. Big picture, he has a conflict of interest and should step down.

  55. What’s interesting to me, Frank, is how the township’s ethics code doesn’t really map well onto the NJ statute that I mentioned above. The NJ statute at least defines its terms precisely, and it appears that, in the process of defining them, it excludes the sort of situation that Mr. Spiller is in from its general definition of “conflict of interest.”

  56. I always defer to the lawyers as they make sure there are two plausible sides to any law and they always get paid, win or lose.

  57. Okay; sure–leave it to the lawyers. But since everyone here on the old Bnet adjudicates matters of public interest by proxy all the time, I feel perfectly justified in pointing out what looks to this layperson’s eyes to be a misapplication of NJ statute, or rather, an improper invocation of it as a support for the claim.

  58. When some websites and news organizations started making people use Facebook accounts to sign in I thought comments would be a little more considered since they were under real names. Ha, boy was I wrong! The upside was that if things get to the point of physical harm or harassment it is easier to track down the perpetrators like Curt Schilling did recently. My own preference is not to put my own name out there to be attacked and I won’t hold others to a different standard.

  59. Interesting that Spiller is out there talking about union salary needs during this dust-up.

    “NJEA and its members understand that budgets require difficult choices. After all, our members have to make the same kinds of tough choices when it comes to their own budgets, particularly in light of Chapter 78’s impact on their wallets. They have had to face the serious economic repercussions of increased pension contributions and mandatory premium sharing on health benefits while salary settlements with school districts have failed to keep pace with inflation.”


  60. OK, willjames, I took the bait and did some uninformed research. Since we have a municipal ethics law, the Local Finance Board seems to lose jurisdiction. Further, the law is not really clear to me about the distinction between a school board and the BSE. Since the BSE is a majority from a local government agency technically appointed by the Mayor and approved by the Council. So, the basis for our law is derived from the State law, and as a matter interpreting law, it goes to the courts…not the NJ DCA. So, now everybody hopes to get a friendly judge, gets to quote case law, and so on. Sounds good, doesn’t it? 😉

    It doesn’t matter because the legality is a technicality that is being used as a means to a political end. The Mayor should be conflicted because he will be forced into choosing between what he thinks his right and shaping the BoE membership. That is why Spiller needs to unilaterally step down. Time is not on his side as far as a decision.

  61. Frank, I was merely pointing out that to bring an action there must be a complainant with the standing to bring it. You are right, that is merely procedural. Nonetheless, were the town so inclined, I would suspect it could quickly shut down the phenomenon of nameless parties rendering demands.

    Personally, I don’t fault anyone for raising concerns over potential conflicts. Given the climate though, I am somewhat troubled by what I would expect to be the endgame: seeing someone replaced by someone else more favorable to an opaque agenda.

    While we all have leanings, I’d like to think many of us are pragmatic enough to want to see some balance among our elected and appointed representatives. When it’s unclear how a party is looking to skew that balance, it gets a little worrisome.

  62. All of it sounds awful, Frank. All of it.

    For my part, viewing the school system from the inside (I have two kids in grade school), I see daily evidence of excellence, professionalism and genuine compassion *within* the walls of our schools (or, okay, the one school I’m familiar with).

    Unfortunately, I am also presented with daily evidence of rudeness, questionable ethics, lack of civic pride, selfishness and a general inability to be generous, empathetic or understanding *outside* those walls.

    Among the only things to be proud of these days in this fair town of ours are our schools. What happens inside of them is really something to see. And yet, we seem (on all sides) bound and determined to screw them up. It’s a damn shame.

  63. “OK, willjames, I took the bait and did some uninformed research.”

    —end of reading…

    mr. rubacky, your barely restrained glee in obsessively parsing and commenting on this topic is a bit jarring. try not to have so much fun, ok?

  64. You should have been around when we had 7,000 students and it was much less democratic, more segregated, more crowded classrooms and less transparent and no internet. It was just the Superintendent, the Mayor, the BoE and the PTA. Not nearly as messy.

  65. Yes extremely helpful information on both of those sites- seriously? Links to anonymous sites and not so anonymous ones but with truly idiotic information and poorly made compilation footage of BOE meetings is helpful to exactly nobody.

  66. “A future MontclairIdiot story will no doubt compare the cost of legal representation and the cost of green-lighted open ended MEA supported contracts that we taxpayers need to pony up for Miss Latebloomer.”
    Let’s just hope when this “story” comes out Jon that you aren’t getting any information from you good pal/neighbor BOE President David Deustch. ‘CAUSE THAT would be a conflict of interest.

