MKF v. Sean Spiller: Judge Rules Against Spiller, Says Service is Conflict of Interest (UPDATED)

Montclair Kids First

UPDATED with statements from Sean Spiller, Mayor Jackson and Montclair Kids First (below)

Today, Judge Thomas Moore in the case of Montclair Kids First v. Sean Spiller, found for the plaintiff Montclair Kids First and ruled against Sean Spiller, determining a conflict of interest in his service to the Township of Montclair.

Spiller, who did not attend the proceedings but was apprised of the events by his attorney, provided Baristanet with this statement:

Judge Moore took over an hour to read his full ruling from the bench and took extra time and care to note that every action I have taken was above reproach. He noted only that because some may perceive my BoSE service as creating a potential for conflict, he was not comfortable my continued service on that board.

I could not be more proud to support our public schools, our dedicated staff and most importantly the students who are our future.

From its outset, this litigation initiated by MKF has been straight out of the right wing playbook used nationally to vilify teachers and attack public education.

I will continue to fight for progressive values, world class education and the great town of Montclair.

Mayor Jackson said he hadn’t seen the ruling, but added “as I understand it, Judge Moore ruled that Councilor Spiller’s position with the NJEA created a conflict with his Council appointment to the Board of School Estimate. The Council, including Councilor Spiller, were advised differently but His Honor’s opinion rules the day and I respect it.”

Spiller, Montclair’s Third Ward Councilor, was serving on the Montclair Board of School Estimate while also serving as secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association. The conflict of interest case was the subject of an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

Judge Denies MKF Motion For Spiller Restraining Order

Representing Montclair Kids First (MKF) at the ruling was Shavar Jeffries of Lowenstein Sandler. Representing Mr. Spiller was the law firm of Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum, & Friedman.

In a statement released moments after the ruling, Montclair Kids First (MKF) thanked Judge Moore for his fairness and said “The ruling by Judge Moore was clear – as the NJEA’s third ranking official and a highly paid executive of the teachers union and its affiliates, including the Montclair Education Association, Sean Spiller should have never been appointed to the Board of Estimates, let alone played a major role in determining how Montclair spends its school dollars. The ethical conflict is palpable and does a great disservice to all the public school students in Montclair.”

85 COMMENTS

  1. Big deal. So he has to step down. Pretty sad since he did this for a bunch of years, never a problem not until Penny, Leslie and Shelly got the boot (but-bye). Then Mr. Bonesteel got his panties in a bunch. I’m just counting the days until Deutsch and Kulwin are out of there. Tick tock tick tock……

  2. Also, funny the things MKF spends their money on. Do they realize the students who get free and reduced lunch get fed sugary cereal with chocolate milk to pour over it everyday? When they start really putting Montclair KIDS first and not their own egos, then maybe people would have any respect for them. In the meantime they are a joke.

  3. qby33 — what is sad is that instead of addressing Spiller’s egregious conflict of interest .. you instead lash out at those who thankfully challenged it. I guess union business is more important to you than making sure taxpayers are being represented objectively.

  4. This was the biggest waste of time and money I have ever witnessed. Way to go Spiller. You should have done the honorable thing and have not accepted the nomination. Let me offer you a huge, “I told you so!”

  5. qby33…I mentioned this when he was first appointed. Make up your BS like you usually do. Check it if you don’t believe me. Have a nice day!

  6. Much to do about nothing. Sure..not great for image..but that BOSE oversight board has little impact on contracts other than to approve or disapprove the overall school budget.

    It’s too bad the town Council really can’t oversee contracts and fiscal actions of our BOE with real accountability. Makes you still want an elected board.

    Until recently, the school Board was out of control with surpluses, deficits and complete discombobulation different years for major expenditures – like the new school.

    Spiller is and was not not the problem. The problem was allowing the last two Superintendents to operate without real accountability. Too many BOE member sycophants until now.

    Hopefully this new Board and new Superintendent will get us back on the right track.

  7. Spiller was not the problem, but he is not above the law, regardless of how hard he works for the schools. He felt he was. What a waste of time and money for both sides. Now does the union have to pay MKF back? That would be rich.

  8. Remember…I fought for an elected board long before any of this. It was the League of Woman Voters who somehow came out against voting and made some completely BS and backwards claim that those in favor of electing the board wanted to abolish the magnet system. This is completely not the case of course, but when did the truth matter when it comes to the liberal NYTimes hit pieces or liberal organizations such as the Montclair League of Women Voters.

  9. I complained about this appointment to the Mayor early on, and I doubt I was alone. This wouldn’t have occurred had he taken those complaints seriously.

    In that sense, this has been a waste. On the other hand, the courts exist to protect us against such violations as conflicts of interest.

    …Andrew

  10. “other than to approve or disapprove the overall school budget”

    But that’s a lot, and it does relate to contracts. For example, the BOSE pushed the BOE this past year to reduce spending elsewhere in order to have more to spend on staff. Would a BOSE w/o a union officer have pushed for as much of a cut to that end? We’ll never know.

    Still, that example alone shows the significance of this conflict.

    …Andrew

  11. Right and left..well-meaning people like Stu have pushed to stop the fiscal foolishness at the BOE here in our past. But Spiller was not and is not part of that.

    I stand by my original statement: “much to do about nothing”…

    So while it may look like a conflict of interest and if the BOSE had real say..it very well could be. But they don’t have real input despite Mr. Gideon’s hair-splitting concerns above. So this is a Pyrrhic victory for Jon Bonesteel at best.

    Now, let’s move on to the school budget where the real action matters once again.

  12. I wish one of you who are running your mouth about how you said something early on, could point out just ONE time Spiller did anything remotely wrong while serving. Yeah, don’t think you can.

  13. Big win for MKF. Successfully ousted the guy who voted in favor of approving budgets proposed by two of MKF’s very own members.

    That’ll teach ’em!

    Sure, those budgets passed 5-0, sooooo this all amounts to, ummmmmm, well, ya see… the thing it really changes is… uhh… well, the impact is going to really be felt… ummm… well, it IS a massive victory. Period. Just take our word for it.

    (See, Penny, we told ya we’d avenge you!)

    Uh-oh, I thought you guys had stopped reading. Ignore that last part. That was just supposed to be in my head. You weren’t supposed to see that. No, it was about Spiller. Seriously. We swear.

  14. Spiller seems like a good guy and as a 3rd ward resident I think he’s done a good job for us on the counsel. However, the judge came to the logical ruling as it relates to his role on the BOSE. Even if he did not act as “NJEA-Sean” in this role, there is a definite possibility and perception of a conflict given his role in the union.

    Would qby want a Pearson Corp employee to serve on the BOSE? Anyone in these roles should be neutral in terms of perception of conflict so that the people of Montclair trust they will fairly represent both town residents (who pay for all of this) and students. These bodies do not exist to represent he NJEA and MEA.

  15. Would MKF want anyone with Charter School ties sitting on our BOE? Well, looks like Larson’s husband did. Where do we end with “conpflicts of interest”?

    And stick to my question please. Please point out one time where Spiller did anything remotely wrong. Thank you dblespressso for stating exactly what sane people are blatantly aware of!

  16. “Mayor Jackson said he hadn’t seen the ruling, but added ‘as I understand it, Judge Moore ruled that Councilor Spiller’s position with the NJEA created a conflict with his Council appointment to the Board of School Estimate. The Council, including Councilor Spiller, were advised differently but His Honor’s opinion rules the day and I respect it.’”

    It’s disturbing that the Council’s attorney (or whoever was advising the Council) did not see the conflict presented by Spiller’s appointment to the BoSE.

  17. Tempest in a mediocre teapot. Essex County machine and Union patronage mill. The schools suck and always have but at least we’re diverse is the rallying cry of the progressive deluders. I remember Madam Lefarge of the
    Fried Five telling the town if you can’t afford the taxes then move. League of Women Appointers.

  18. Three cheers for rule of law. When I would tell friends outside the Montclair/Berkeley bubble about Spiller the amazing Teachers’s Union exec cum school budget committee member, they were incredulous. Thanks to MKF for fighting the fight and Judge Moore for his wisdom.

    Spiller showed his colors in defeat. It’s all about “right wing playbook,” vilifying teachers, and attacking public education. Who knew Judge Moore was such a fascist!

