Accusations that Montclair Education Association computers breached during the BOE test leak investigation launched in 2013 dominated the Montclair Board of Education meeting Monday night.
Following moving vocal/music presentations by students from Watchung and Glenfield schools, the public comment period of the BOE meeting began with a bombshell statement from Montclair Education Association President Gayle Shepard:
“It has recently come to our attention that there has been a breach in security and faith. It appears that computers including those solely owned by the Montclair Education Association were specifically compromised. We believe that this breach which began in the fall of 2013 allowed for the tracking and monitoring of activity including confidential MEA information. I stand here representing over 1000 members whose trust and confidence is shattered. I ask you now, were members of this or any previous board complicit in this activity. I ask you now were any district employees past or present complicit in this activity? At a special Montclair board meeting on Nov 1, 2013 regarding legal counsel, Mark Tabakin and the investigation into the alleged assessment leak, the former board president stated ‘We have asked him to cast a wide net and to bring all evidence of wrongdoing regardless of where it is found to the Board’s attention.’ We ask for the same indiscriminate inquiry. Our members demand an answer. The community deserves an answer. Thank you.”
Shepard’s comments were followed by thunderous applause and then, more speakers raising the same issue and asking for answers from the Board.
Regina Tuma started by thanking the current board for the great work they were doing to move the district forward. “I read Shelly Lombard’s letter in the Montclair Times last week and I want to ask this board a couple of questions. Shelly Lombard stated what the legal fees for Mr. Cummings were, but can you please let us know what amount the board actually spent in terms of payment for the investigation. We never really had a full accounting of that. Shelly Lombard, a member of the former board, said the assessments were leaked. So I’m assuming that this board can back that up and you can corroborate. Montclair is an amazing place, but it’s also is home to a lot of corporate reformers in education. We need to hold everybody accountable here. Accountability goes both ways and tax payers deserve transparency.”
Petal Robertson, joined by other MEA members as well as Shepard, and all dressed in black, spoke on behalf of the negotiations team. “My plan tonight was to speak on negotiations but after listening to some of the comment tonight I decided to change my remarks. As we, the negotiation team, stand before you, we represent 1000 members, many of whom you see here tonight. The agreement between this board and the negotiation team was to negotiate in good faith. Unfortunately the issues raised this evening call all of that into question, the good faith and the integrity of the board. The MEA membership requests a response to the following: Have any of the members of the board’s 2013 or current negotiations team been complicit or had knowledge of the computer breach that was mentioned tonight? This is a sincere inquiry and it’s imperative that a response in received promptly so we, the negotiations team, know we would like to proceed.”
Chris McGoey referenced David Cummings’s remarks about the test leak investigation at the last BOE meeting. She asked “What is a member of the public to believe? If spending on the Assessmentgate investigation was undertaken, aimed or or continued with knowledge that it was not necessary, or knowledge that people were being wrongly accused, or that the investigation was outside the Board of Education’s authority, then the public needs to know. So I ask you, does this current Board of Education or this superintendent have information or documents showing that type of knowledge? If it is known that the investigation was unnecessary, then as parents, we need to consider who is shaping the allocation of funds for our district right now and in this budget cycle.” McGoey added “And as a parent to hear that someone was breaking into the private computers of the Education Association, then who else? Was my computer looked at?”
Following public comment, the board proceeded directly with voting on resolutions and approvals of personal reports, then shortly after, adjourned the meeting. There were no reactions or response by the board to the allegations.