  67. I don’t know, Jon. Seems that your beloved MacCormack not only approved a decent raise for the MEA but also spent tens of thousands of our dollars on a paranoid witchhunt. Maybe you CAN have it all.

  68. “So when I hear someone claim that there is a silent majority that is too scared to show up, I hear those three things. I hear someone who is shaming and discouraging community members who sacrifice to participate. I hear a claim that requires evidence, which activists are required to provide, but the alleged silent majority does not. And I hear someone who does not understand the history of activism, and sees strong minority leaders as “shrill” rather than as responding to a history of being ignored.” danley.camden.rutgers.edu/2015/01/28/least-favorite-talking-point-the-silent-majority/

  69. Why is there this notion that MCAS is anonymous? Its not; they hold public events all the time. The games that are being played here are dirty. Everyone should be in truth. If you are scared to speak your piece; chances are your piece isn’t that important to you or you find other ways to take a stand e.g. opting out. YAY MONTCLAIR I SEE YOUR WORK. Power to the People

  70. I think next BOE meeting I will request Mr. Deautch call of his dog bonesteel; as uncivil as I am I find him toxic. How is what you are doing helping our children. Please help me understand?

  71. An annonymous group immediately hiring a lawyer with ties to charter schools and a failed mayoral race in Newark. These are bullying tactics. The parents and teachers who speak up at BOE meetings do not hide behind anonymous groups or lawyers. They risk retribution every time they speak but do it anyway. They are courageous individuals who do it for their students and their children. What is the motivation of this group? We know the corporate reformers goals are to privatize schools and make money off of our children. Why would a group hire an attorney with ties to charter schools? How do we even know they are actually parents in Mintclair? we don’t. We only know they want to assert their will though intimidation. Show yourselves and explain why we should listen to you just because you have money to throw around.

  72. And how ridiculous that anyone would call MCAS anonymous. Just because you say something, doesn’t make it true. MCAS parents speak at Board meetings, host events and their names frequently grace the articles of Barista. If you ink they are anonymous than this must be some new, Common Core definition I am not familiar with. If you are unfamiliar with MCAS members than I would suggest you attend the next Bosrd meeting or go to the Barista archives and read their past coverage on the Board meetings and other educational related articles.

  73. I find the comments regarding MCAS anonymity odd. Marcela wrote that the group holds public events and NYCMontclair writes that members speak at meetings. Forgive me for my poor sleuthing skills and for failing to find and connect dots but I have no idea who these people are. It is fine to be anonymous and it comes with a tradeoff: privacy versus effectiveness.

  74. This is absurd. Just because somene is too lazy to look at the archives, to attend events or BOE meetings doesn’t make MCAS members anonymous. What more should they do? Take out radio ads? Do commercials? perhaps hold an MCAS parade and each parent can man their own float with their names on them. They are a group of parents advocating for their children and the students of Montclair. Perhaps they should hire a fancy lawyer to get attention. But wait, that’s what cowards do to remain anonymous while pushing their own agenda.

    Tell you what. I’ll suggest MCS members wear identical shirts at the next BOE meeting. Oh wait, matching shirts are scary.

  75. Maia Davis at MCAS is a communications person for the United Federation of Teachers in New York. I sure wouldn’t want to get on their bad side.

  76. “Is there a nexus…”

    “I sure wouldn’t want to get on their bad side.”

    Wow, we are laying it on think, aren’t we?

  77. So “anonymous” MCAS parent Maia Davis also happens to work for a New York Teachers Union. Once again transparent Union bashing. Maia Davis lives in Montclair and raises her children in this town. And by the way, if anyone ever saw her speak they would know she is the sweetest, most soft spoken person. Slandering her is just a distraction. She isn’t anonymous,’she hasn’t hired a lawyer and she isn’t representing the New York teachers union when she speaks in another state.

    As for Unions, they are comprised of hard working people and helped make this country. They are. It evil forces tryng to secretly destroy our children. C pan the same be said for this anonymous group?