    Dblespresso, disappointing response. We went back and forth here with me explaining multiple hypothetical conflicts (or appearance) and you emphatically denying them. Now the news you were wrong (at least per judge) has you are spinning like”crisis is our brand.”

    Qby33,you sound unhinged. Proving potential for conflict of interest does not require proving conflict occurred.

  19. “just ONE time Spiller did anything remotely wrong while serving.”

    Yes, he should have never accepted the nomination. Besides that, no, he never did anything that bothered me personally.

    Thanks El Camino. You beat me to the punch.

  20. elcamino, how I’ve missed ye.

    I haven’t read the ruling. I’m sure it will make for an interesting read.

    If you recall, my core point was that this was clearly of sudden interest to a newly aggrieved group of people due more to their leader being deposed than a sudden very, very time-delayed case of righteous citizen outrage over Spiller.

    In addition, if you recall, I pointed out that for the majority of people who consider themselves to be relatively balanced in the money vs. sense comparison, if one is to sue one’s own town, it should generally be in a case where there is a potential gain from succeeding.

    Most adults don’t see the value in wasting time and money in service of nothing more than a potential “SEE! We made our point!” That’s an idle dilettantish pastime reserved for the very angry, the very well off, the very litigious or d) all of the above.

    Now Spiller is gone. The last two budgets were appointed 5-0. Those budgets were proposed by plaintiffs Larson and Lombard – who praised Spiller for his collaboration.

    Now what? Appoint a guy who would have voted AGAINST MKF’s own members? Appoint Eli Broad himself? You know what that would get ya? A 4-1 vote. One less thumb.

    Hey, bust out the bubbly. Big victory – hypothetically, philosophically and in theory. Unfortunately, back down here on Planet Earth, most see this for what it was: political payback by people with ample dollars to avenge one lost Penny.

  21. From the sidelines…it sure does look like political payback. But in actuality, Sean should have never accepted that nomination to the Board. Or do you think he is above the law?

  22. “it sure does look like political payback”

    Could you elaborate? I’m one of those that complained early, so I’m certainly not in the pro-union-officer-on-BOSE camp. But I don’t understand where “payback” arises.

    …Andrew

  23. The thing I don’t understand is why Spiller didn’t just recuse himself. Whenever there is even the appearance of a conflict, public officials generally do so. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do – particularly in contentious times.

  24. Oh come on, political payback for “Ding dong the witch is dead”, the high fives, the hugs. For bye bye Penny, don’t let the door this your…..and same for Lombard and Leslie. Spite can be so ugly. And EXPENSIVE! Hahahaha

  25. Where to begin?

    qby33 says: “Big deal. So he has to step down” and then, for good measure, “… funny the things MKF spends their money on.”

    You have a firm grasp on the obvious. Yes, he [Spiller] has to step down. That was the whole point of the complaint. Had he stepped down 1 year ago, the complaint would not have been filed. You whine about “the things MKF spends their money on,” yet apparently the judge AGREED.

    And lest we forget: this was a judge in Essex County, not exactly a bastion of Republicanism. So the “right wing playbook” argument doesn’t fly here.

    tallahassee: “It’s disturbing that the Council’s attorney (or whoever was advising the Council) did not see the conflict presented by Spiller’s appointment to the BoSE.”

    CORRECT. Ira Karasick has some serious explaining to do on this one. He advised the Council that, in his view, there was no conflict.

    therealworld: “Hopefully this new Board and new Superintendent will get us back on the right track.”

    The “new Superintendent” is here on a series of annual contracts. He cannot stay beyond April 2017 (unless he un-retires, which would result in a big financial hit for him). So he is, in essence, a lame duck. As for “this new Board,” there figures to be at least 1, possibly as many as 3, “new new” BOE members appointed in April. “This new Board” will become “the next new Board” 60 days from now.

    helenm: “The thing I don’t understand is why Spiller didn’t just recuse himself.”

    In a nutshell: Pressure from his union.

  26. Well, if I thought I was doing a perfectly good job in a position and then found myself on the receiving end of a sudden suit from a group of people I knew to be fuming over something entirely separate, I’d probably be loathe to step aside in those circumstances too.

    Spiller found himself being targeted by people who had never before gone all “full metal jacket” and run for their attorneys in his year-plus of service. So, if I were him, I’d probably not be keen to be chased out of a seat just to appease a group of children masquerading as concerned parents either.

    I mean, when there is a lawsuit filed well into someone’s service, either someone is very slow on the draw or the suit isn’t really about the defendant.

  27. ” … and then found myself on the receiving end of a sudden suit from a group of people I knew to be fuming over something entirely separate …”

    What “entirely separate” were people “fuming over,” if not Spiller’s (now confirmed) conflict?

    As for your phrase “sudden suit,” that raises a good point: did MKF make any efforts, BEFORE filing the complaint, to get Spiller to step down? Did MKF’s reps meet with Spiller, Mayor Jackson, etc. before the complaint was filed?

  28. I kind of agree with therealworld’s comment: Much to do about nothing.

    Consider: maybe Spiller appeals, drags this out a little longer, then drops the appeal and “claims victory.” Or maybe he accepts the ruling and, “in the interest of moving forward,” ends things. The Mayor will appoint someone else (presumably McMahon or Baskerville) to the BOSE.

    Meanwhile, the Mayor will make his BOE appointments in April, and, most likely, the entire Council will be re-elected in May (other than Kavesh, no viable names out there, petitions due in 2 weeks).

    In the final analysis, where did the legal briefs and all the commentary take us? Spiller is off the BOSE. Probably the right decision by the court. Now what?

  29. Devonklein, the Spiller suit was just one of the many angry little tantrums that erupted after the Penny fell down the well. There was the Michelle Fine invado-FOIA request. There were the anonymous blogs. Oh, so many anonymous blogs… and then there was this suit. Each shared the same rather childish storyline: person associated with the union is BAD! Very bad! We must get them! Get me a barrister stat!

    Come on. This was seriously like a municipal governance version of the Soprano’s. It was John Gotti meets public education. The boss of a family gets whacked and two scenes later, a few bumbling street toughs try to kick in the door at the Ravenite Club only to realize the club was already closed for the night and their hail of gunfire only took out a bartender.

    It took this band of not-quite-Karl-Rove’s months to come up with this after having tried angry smears, invasions of privacy and enough angry letters to the Times to wallpaper the Spiller residence.

    Pathetic.

  30. Thank you joynlayne. Yes, therealworld does try to comment on reality for the real world regardless of which side of the fence that comes out on.

    This one does have have bad PR for Spiller which could have been avoided…and it has bad “optics”…as those who seem to be in the know keep calling it..but it really is ‘much to do about nothing politically’ given the actual role and impact of this Board and the limited play they actually have on line item decisions within the BOE budget.

  31. “Now what?” – johnlayne

    Now what? There is no now what. It was a matter of principle & law, and common sense for many. It has restored the pretense for the taxpayers that the BoSE matters and is not just a rubber stamp except for a fraction of a percentage point here and there. The MPS plays them, or they allow themselves to be played every budget cycle. Watch once again what is submitted and what is approved. The MPS just builds it into “the asking price.” The BoSE, like shopping at a Macy’s sale, can say they got their % off. Whoopee!

  32. Regardless of whether you support his actions, Jon Bonesteel does deserve a contrats for being correct on policy and law and for following though on his public policy beliefs.

    But as some of the posters correctly noted above…so what and what’s next?

    Councilor Spiller will leave the Board of School Estimate. Town Attorney Ira Kararick will eat some crow as all attornies do who believe they have a direct pipeline to the mind of the judicial gods but are proven wrong……and all the Board of Education constituencies will continue to fight.

    Last night was the newest, but still pay-back round from the past.

    What next Boneman….are you really doing anything with that election packet you pulled?

  33. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to disagree rather strenuously that the feedback due is anywhere close to congratulatory.

    If I point out that the people who cross the street between CVS and Starbucks on Valley are jaywalking, I would be legally correct.

    If I point out that the friendly golden retriever I was petting at Mills Reservation was actually a four-legged violation of municipal leash laws, I would be legally correct.

    If I turn around and sue my neighbors, my town’s officials and by proxy, my entire town to accomplish nothing more than making a point, I most certainly deserve some kind of spirited commentary from my fellow townspeople – and it most certainly isn’t congratulatory.

  34. Good morning dblespresso. You would have to be petting the owner of the Golden to be legally correct…and that could be a violation in itself.

  35. “Now what? There is no now what.”

    Actually Frank, you’re wrong. johnlayne’s “Now what?” is the whole point here.

    The court ruled there is a conflict. Spiller comes off BOSE. Many think this should have happened a year ago; others disagree with the ruling. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But now it’s done. The Mayor, who appears primed to run unopposed, will appoint up to 3 new BOE members in March or April (last year he made the appointments in March; the deadline, I believe, is April 15). Meanwhile, Bolandi has, at most, 14 months remaining in the district.

    Most, if not all, of the current Town Council figure to be re-elected in May. Maybe we’ll get 1 new Town Councilor (though only 1 or 2 non-incumbents actually took out packets, Kavesh apparently being one). The Mayor will appoint someone from the Council to replace Spiller on BOSE.

    So again, as johnlayne and others have asked: now what? Where to from here? Do we want increased divisiveness as it relates to schools? “In this corner, Montclair Cares About Schools.” “And in this corner, Montclair Kids First.” I don’t think so.

    What’s done is done. Cliche, but true. Time to move on.

    Now what?

  36. Hello Martin,

    Wasn’t that a great event for the Jazz House this past weekend!?! Great to see you as always.

    Rather than comment on any plans I may have, I would ask that you move forward independent of them. You live in the 3rd Ward, no?

    I will be publishing a full editorial on this story in future, but for now I would refer you to what I wrote last year here on March 16th.

    “I believe Mr. Spiller to be an excellent and well-intentioned public servant. I was very appreciative of his involvement with the transition of the Adult School of Montclair and I like him personally. However, I agree with MKF (and the complaint) that his position as Secretary-Treasurer of the NJEA is in direct conflict with his role on the Board of School Estimate and his responsibilities to review and approve Montclair’s annual school operating and capital budgets. I also believe that the Mayor should not have initially appointed Mr. Spiller to this position given the information contained in the case. As an aside, many parents have, in the past year, quietly mentioned this issue to the Mayor. This was done appropriately in “one-on-one” settings with the Mayor, not in public Board Meetings, but with no response. So, this is not a new concern. We may not prevail in court, but even if the judge rules against MKF, we believe it is unfair to the taxpayers of Montclair for the review and approval of the next school budget to be conducted when even the appearance of such a conflict exists. We feel Montclair deserves better and that he should step aside for another Council member who does not have such a conflict of interest.”

    https://baristanetnew.wpengine.com/2015/03/letter-to-the-editor-jon-bonesteel-montclair-kids-first/

    Thanks much, Jon

  37. dblespresso, you’re sounding like a very bitter, and not altogether coherent, loser. Pre-judgment you adamantly denied any Spiller potential conflict of interest. I got so frustrated trying to explain it to you I resorted to the “I can explain it for you but I can’t understand it for you?”

    Now your tactic it to fault MKF for not suing sooner and suggesting they have other motives. On first, I would simply say better late than never. On 2nd, so what if they killed two, or three birds or were motivated in part by other events? The key point is, MKF and judge recognized conflict and we will soon have one less. That is good news for all,, unless one’s camp happens to have potentially benefited from this particular conflict of interest.

    I suspect you’re bitter because you have been proved flat out wrong by a judge on the substance of case and you are now spinning it as “substance wasn’t the point” and oh yea, those rich MKF cats are real meanies because “they sue our neighbors,” and oh yea again, “MKF is shooting itself in the foot.”

  38. Would be a shame if a tree fell in the forest, MKF made sure everyone heard it, and then it became clear that there was never an interest in anything other than proving that they knew how to use a chainsaw.

    Looking forward to seeing how MKF’s application of equal energy going forward will produce something of value from the replacement of one discretionary appointee with another discretionary appointee.

    Anybody have any idea when we can expect to hear more about the important benefits to be reaped from the important victory in this important matter?

  39. Elcamino, not your best efforts.

    The query put to you is simple: how has the course of business been affected in the past and how will it be improved in the future as a result of this victory?

    Hint: “the course of business” means the tangible, actual, decisions and events occurring during the practice of town business. If your answer is about feelings and perceptions, you haven’t answered the question.

    The previous budgets were authored by two of the plaintiffs.
    Those budgets passed 5-0.

    Spiller’s seat is appointed at the discretion of the Mayor.
    He is free to appoint someone with similar views as Spiller.

    So, again, I ask: other than servicing people’s hurt feelings and philosophic views, how exactly has this effort materially served taxpayers?

    Again, not philosophically. Tangibly.

  40. Dblespresso, unfortunately, you are no longer just disagreeing with me, you are disagreeing with a judge.

    Given how wrong you were about the conflict, perhaps you should actually read opinion before you reprise your “defense” that spiller actually, sometimes, voted FOR MKF interests, so therefore, what conflict?

    While perusing the record, see if Spiller’s NJEA attorneys availed themselves of your “sometimes he voted FOR them” defense. I predict they did not b/c it’s irrelevant-absence of past conflict is not dispositive in conflict of interest case.

    Be a player; admit you were wrong on conflict and move on to “hackgate”or next sad scandal. If you can’t let go, read the Judge’s opinion and tell us why Judge Moore has it wrong and you are right.

  41. I appear to have potentially held you in too high esteem, Elcam. A person fluent in the law doesn’t typically refer to decisions rendered on subjective matters as proving someone was “right” and someone was “wrong”.

    You do know what judges’ decisions are called, yes? Opinions.

    You do know that we actually have a multi-tiered court system because the opinion of one judge may well not be the opinion of all judges, yes?

    Personally, after having stepped back from this case in the blissful press release-free period leading up to the ruling, I could certainly see how a judge might emphasize the “protection against even the appearance of a conflict” as a weighting factor and rule against Spiller. Yet, I could also see a judge who had, ironically, more of a Scalia-like plain-meaning bent reading the statutes literally and concluding that Spiller’s affiliations do not include a direct enough means for a significant enough financial gain.

    Personally, as a matter of strict governance, I think his seat is best filled with someone else. That, however, does nothing to elevate the agents behind this action. The end may or may not justify the means but it does nothing to justify either the motives or the shortcomings required to act upon them.

  42. devonklein,

    In less than 5 years, we have cycled through several Superintendents, most of the BoE, the Council representatives on the BoSE, the PTA and the head of the MEA.

    We remain dysfunctional, culturally impaired, and most of all, while delivering an overall minimally acceptable education to 6,900 students, we basically fail that standard for 20-30% of the students depending on what measure you want to use.

    Our school debt is going up – the opposite direction of our municipal debt. The muscle of our magnet schools has atrophied and each has gone off on their unique tangents based on middle management. tWe have no agreed upon initiatives to improve anything and rely on an interim superintendent to chart our path – all the while he knows the arrows are a heartbeat from being unleashed on him. But, in his favor, we are outright desperate for a savior and he knows it.

    We have done squat to find his permanent replacement. The BoE spent an entire quarter formulating operating policies and renaming a middle school. We had a couple of pilot sessions about how we all have subconscious bias toward people that are different from each other, but we only want to deal with the bias that we are biased to blame entirely on race.

    And you want to know now what? Wow, is that some “you want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem” cliche? The what is our schools are going to be deficient well into the next decade at a minimum. Accept it. 50 years of history is on my side. What’s on yours? Hope?

  43. Well ok Jon here it is. I won’t run against Sean because I believe he is doing a pretty good job. He is generally responsive to residents and takes action on issues at the micro level to generate council support. Further, he’s on a Council team that has been the best crew we’ve had here in years – both fiscally and directionally. With continued resident lobbying and pressure from constituents the next election cycle, they have the potential to do even better.

    Honestly, their appointment of me to the Planning Board as the Mayor’s rep– one of the leading preservation and smart growth land use advocates here to resist poor development pressures was a good sign. It’s in seeming contrast to some of their early campaign positions and a good example of smart people who generally get it and are even willing to listen to different POVs.

    Are they perfect no? Do we still have major problems that need creative solutions not yet on the table? Yes. But Sean’s role on the BOSE, while not what I supported – has very little impact on our BOE budget. Therefore, it is just not that politically significant in my view.

    Taking this on…and getting him booted off – should not have been a political priority as I see it.