  78. @Townie Do you want a site where you can go and see a list of members? Would that be appropriate? Maybe for an organization but for a group of parents, not members, with common interests I don’t think it is. If one needed to know who was in the group it would be easy unlike Montclair Kids First. You can’t even tell what they are about. The site is poorly written with a bunch of rhetoric that appears to mirror what MCAS says. Their only action item is to have a voice in appointing the next board members and superintendent. Nothing on their position on pedagogy, what classrooms should look like, or solutions to any of the challenges that our schools face today. So if you are interested in getting a better understanding of the position of the parents of MCAS come this Friday to Tierny’s for OUR informal “Opt In” event. You will see some of us there and hopefully who we are and where we work won’t determine if you agree or disagree with some of the things we are saying. At the end of the day everyone has their own values and if you believe in your values no one can silence you. That’s why there never really is a silent majority just revolutions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  79. Sorry, I’m not trying to slander Maia Davis or union-bash at all. She is part of MCAS and also works for the UFT, the union that’s at “war” with reformers (their words not mine) including any kind of teacher evaluations such as the ones associated with the PARCC and Common Core.

  80. Can someone please explain why this anonymous group thinks Spiller will be biased when he voted in favor of their budget last year? Shouldn’t they wait until he votes against them before they label a conflict of interest charge? I mean how do they know Spiller won’t support them? He did last year!

    This reminds me of broken windows policing of black men. Judge them before they act.

  81. It seems constantly mentioning her not anonymous Maia Davis and the groups MCAS is a diversion tactic from discussing the real issues. I mean, seriously, parents are aloud to speak up. Tax payers are allowed to speak up. And yes, so are teachers. And everyne is allowed to have their opinions. But constantly bring up MCA, Ms. Davis and the MEA even when the article has nothing to do with them is incredibly transparent. Talk about the real issues. The budget deficit, the reforms that have changed our schools, etc. using distractions is insulting to people in this town. Answer the question I posed.

  82. People who are on here and other places saying they don’t know who MCAS is , come on! It’s so ridiculously obvious what you are doing. You know who MCAS is but soon we will all know who MKF is and who MSW and then things are going to be so crystal clear. It’s a real shame what is happening in this town. MCAS is for community and schools. What is the secret email spreading, smoke covering agenda behind some folks on here? If you have nothing to contribute but toxic energy, go away. Find a new hobby. Get a life.

  83. There seem to be a few of these groups (MCAS, Montclair Kids First, MSW? etc.) and there is no reason for the leadership not to self-identify. I agree with Marcella that every member need not be named, but leadership? Yup.

    Personally I am interested in my kids’ educations, but am not broadly interested in getting involved with the school system. Testing seems a main bugaboo and I just don’t really care about this issue. If a group wants my support, I am open to listening (from afar, here online) but if I cannot identify the leadership I generally dismiss their entreaties and walk.

  84. Around many issues our best teachers are the most reliable source of information about what works best for kids in school. I trust them more than parents, administrators etc. when it comes to what works for kids. I get their concern about too much of an emphasis on testing. But when we are talking about the allocation of limited resources in our schools and whether a fixed sum should be spent on raises v. technology v. more teachers v. raising taxes, they have the most understandable conflict and the teacher’s union is a special interest on such questions. It represents the interest of its members, not the community. It is disingenuous to suggest that the interest of kids and the union are the same and it is creepy when the union tries to speak for itself and children in the same sentence or on the same vote. I hope that answers your question nyc montclair,

  85. When will Baristanet be posting the story that broke yesterday about how Montclair Kids First has filed a FOIL request for Montclair Cares About Schools’ Michelle Fine’s emails to all the BOE members, superintendent, Town Council, numerous activists, etc. etc.? Far from promoting civility, this group is funded by big money and has hired Mr. Jeffries and his $700 an hour firm to go after dissenters. Kind of reeks of the Penny MacC playbook.

  86. townie,

    Their anonymity doesn’t really matter to me. Fundamentally, they are each just grassroots organizations with the usually strengths & weaknesses, lifecycle stages, etc. A primary purpose is to bring visibility for/against each side of the issue. It’s like bumper stickers on cars. We don’t care who is driving, but we do make judgements based on make/model.

    Without any formal structure or authority, these groups are trying to multiply the influence of the organized authorities that align to their beliefs. For MCAS – the MEA and certain members of the BoE. MSW just seems to want to neutralize MCAS. MKF is a little bit of an enigma for me. At one point, they will have to be more definitive and align with people in power, whether the people in power want them to or not. That will be the interesting.

  87. MKF IS aligned with people in power, Frank, though they choose not to reveal themselves. They are not just a grassroots organization. They are a well-funded group that insists on remaining anonymous and has hired a very high-priced lawyer to go after dissenters- see my above post. Said lawyer ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Newark on a school “reform” platform, and, despite being extremely well-funded, lost the race.