    Nonetheless, I’ve always advised Sean and the peeps around him that he should have slid off this board once the issue was identified — due to the “perceived” conflict of interest. But in reality, as some here have posted above, the BOSE has very little input into the actual process impacting the BOE budget.

    Unlike BOSE’s in cities like NYC that meet monthly, that can subpoena witnesses…that can call in administrators to ask them why they just made a ridiculous bonehead decision which cost the taxpayers x, or why they advocate some dumb philosophical public policy that works against the cause of education — the actual set-up of the BOSE here is just slightly south of a rubber stamp.

    This oversight board, with a simple majority of Councilors over BOE appointees, can only meet for a prescribed period of time to just approve the BOE budget. It has no line item veto power. It has no subpoena power. It has no investigative staff and even if it plays hardball and refuses to pass the BOE budget to force the majority Council will on the system to reduce spending, what was written here, or in another thread on who has the real political power – is actually correct.

    There is a way the Superintendent can still ace this Council majority BOSE out. All the school system has to do is to bring its budget back to the State government. Then, the bureaucracy has some maneuver to override our local Council’s objections. The State can actually force the Township to accept the BOE’s budget which the school Superintendent wants to pass.

    So this BOSE role, for me, is mostly a non issue. Sure, sometimes the Montclair BOSE does make noise and requires the BOE to modify its budget a bit and to come back to the table. But its power is mostly bully pulpit. For the last 12 years, there have been zero major conflicts between the Council run BOSE and the school system that were not resolved in a few days.

    I’m someone who years ago sued the Township and Steve Plofker for their undemocratic behavior over their failure to historically designate of the Marlboro Inn – ignoring the unanimous hpc vote (which ultimately resulted in the lacking Christco development seen there now). So I can appreciate your efforts to follow-through on what you believe was an important public policy aberration. However, in this case, the impact was not significant enough for me to warrant fighting that battle.

    More important would have been for a group like MKF to go wild years ago at the BOE Business Manager, who ran every school construction project into the overspending ground and kept our school fields in a state of disarray because she knew nothing about construction management. She was taken to the cleaners by almost every contractor. More important would have been for concerned residents to go wild on School Superintendent Alverez years ago for appearing to lie about the actual costs of building our new school – which created an unnecessary, $35 million dollar expenditure.. even more now when calculating bonded interest.

    Sadly, only a few people made noise on these issues at that time. Most parents were in the “don’t hurt the children mindset” and were buying all the claims our BOE bureaucracy and their resident support flacks used – to keep those of us talking efficiency and competency at bay.

    Now, that mindset has flipped around which in many ways is good. However, you’ve got to choose your battles and your opponents.
    Sean Spiller, who is still a home-owning tax-payer here and our neighbor – even with his potential conflict of interest with the MEA – is not the enemy within as I see it.

    Further, the MEA is not our enemy and should not be related to as one. If you want to kill someone’s political power, you do it with love and kindness. Should Sean be directly handling fiscal issues which clearly impact the MEA? No. But there are plenty of other problems and issues worth fully engaging in first to fight for change. That one would not have been my first priority — as the path to help turn things around.

    So to expand on this what’s really going on — rather than have an all out war over testing, the better approach to me would have been to demand the Superintendent and Union work collaboratively with the Board to help find a way to actually identify teacher mediocrity.
    MKF and parents could have banded together to force the system to either better train or lose those actually not delivering the goods.

    Instead, you all tried to back door your real goal…hiding it with B.S. about needing more educational testing data.

    You ended up with a philosophical educational fight over more testing instead of pursuing the goal directly and trying to force that issue. Everyone knows there are some mediocre, if not poor teachers in this system. You don’t necessarily need more testing to identify them. But by forcing that teacher issue up front, with all its difficulties, and not making the MEA the enemy but actually requiring their involvement in how to solve the problem and be part of the identification process – you would have likely been much more effective politically. You could have gotten many more parents on your side if that goal was pursued directly upfront.

    All the Union’s resistance and/or participation would have been fully on the table this way. Yet, still within a more cohesively demanded yet pressured political environment. Instead, you all back doored your real goal into a battle royale over testing — still going on.

    That was and remains the major strategic political flaw here. Pursuing Spiller’s ouster on the BOSE is just a side-show.

  44. Well ok Jon, here it is. I won’t run against Sean because I believe he is doing a pretty good job. He is generally responsive to residents and he takes requested action on issues at the micro level to generate council support. Further, he’s on a team that has been the best Council crew we’ve had here in years – both fiscally and directionally. With continued resident lobbying and pressure from constituents the next election cycle, they have the potential to do even better.

    One good sign honestly, was their appointment of me to the Planning Board as the Mayor’s rep. I’ve been one of the leading preservation and smart growth land use advocates here to resist poor development pressures. So appointing me is in seeming contrast to some of their early off-base campaign development positions. It’s a good example of smart people who still get it, can adapt and are even willing to listen to different POVs.

    Are they perfect no? Do we still have major problems that need creative solutions not yet on the table? Yes. But Sean’s role on the BOSE, while not what I support – has very little impact on our BOE budget. Therefore, it is just not that politically significant in my view.

    Sure, Sean should have slid off this board once the issue was identified — due to the “perceived” conflict of interest. But in reality, as some here have posted above, the BOSE has very little input into the actual fiscal process impacting our BOE budget.

    And yes, sometimes the Montclair BOSE does make noise and requires our BOE to modify its budget – to come back to the table. But its power is really only bully pulpit. In the last 12 years, there has been zero major conflicts between the Council led BOSE and the school system, not resolved in just a few days.

    So taking on Sean Spiller’s BOSE role, for me, is mostly a non issue.

    More important would have been for a group like MKF to go wild years ago on the BOE Business Manager, who ran every school construction project into the overspending ground and kept our school fields in a state of disarray because she knew nothing about construction management. She was taken to the cleaners by almost every contractor. More important would have been for concerned residents to go wild on School Superintendent Alverez years ago for appearing to lie about the actual costs of building our new school. That created an unnecessary, $35 million dollar expenditure..even more now when calculating bonded interest.

    Sadly, not enough people made noise about those issues at the time. (yes Stu we were together on this) Most parents were in the “don’t hurt the children mindset” and buying claims our BOE bureaucracy and their resident support flacks used – to keep those talking efficiency and competency at bay.

    Now, the parent oversight mindset has flipped around which in many ways is good. However, you’ve got to choose your battles and pick your opponents. Sean Spiller, who is a home-owning tax-payer here and our neighbor – even with his potential conflict of interest from the MEA – is not the enemy within as I see it.

    Further, the MEA should not be treated as an enemy. That is part of the problem. If you want to kill someone’s political power, you do it with love and kindness. Should Sean be directly handling fiscal issues which clearly impact the MEA? No. But there are plenty of other problems and issues worth engaging in first to fight for change. So kicking him off the BOSE would not have been my first priority as a show of some kind of corruption or fiscal incompetence.

    Instead, why not deal with what’s really needed? Rather than have an all out war over testing and the MEA’s resistance to this, the better approach would be to demand the Superintendent and union work collaboratively with the Board to help find a way to actually identify teacher mediocrity. MKF and parents should band together on this issue most can agree — to force the system to either better train, or to lose those actually not delivering the goods.

    Instead, you all tried to back door this real goal…hiding it within b.s. about needing more educational testing data.

    The result of covering up the real political goal to help improve student performance was that you ended up with a philosophical and educational fight over teaching just to tests. However, everyone knows there are some mediocre, if not poor teachers in this system. But you don’t necessarily need more testing to identify them. You could have forced the teacher improvement issue up front, based just on the existing testing results. Even with the difficulties involved to confront this, it would have been a clearer political path.

    And you could have even done it in a way without making the MEA an enemy. Instead, you should have called their bluff, taken them at their word and actually required their involvement to figure out how to solve the problem and be part of the ‘teacher quality’ identification process. This would have been much more effective politically. At the very least, you could have gotten many more parents on to your side if this goal had been pursued openly and upfront.

    Instead, you back doored the real goal into a battle royale’ over testing — still going on.

    So I see pursuing Spiller’s ouster from the BOSE as only a side-show – still within this underlying educational fight.

  45. I would refer you back to my article from a year ago Martin.

    “Let me be clear. I do not see MKF as a vehicle to attack the MEA. We are in this to improve our schools together, while further division in our community will neither help solve our problems nor improve the services to our kids. It is also inherently unfair to generalize about all union members. We will not do so. That said, for all who share the goal of productive engagement on the issues we face (and we believe this is most of Montclair), it is only reasonable to identify and shine a light on the destructive and divisive elements described above.”

    We have been true to this statement and your characterization otherwise is not valid.

    PS – Judge Moore also disagreed with what you say about BoSE.

  46. “More important would have been for concerned residents to go wild on School Superintendent Alverez years ago for appearing to lie about the actual costs of building our new school. That created an unnecessary, $35 million dollar expenditure..even more now when calculating bonded interest.”

    Excellent point, Martin – and the fiscal incompetence was rooted out (routed out?) by the dread Penny MacCormack. Under her leadership we had legible, accountable financials for the first time in my memory. I will always think she was served a very poor turn by people trying to push an agenda that ultimately has harmed our schools and children.

  47. Jon – we are not in disagreement here except in importance. To reiterate, Sean should not have been on the Board to start and should have slid off clearly when it became an issue.

    However, using the judge’s ruling to substantiate the BOSE’s actual impact within Montclair is like the theorist who can’t prove their positions in the real world, but still relies on the theoretical analysis to substantiate.

    The judge should have sat in on our BOSE meetings and he would see how little input they really have. With massive budget fluctuations..surpluses one year while only months before worrying about closing schools..then out of the blue massive deficits another year – a real oversight board would be calling those running the show on the carpet..demanding paperwork…demanding answers why such unknowns etc….if not directly calling for staff heads.

    Not here. Because of our structural set-up (and somewhat our cultural zietgiest of kumbaya)…Montclair’s BOSE is scant more than a rubber stamp. And that’s why I say, even though there is the appearance of conflict which meant Sean should have recused himself from regardless.. the actual impact was and is little if nil.

    More important for focus, is to address the underlying system performance issues directly.

  48. wwMartin,

    You have now joined qby33, dblespesso,etc. who thinks plaintiffs in conflict of interest case must prove conflict has in fact occurred. I’m pretty sure the burden of proof is not that high. Judges recuse themselves to avoid appearance of conflict of interest. Politicians put assets in blind trusts to avoid appearance of conflict. Spiller could have resigned and looked bigger for it. Now he looks small, indeed.

    “Sure, Sean should have slid off this board once the issue was identified — due to the “perceived” conflict of interest.” I’m curious, did you pubically express that opinion before the ruling?

  49. This should not be about Sean, a good guy, but who made a rookie mistake in accepting the BOSE appointment.

    If, as is claimed in justification, the BOSE is only a meaningless rubber stamp, why the expensive fight to remain on it? And if instead the BOSE has (potentially) a substantive role to play, appointment of a paid teachers’ union official is a conflict on its face.

    The larger question is what role the BOSE can usefully play. Why have a BOSE at all?

    The Board of Education is an advocacy group in the best sense of the term. Education helps in so many ways and there is always more that can be done. The BOE probably sees better than most the returns from investing that marginal dollar in our children’s education.

    But education is also the biggest piece of our tax levy. We need to balance the big picture with 25% of our residents with kids in school and 75% without. Determining the right fiscal balance is devilishly difficult. This is the role the BOSE can and should play. It can be highly substantive.

    The BOE budget is notoriously user-unfriendly. Rather than convening once a year under budgetary time pressure, I have suggested that BOSE review become a year-round (say, quarterly) process. The Township BOSE appointees will not become budget experts but they can at least gain fluency — and thereby effectiveness — in the process. There is an important checks-and balances function to be performed.

    Harvey Susswein

  50. I feel Spiller has a responsibility to not take positions where a conflict of interest COULD have existed. Regardless of nomination.

    Martin, thanks for the hat tip on the new school and our opinions generally align as usual. Though, where you are more optimistic than I is in the MEA’s ability to do anything about poorly performing educators in the Montclair schools. Far too often, we’ve witnessed poor performers be moved into the Central Office and rewarded handsomely for it. It actually serves as an incentive to perform poorly. Then there are the issues that arise out of tenure and seniority. I agree we need a fair method to improve those teachers who either mailed it in, or who never even addressed the envelope. Unfortunately, experience tells me that there is no negotiating with public sector unions. At least not fair negotiating. Was the hatred of PARCC really the fear of teaching to the test? Or was it the fear of evaluating performance of both the students and their teachers?

  51. harvey,

    Well written observation. I agree 365 financial oversight is an “Own it, Do it, Done!” assignment for the BoSE. I’m certain financial fluency, while highly desired, is not the biggest shortcoming of the BoSE. The same applies to the BoE, even though far too many members have shown a lack of the most rudimentary financial vocabulary & principles. Therefore, that “the BoE is better than most” in evaluating the marginal dollar benefit is a low & unacceptable bar.

    One of the biggest arguments for Councilor Spiller holding a seat on the BoSE was that he was a very senior, State level education executive with a financial acumen of the sector that is irreplaceable from the Council.

    So, now he is gone. Will the BoSE, lead by the Mayor, just carry on without replacing that acumen, and obviously free of any conflict of interest baggage? If not, it would further indicate the far bigger issue, as you suggest, of political will/capability. As a former CEO, you would know you can buy knowledge and expertise. Strong leadership & good judgement is what we typically covet and want, in-house, representing the entire community interests.

  52. I did not weigh on on Sean publicly elcamino because other than image, I believe, as I’ve said now four times — the BOSE’s impact on the budgeting in reality is near zill. But I did advise Sean to shift out and advised his colleagues same.

    Rest assured though, if this was a significant issue in terms of actual impact – I would have been all over it.

    Just please don’t put words in my mouth, a move I have seen you try a few times when “extrapolating” in debate. I did not “join qby33, dblespesso,etc. who thinks plaintiffs in conflict of interest cases must prove conflict has in fact occurred.”

    I know when there is a potential conflict of interest by appearance and have recused myself on more than one occasion when I felt such a conflict showed. However, those were conflicts when I had a personal interest or direct fiscal connection to the applicant or fiscal relationship with personnel associated. From the PB, that is the standard applied.

    Sean’s potential conflict is not personal…he doesn’t gain personally by our one local town MEA doing a touch better..in fact he likely loses economicly in the end with more personal real estate taxes. Therefore, his conflict was not 100% clear to start with and I could see an appellate judge reversing this decision in a heartbeat. Regardless, the appearance was still there, so once residents started making noise – I advised sliding away and taking a pass. I still believe both his connection and the BOSE impact to the BOE budget too minimal to become incensed about all this. Therefore the issue still remains when one has to weigh where to put political focus for change ..as someone posted above — it’s “much to do about nothing”.

  53. One may see if it is “much to do (sic) about nothing” if Spiller chooses to appeal the decision. If he does so, I offer up that it would be not because he wants to, but because his employer (NJEA) believes the issue is bigger than Montclair and worth fighting for given that breadth.

    Jon

    PS – (Stu) Judge Moore was suitably attired. Mr. Spiller chose not to attend.

  54. “Rather than convening once a year under budgetary time pressure, I have suggested that BOSE review become a year-round (say, quarterly) process. The Township BOSE appointees will not become budget experts but they can at least gain fluency — and thereby effectiveness — in the process.”

    Admittedly, I don’t know what information passes back-channel. However, it would be terrific if BOSE members at least attended those BOE meetings where budgetary matters were being discussed. The 2016/02/10 has some preliminary budget information that was quite interesting to me; it should be critical that the BOSE be immediately aware of it.

    “while delivering an overall minimally acceptable education to 6,900 students, we basically fail that standard for 20-30% of the students depending on what measure you want to use.”

    Perhaps we’re failing more than that. At the same 2016/02/10 meeting, Dr. Evans gave a preliminary talk on the state of our K-5 “core” education. A follow-up is scheduled for a BOE meeting in April.

    She raised many disturbing issues, with perhaps the most alarming one being that we don’t even provide a minimum amount of ELA and Math on a daily basis to our K-5 students. She (or perhaps Mr. Bolandi mentioned this part) stated that some students have “block scheduling” (as we have in at least one middle school and the high school) where they get Math and/or ELA only every other day.

    For reference, the minimums she cited were 120 minutes for ELA and 60 for Math. Me thinks math more importanter, but watt do eye no?