  88. It does’t matter if they are well funded or not. Successful grassroots organizations use whatever tactics that best maximize their particular membership’s resources. They can have powerful people in their circle, but, at the end of the day, they need to either align themselves with people with decision-making authority or evolve from a grassroots organization to a formal hierarchal structure… one that has a formal place at the table, so to speak. Otherwise, their power is limited to influencing.

  89. townie, you’re repeating yourself. Several of the posts lined up above yours make the point quite clearly: if you wanted to find the leadership of MCAS you could. If you wanted to find members of MCAS willing to discuss the issues and identify themselves, you could. If you wanted to find out who the folks are behind MSW/MKF you would have to make like a detective or an investigative reporter and dig dig dig, cause they really don’t want you to know who they are.

  90. Come on now Frank, MSW/MKF are the definition of astroturf. The group was formed in reaction to the parents who organized to oppose the Super’s plans for the district. They don’t show themselves at meetings, or discuss the issues in person or anywhere else, and not one member of their groups have ever identified themselves. They are a Op research/PR machine created to attack and do whatever possible to sew anger and mistrust of those opposed to the district’s current direction.

  91. SSP,

    Ah, you would be very wrong regarding MCAS. I’m too lazy to google back, but MCAS was purposely set up not to have a leadership structure. They may have change that, but if so, than you make my point that grassroots organizations need to evolve to a formal structure. Since I don’t Facebook, please tell me who exactly is the leadership, and their titles, of MCAS?

  92. Frank, at this point, even if I had access to the whole membership list of all these groups, posting it here would be, uh, not so constructive, and would rightly get me an involuntary break from posting here.

    I don’t see how not having a leadership structure is a bad thing, but again, members of MCAS speak publically and are known members of the community. As far as I can see, no one from MSW/MKF speaks out publically, or if they do they haven’t mentioned their association.

  93. You know I didn’t ask for the membership list. So, I can only infer that the leadership is not on the record anywhere. You keep making my points for me.

  94. Frank, I know you didn’t and I hope you know I was joking. And I’m not on FB either, so if it’s out there someone else will have to find it.

    Not sure why having leadership “on record” is the difference between being anonymous and being public, or being real versus being a shill. When members of a group speak publically and identify themsleves and say “I belong to ___ organization and I support ___” that’s a good sign of a grassroots organization. When you have an unknown group that puts forth no ideas or educational vision, but seems solely created to attack the first group and its supporters, that’s astroturf.

  95. Frank– I’m sorry you “don’t Facebook” and that you’re “too lazy to Google.” I’ll start putting a list together of some of the more outspoken MCAS members for you during my lunch break. I could be wrong, but I don’t think they have official titles like “recording secretary” and “legal adviser,” so I’ll list them in alphabetical order, if that’s okay with you. Is there anything else you need while I’m at it? Light housekeeping? Lawn work? Errands?

  96. State Street Pete,

    While we were futzing around another anonymous group has surfaced – students, no less. I’m sure their anonymity is to prevent social retribution of their parents. The more the merrier.


    No need. I made my point that MCAS deserves no moral superiority because of how they operate. Their moral superiority can only be derived from their position on the issues.

  97. Moral superiority? MCAS simply deserves more credit for being identified members of the community willing to speak up for their kids.

    And what exactly are MSW and MKF positions on the issues? It hard to tell beyond a couple paragraphs on their ebsite. Most of the posts are not about education and what constructive steps we can take to make things better. The vast majority are simply attacks on the opposition.

  98. Exactly, Pete! So much of what the MCAS side presents is very informative and intelligent. For example, there have been numerous community forums where people can go to be educated about the issues. The other side mostly attacks and whines about how people are mean to them. And now some of them are resorting to legal action to intimidate and invade personal privacy. I hope the result will be further mobilization of the community, because their actions are outrageous.

    Still wondering why Baristanet has not posted anything about the latest legal attack on MCAS.

  99. My issue with the anony-cacy groups has nothing to do with their reliance on anonymity. I take issue with their lack of substantive content on the actual topic of discussion: educational policy and decision-making here in Montclair.

    MCAS talks about the issues. MSW merely talks about them. I would get value out of even a very partisan POV about the topic. I get no value from discussion of the speakers rather than the issues though.

  100. Did anyone read the Township’s letter in response to the complaint. A little unorthodox.
    I guess tomorrow is a new day.

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