    Mr. Bolandi expressed his belief (with Dr. Evans’s agreement, it appeared) that an aspect of the way we’ve implemented the Magnet System is to blame. Paraphrasing, the Themes should be “around the edge”, but the core should be the same for all the schools.

    I know that this is not the case, in that I recall when Watchung branched off into their own choice for a Math text. Presumably, Mr. Bolandi is aware of other examples.

    So as much as the shouters at BOE meetings like to argue that Dr. M was doing terrible things and Mr. Bolandi has saved our schools, we apparently have fundamental issues going back to the time of Dr. Alvarez (or perhaps even further, but that predates my time in the schools). I’ve read articles about the AGAP in Montclair from as far back as 1994. Complaints about Dr. M aside, it was she that showed the BOE *all* the data, rather than cherry picking it to make it seem as if things were improving. She opened the district’s eyes; it’s a shame that so many prefer them shut.

    When I speak to people about Dr. Evans’s presentation, many respond with some variation of “well, yes.” I think that shocks me more than the report itself. We get into such fights about a few hours of testing, all the time aware that we’re systemically undereducating our children?

    I wish there was less outrage over someone getting a computer virus, or who gets to talk in what order at a meeting, and more about actual education.

    …Andrew

  55. “the BOSE’s impact on the budgeting in reality is near zill”

    I don’t see how, having watched the last cycle, one can conclude this. At that time, the BOSE forced the BOSE to make additional cuts. Those cuts then required PTAs to make up the funding, but only some of the schools could (or would, perhaps) do this.

    So inequity between the schools increased.

    Since it seems reasonable to believe that those cuts would not have occurred absent a BOSE (or with a differently staffed BOSE), it seems a fair conclusion that the BOSE does have an impact.

    …Andrew

  56. Martin, incredibly articulate and keen observations, insights and perspectives. Enjoyed and appreciated them thoroughly.

    While I come at these things from a different vector than most engaged in the debate, it’s a vector that is not all that far afield from the one you took in your longer note a couple of posts earlier.

    I’m a strategist in my day job and as a result, I can’t help but look at issues through the lens of the desired outcome and means to achieve it… and I can’t help but look at actions and see through them to the strategy they are meant to serve regardless of whether that is apparent or even deliberately hidden.

    As a matter of strategy, this Spiller matter and MKF’s overall choices of issues to engage in and devote resources to has been, again, just in terms of strategy, rather awful. It isn’t that Spiller’s seat on the BOSE isn’t a defensible concern or winnable court fight (obviously). It’s that there are a near-endless array of topics and issues that a committed, passionate organization with the horsepower of “30 members and 500 people who have requested information” could have chosen to tackle first which would have better served MKF’s own stated mission.

    Choosing Spiller as the cause celebre for your inaugural effort is like someone endeavoring to achieve world domination by launching a year-long land war for control of the Falkland Islands. Contrary to elcam’s misrepresentation, I make no mistakes about what it takes to prevail in the actual court proceedings. What elcam missed is that the public forms its impressions long before (and retains them long after) the court proceedings… and to the public, the value of a suit that sweeps up town resources is weighed on a “nuisance basis”.

    How big is the nuisance?

    In that court of public opinion and under those criteria, many people do indeed need to see what the material and tangible effects (or potential effects) of Spiller’s conflict are.

    Without them, there is no real nuisance.

    That’s the rub here. The increased urgency to snipe a union capo post-P-Mac’s departure and reasons for it were rather obvious… and sans even a strong suspicion of tangible nuisance, this was an unwise first choice as a matter of strategy.

    I mean, here we are, a full year later, and MKF’s “victory” is in some ways a political strategist’s worst nightmare: the effort you proudly put forth as your landmark reform and news of its passage yields yawns from everyone but the few of us who like to talk about these things. Ain’t a lot of people getting off the 5:16 who even know what the BOSE is or care about an event they likely skipped past in the paper.

    Strategically, the MKF is now in pre-9/11 Giuliani land. When you’re done picking fights, even if you’ve won them, people wonder why you’ve used up all your resources on war and none on peace… and that’s when the real underlying motivation here gets harder to mask and more costly. If the project was a hit-job and you failed to bury that in some larger good that people truly care about and see as nuisance-resolution, you come off as people with more interest in guns than butter and more interest in hunting squirrels than addressing any of the elephants we all know exist.

    The Spiller matter is now over. A year is now gone. To date, it has taken a well-funded team of 30 a full year to oust one non-nuisance and launch one narrow and lightly adopted initiative.

    I ran a strategy workshop for a cosmetics company not long ago. A conference room full of people with no strategy experience produced about 10 times as much work product in three hours. With the curtain now closed on a drama few would have paid to see, that’s not a great Year 1 legacy for a group touting its A-list membership rolls.

    The Falklands though, they have been conquered, so there’s that.

  57. Conflict of interest!? Don’t make me laugh. Since when does the reformy MKF crowd care about conflict of interest? Ms. Larson had a conflict of interest for years while serving on the BOE and none of them seemed to throw up any road blocks.

  58. dbl, long, weird, self-congratulatory post (“I see strategy”). I had no idea you wanted Martin Schwartz to adopt you. What did you think of MKF other tactic: free wifi for lower income kids?

  59. Your weakest sauce yet, cam.

    If I were devoid of thoughtful material to offer and needed to turn to the unarmed man’s last resort – insults and sarcasm – I would have chosen self-aggrandizing or haughty or smug maybe. There was nothing congratulatory save for giving some props to a clients.

    Re: the wifi initiative, I said then and I will say now, I applaud any effort by any party that stands to improve the lives and educations of my neighbors regardless of that party’s motivations or other actions. I applauded the wifi initiative when it was introduced and I rebutted comments made by people looking to denigrate it based on exaggerations or falsehoods about the privacy and indemnification waivers. It was a positive effort. It deserved a positive response.

    Pragmatically, having worked on product and service introductions that were less complicated and had larger value propositions, I knew it would have a very low adoption rate. It would not have surprised me if it had almost no takers – not because it wasn’t a worthwhile program or valuable offering – but because, again, speaking only strategically, it was predicated on a groundswell of interest from an audience that demographically has little historical appetite for the limited benefit of access to education-only content via a computer which they must provide.

    If it’s hard for to Age of Learning to sell ABCmouse.com subscriptions to well-off stay-at-homes (who have ample discretionary income) despite a massive ad spend on Nickolodeon, there aren’t likely to be many enrollees for a program with a PR-only launch, a short reply-by window, cumbersome adoption steps and significant pre-reqs.

    Effort was likely to outstrip impact but that does nothing to reduce the worthiness of that effort, so I applaud it nonetheless. Hopefully, if adoption was indeed light, rather than discontinue it (which is what usually happens when hopes aren’t realized for a program) MKF will adjust the approach by working with organizations who have ongoing contact with families who could benefit. Schools, early intervention orgs, community groups. Sign-ups will trickle rather than rush in but any number of homes having improved educational resources is progress.

    Of course, the one predictable irony is that significant adoption would ultimately produce a large enough sample to demonstrate something that is already well known but downplayed by MKF in its promotion of standardized testing. Readiness begets achievement. It is far easier to build upon progress made earlier than it is to make up ground later. Newton knew what he was talking about when he busted out his laws of motion. Inertia is your enemy if an object is at rest and you want it to suddenly be in motion. It’s your friend if it’s already in motion and you want it to stay that way…

  60. Andrew,

    I think the picture re: elementary curricula and division of teaching time has changed or is at least not universally as you described. In my son’s school, the situation is the complete reverse. It is not that we aren’t allocating enough time to math and ELA, it’s that we are arguably allocating too much.

    As a second grader, approximately 2/3 of the teaching time in his day (each and every day) is devoted to only those two subjects. Of the nine periods, he never has more than 2 or 3 devoted to anything OTHER than those two subjects.

    The entire universe of worthwhile subjects outside those two – science, social studies, music, art, current events, geography, library, etc. – is now squeezed into about an hour and 20 minutes or so out of the entire school day. Gym happens only twice a week. Library is only once every two weeks. The magnet theme is one period a week. Science is one. period. a. week… All of science… 40 minutes a week.

    The schedule has been entirely given over to a singular focus on getting the kids up to basic proficiency on the same volume of material that was covered in substantially less time in years past. Bear in mind, 80-90% of kids reached basic proficiency before. So, this dramatic heavy-up basically abandons novel instruction in an array of subjects (which would be beneficial to all of the students) to enable the school to deliver a work-around to providing targeted support for as few as 2 or 3 students per class. That is the downstream effect of PARCC. As long as the single measures on those single subjects appear to be improved, we must be doing better – when, in reality, this year’s students are less educated than last year’s by default because they literally have been taught less.

    As a last punctuating point, my son brought home some science homework the other night. I was floored. It was literally the first time in his three years as a student that he has come home with homework in anything other than math or ELA. Other subjects don’t exist.

  61. Andrew writes: “Rather than convening once a year under budgetary time pressure, I have suggested that BOSE review become a year-round (say, quarterly) process. The Township BOSE appointees will not become budget experts but they can at least gain fluency — and thereby effectiveness — in the process.”

    Not to play one upsmanship here, but not only have I tried to empower the BOSE more like this as well within the Council, but I actually moved it to the State level – asking Ass. Cody to put forth a bill to accomplish as such.

    I suggested also formalizing a group of budgetary and policy review committees under and as part of the BOSE – like the informal ones Shelly Lombard convened which are no more. Andrew was on one of those committees.

    Montclair is hemmed in on this legally and our Council cannot change the legal set up and review timing without state law modification. As it stands, legally the BOSE can only meet for a limited time period and only to approve the budget. It’s just BS as an oversight board.

    Cody ran it up the flag pole and was shot down by the legislative bureaucracy – likely seeing some threat to the Education bureaucracy. Their off the shelf response was that Montclair has tried a referendum for elected school boards here twice and it hasn’t been passed. Therefore, where is the basis to change the existing governmental oversight structure?

    I don’t buy that logic but my kids were applying to college then and I had to stop fighting city hall on this front. It is a path to still go down….adding more teeth to the BOSE so at least we have some budgetary oversight expertise on top the BOE — other than one Business Affairs manager and school board member volunteers — most of whom have shown over the years they are not really able follow the machinations, games and complexities of the school budgets.

    Andrew’s expose’ of Dana Sullivan’s budget games above being a good example of continued fleecing. And we generally only find out about it after the fact. Instead, we need people in the know like Andrew constantly monitoring and formally involved — able to look up their butts.

  62. Forgot to answer this one which I’ve wanted to for awhile in other stories…

    elcamino asked dbl expresso: “What did you think of MKF’s other tactic: free wifi for lower income kids”?

    Answer is of course helpful, great where needed. However, taken in context of the wider panorama of actions and political behavior shown, it does not come off unfortunately as organic, but instead as noblesse obligue.

    Meaning:

    …the inferred responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged.

  63. And correction…it was Harvey Susswein I see, not Andrew, who first wrote above he was also suggesting a structural BOSE change. However, he and I both were told no doubt that it is legally not feasible without a state law change.

    Then, as noted, I even pursued that front with Ass. Cody – only to get pushed back.

    I still think this is the avenue for us to proceed down – with the Council’s pressure behind it and something to work on with them after the May election.

    We must improve the BOE budgetary review and oversight process.

  64. “However, he and I both were told no doubt that it is legally not feasible without a state law change.”

    I attend almost all BOE meetings w/o a state law. BOSE members could do the same. It isn’t so much what they’re required to do, or what they’re permitted to do, but what they appear willing to do.

    Again, though: I’ve no idea what information passes back-channel. For all I know, the BOSE/Council members hold regular viewing parties for BOE meeting videos.

    “…able to look up their butts”

    Umm…thanks?

    …Andrew

  65. “elementary curricula and division of teaching time has changed or is at least not universally as you described.”

    First: I didn’t “describe” it. I merely reported on Dr. Evans’s description. I’ve no reason to doubt, though, what she saw and reported. This is especially true given the “sure, we know that” response I’ve received from so many.

    That said, she also reported inconsistencies between the schools. Perhaps your son is in a school which is an exception to the shortage she reported.

    I can tell you that, having had two boys pass through Nishuane/Hillside (with one not quite done yet), they do receive science education (and bring science education home). They receive social studies education (I watched a history essay be written as homework about a week ago, in fact, where the essay was expanding upon in-class discussion).

    “enable the school to deliver a work-around to providing targeted support for as few as 2 or 3 students per class. That is the downstream effect of PARCC”

    Not really. NJASK was almost as useful in identifying where students needed more education. The issue about which you’re really complaining is that all the students are being subjected to the “targeted support for as few as 2 or 3 students per class.” In other words, it is the lack of either differentiation or tracking that is bothering you. That has nothing to do with the testing which identifies the weaknesses being addressed.

    That is, unless the goal is a complete lack of testing. In that case, the district is freed to ignore those students that fall below “proficiency” and the problem you describe does disappear.

    …Andrew

  66. Cutting through this self-important rhetoric and getting to the point, TV’s Thelma Harper would yell, “Wake up and smell the coffee!” This is about ego and ethics. Period. The unrestrained ego of an ambitious, go-getting, glad-handing politician (and mayor) whose arrogance and pride simply do not allow admitting any misjudgment. Of course, when confronted with the same situation, someone else with more selfless ideals and purer motives in serving the public would have stepped aside long ago in the interest of maintaining institutional credibility and community confidence. Thankfully there are still plenty of people like that in Montclair. They are not the publicity-seekers who perpetually run for re-election, hobnob with wealthy developers, and pose for photo-ops with famous celebrities, but instead work tirelessly and in relative obscurity to make our community a better place.

    As for ethics, it is important to note that just because something is not illegal does not mean it also is NOT unethical. No one, including the judge, ever said any illegal acts were committed, only that he was ethically compromised and as a matter of propriety should not continue to serve. Do ethics matter? Why do they matter? If we choose to ignore ethics then we should do so across the board and not just in this case, because consistency and playing by the same set of rules as everyone else is important.

    Apparently ethics matter to some people in this town. A few years ago I was confronted by then-employee of now-defunct MPA for arranging a meeting with a parking services provider that might have been beneficial to Montclair and was told it had the appearance of a conflict of interest. I replied this was impossible since I am not a township employee, elected official, or otherwise affiliated with the company, but the unwarranted suspicion lingered and I was practically accosted and interrogated even further. Some time later, The Montclair Times reported this individual no longer worked for MPA and that thousands of dollars were unaccounted for. But that’s another story…

  67. Let me put that another way:

    At least one elementary school in this town is very much on the other side of the spectrum. Highly, highly, HIGHLY engineered around a nearly singular priority of boosting the basic proficiency pass-rate. That has nothing to do with NJ-ASK or remediation of scores below basic proficiency (these are 2nd graders we’re talking about…)… and yes, it does have much to do with PARCC and the downstream effects of the adoption of the test, the differences in the totality of the testing program imagined under PARCC (i.e. the very different ways PARCC was scoped to be woven into the overall education and management processes), and even the heated public debate over PARCC.

    My son’s school has shifted very heavily toward pushing the entirety of the student body across the quasi-pass/fail line of basic proficiency from their first testing instance in 3rd grade on. To do that, the school has made a wide variety of big and small changes which all accommodate more time for instruction on the same volume of material as last year – and consequently, reduce teaching time for everything else.

    Among the reasons why his school has shifted in that direction is because the adminstrators with decision-making authority believe that is and should be the priority. They believe that boosting basic proficiency from, let’s say, 80% to 85% is the top goal – and not only the top goal, a goal so much more important than numbers 2-9 on the list that it really doesn’t matter how completely opposed many of these systemic changes are to the very fundamentals of educational design for early elementary students.

    One would have a very hard time finding an expert, researcher or even a practitioner who wouldn’t laugh aloud if you said “So, for our 8-year old’s, we were thinking of going with: Limited breaks. Long periods of teacher-led instructional time on single subjects, limiting physical exercise to two times a week and scheduling those as the last period of the day when the instructional day is already over.”

    Seriously, it’s a “what not to do” checklist… and it not only came to be, it was DESIGNED to be because the designers are focused on a topic du jour and have pushed all the chips in on their answer…

    When I say all of this is a workaround, I meant that it is a large systemic shift away from basic educational concepts which, even if successful, stands to produce a gain of so few students out of the entire 2nd grade class that they could be counted on one hand. Tops, this stands to shift perhaps 5 children in the entire 2nd grade from one side of the line to the other. I doubt it will even be that many.

    And lastly, I could tell you exactly who those kids are and could also tell you that the movement that may possibly be seen in that small handful of kids won’t be because of all the changes I’ve talked about. It will be because the teachers know that there is so much focus on this up in the office and there is so much pressure to boost that one number that those kids are the “swing votes” they need to focus on. They know that they’ll take heat if they don’t get those kids over the line, so they’re actually doing all kinds of soft things that amount to in-room tutoring.

    We aren’t willing to accept that kids who arrive in kindergarten unprepared struggle and kids who struggle need direct support. So, instead, we’ve changed a dozen things which as unintended consequences deliver that direct support at the expense of all but those kids. Genius.

  68. dblespresso…this is exactly why we moved.

    We always believed the line of bull about the exceptional Montclair school system and we were finally able to experience it first hand as our oldest son entered Northeast. Keep in mind, I had been a Montclair resident for well over a decade at this point. Having spent his first five years in a full day daycare, my son came into kindergarten able to read, able to do basic arithmetic and subtraction, knew his colors, shapes, letters, etc. He didn’t go to one of those holistic whole child daycare centers either. It was teacher directed and very structured. Well, once in Northeast, it became obvious that there were a lot of children who entered the school equally prepared and a handful who were not. My kid hated it. He was being assigned homework assignments that involved concepts he learned at age 3 in day care. When we addressed this with his teacher of nearly 20 years tenure in Montclair and over 30 years in the state, we were told that we do not track in Montclair. So I brought up the topic of differentiated learning. She was not familiar with this concept, nor was this educator familiar with such other modern concepts such as the use of email to communicate. Keep in mind, this classroom had three aides to help out this highly tenured teacher. We were essentially told that they would not teach to the students who came in prepared. For them it would be a year of review while waiting for the other students to catch up. This is why and when we left for the greener pastures of Glen Ridge. Funny, many claimed we left to escape the diversity of Montclair when we announced where we were moving to. Nah, we were just looking for a school system where we wouldn’t have to waste another year. Perhaps our son’s teacher was just one rotten six-figure collecting educator mailing it in as she approached retirement. But we weren’t sticking around to find out.

  69. Stu, that is so close to my story, it’s scary. Nearly identical.

    The only two differences are:

    1) The teachers (a total of 4 in 3 years) aren’t older and mailing it in. They’re somewhere between hamstrung and heavily pushed (by both direct pressure and indirect incentives) to focus on an average of 2-3 kids

    – and –

    2) I’ve also experienced an array of things which all track to actually wanting to throttle progress for the kids on the other side of the spectrum. As far-fetched as this sounds, I could tell you story after story of big and small ways the school has actually both actively and passively done things to REDUCE the rate of achievement for highly proficient kids. (e.g. the school rolling out a reading incentive program, making it available to 1st through 6th grade students and then refusing to let a kindergartener reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level participate – or even use the available resources on their own.)

    I kid you not, I had a reading teacher (I repeat, the teacher whose job it is to encourage reading) deny my son access to… wait for it… the program – to – encourage – reading!

    It is so counter-intuitive to think that a school would possibly have any remote reason to actually try to rein in kids who are moving quickly.

    Think about though, how can you narrow a range? You can raise the floor… or you can lower the ceiling. The faster the kids go at one end of the spectrum, the harder you make an already tall order at the other. Pump the brakes a little and suddenly you’ve just shaved off some of the gap by doing nothing – literally.

  70. “to focus on an average of 2-3 kids”

    This still appears to be consistent with what I wrote above. Whether it is NJASK or PARCC being used to define targets is irrelevant. You’re unhappy with the lack of either tracking or differentiation.

    …Andrew

  71. No amount of attempting to reframe what I am unhappy about is going to successfully change what it is that I actually AM unhappy about.

    No, it is not the lack of tracking. No, it is not the lack of differentiation. It is a wholesale abandonment of finding any kind of middle ground in favor of obsessively focusing on the very, very small fraction of students who matter to the myopic measures that are of importance to the test-obsessed.

    The students who matter at the exclusion of all others are the ones right near the cut line. That isn’t just a lack of tracking or differentiation, it is a wholesale focus on a slim sliver of the spectrum no matter how inappropriate it may be for the full spectrum of students – and further, it is also coupled with a narrowing of the scope of the curriculum to two topics at the exclusion of all others.

    Worse still, even though ALL students will have learned less in all subjects but two, to those who think those measures are actually proxies for success, this idiocy will actually be taken as successful.

  72. dble,

    My son was also initially denied entry into the reading program. We were told it wasn’t appropriate for kindergartners. After three months of repeated pleading, he was allowed in.

    As for your argument about the effort to improve the kids abilities who are right on the cut line. Yes, that is probably the strategy. Though I am a PARCC fence sitter (my kid took it, his teacher didn’t teach to it and he was not emotionally scarred by a difficult test), I see both sides of the argument. I watched our quarter million dollar a year not-so-superintendent Alvarez systematically lie about his progress with the achievement gap. It was easy as there were no measurables. On the flip side, I can see where there are problems with the PARCC itself and how the test was devised and really, how long it takes to simply take it. I have less problems with using it as a part of the evaluation of the educator and I can see why the teacher’s union would be opposed to it since their goal is maintain tenure with an emphasis on seniority. I only say this as on the rare occasion that there is a downsizing, the last hired are always the first fired regardless of performance. I think a teacher that teaches to the test is doing a disservice to their students as well. One can teach the curriculum the kids needs to know to pass the test in a creative manor. As a matter of fact, the students would perform better on a standardized test if they were taught to think critically about the lesson rather than learn the issues by rote which is what most equate as teaching to the test.

    Nonetheless, the solution to the AG is to give the kids who need more help the support and push. But it can’t be done at the expense of those who don’t need as much help, but crave greater educational challenges. Yes the standardized testing is not necessary to point out which students need the help since it’s mainly a socio-economic issue. But there needs to be a way to measure improvement and evaluate educators. If PARCC isn’t it, the educators should come up with something better.

  73. One of the problems, stu, is that the math system they use is tied to PARCC and is HIGHLY scripted. Teachers have little to no latitude over what they teach or how they teach it. It’s one size fits all. Like the PARCC.

    And for the record, I am entirely unconcerned about my son taking the test itself. He’d do just fine. All f the collateral damage and downstream consequences are awful though. It’s a pretty basic phenomenon. You get what you inspect, as they say. The system adapts to what ever you are scrutinizing. That’s human nature. Obsess about two subjects and so will the entire system. Denying that is denying the basic principles of how human beings react to basic conditioning.

  74. Two observations. First, are Stu and Dbl actually agreeing?! 2nd, to simplify, it sounds like their complaint is that teachers here are teaching to bottom x percentile of students and neglecting, or even holding back, the rest (cue Dbl saying I’ve missed his much subtler point). That problem is directly related to how wide the “ability” distribution is; if bottom x %and top x% were close, problem is minimal. Montclair’s diversity, for all its other value, tends to increase that distribution so Stu, you may have been giving up on diversity in moving to glen ridge after all (not that I fault you).

  75. Unsurprisingly, you missed my far more subtle point which was…

    I kid, I kid.

    I couldn’t tell you precisely what the distribution is, elcam, but anecdotally, it appears to be a fairly normal distro with the center of the bell curve performing at grade level. In one class for examp, there are 22-24 kids. 4 significantly above grade level. 1-2 significantly below.

    To put it in perspective though, there was a relatively high “meets basic proficiency” rate last year, so the heavied up time, by default, amounts to in-class tutoring while 80+% of the students go along for the ride. Same volume of material. Much longer devoted to teaching it.

    There are two students who act up a bit. As in talking, not sitting still, etc. They’re two of the four who are significantly ahead. Bored out of their minds. No enrichment given despite at least one of them already passing proficiency for the this year’s material a full year ago.

    The school blames it on the kids. Hmm, super, super bored kids forced sit there learning nothing. I wonder why that provoke reactions from 8-year olds. Another parent pulled their kid out last year. Five that I know of are thinking about it or are battling with the school about doing something.

    It’s bad.

    For people who think a school only exists on an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper with their cume test scores, it’ll look wonderful… while kids who entered loving to learn grow to loathe school. Dread every day of it.

    Hey, it ain’t about the kids though.

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