Montclair BOE Controversy Continues With Fallout from Special April 11 Meeting

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The Montclair Board of Education held its first meeting, a Wednesday workshop, with Kendra Johnson presiding as Montclair Schools Superintendent. The start of the meeting was marked by a clash between board members over the special April 11 meeting which resulted in the vote to hire Superintendent Johnson. Eve Robinson, the only board member absent on April 11 who had not yet addressed her absence, sought to do so at the start of the meeting.

Robinson apologized to Superintendent Johnson for having missed the meeting, saying it was not her intention to miss the April 11 vote, saying she had a previously scheduled business commitment on that day and that she had been denied the chance to vote by the last minute scheduling.  Board President Laura Hertzog, insisting that it was not necessary for Robinson to explain herself, was compelled to voice a rebuttal to her explanation just the same.  

Hertzog reminded the board members present that the board was advised during its March 28 meeting that the superintendent’s contract was not finished and that a vote was impossible to hold at that meeting.  She said there was a clear discussion that the board attorney needed time to complete the contract before the school board could vote on it, and none of the three members who ultimately missed the April 11 meeting ever told her they had a conflict between March 29 and April 16, the latter date being the next regularly scheduled meeting.  Two board members did say they had conflicts on April 9.

Montclair Schools Superintendent Kendra Johnson and Montclair BoE President Laura Hertzog

Furthermore, Hertzog said, three members failed to answer her e-mail about two proposed dates for the special meeting, April 11 and April 13. Her attempts at following up with all of the members with text messages were met with responses from three members that they were not available on different dates for different reasons, one reason given being due to dinner plans.  Hertzog said she herself had dinner plans but rescheduled them.

Resident Paula White could be heard guffawing over the scheduling conflicts, making it obvious that she was having none of the absent members’ excuses.  She spoke to Robinson in public comment, calling Robinson’s excuse “an ego-driven rant” and saying she showed a lack of focus on the importance of education.

Resident David Herron raised allegations that called the special April 11 meeting into question, saying proper procedures in hiring Superintendent Johnson was not adhered to.  He said that part of the law states that the school board cannot negotiate or alter a contract for superintendent unless notice is provided to the public at least 30 days prior to the scheduled action, and that the board had to hold a public hearing and could not take action on the contract until that hearing had been held, with 10 days’ notice before the hearing.   Hertzog assured residents that the board acted lawfully per advice from counsel. Herron also said he had not received a response to questions about a BOE member’s residence.

Superintendent Johnson, seemingly unfazed by the controversy surrounding the special meeting, gave her first superintendent’s report, saying she was eager to have “learning and listening sessions” with residents on the aspirations of the district.  A revised communication will go out to the community on May 14 for a listening session.  She also wants to enhance the transition between pre-K and kindergarten. An affirmative-action-oriented job fair is also scheduled for May 19 in the George Inness Annex cafeteria of the high school.

Johnson also expressed an interest in developing a collaborative effort with the township to apply for grants to help the district.  She told board member Rev. Jevon Caldwell-Gross, in response to his question of what she envisioned to be the benefits of such an undertaking, that she wanted to strategically plan and prioritize objectives with the township, and she said she hoped that through grants she could provide additional money for programs such as magnet schools, pre-K, and science education.  Robinson said the district might be able to enhance already excellent programs but wanted to see and hear how such grants would relate to the work of the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence and how grants would be managed.  Board member Joseph Kavesh wanted to hear more details, expressing skepticism in light of the failed shared-server initiative connecting the computers of the district and the municipal government.   But Board President Hertzog was encouraged by the general attitude that the idea was worth exploring.

Also, students from the Montclair Robotics Team announced a “robot petting zoo” event involving the team and other robotics teams in an afternoon of activities and workshops on how to build robotic machines.  The event takes place between 3-5 p.m. at the Montclair High School on Saturday, May 12.

the Montclair Robotics Team

At the end of the meeting, Kavesh wished Superintendent Johnson well, adding that she would be tested over the next three years.  Board President Hertzog joked that Superintendent Johnson had already showed her mettle, noting that the workshop meeting had ended within an hour.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Herron’s something, ain’t he? No shovel this time?

    The BOE should be careful – very careful – regarding a partnership with the Township for grant applications. Yes, grants are good. But the shared-server disaster should serve as a reminder to all of the potential pitfalls of a Township-District collaboration. Due diligence would appear to be in order.

  2. I’m not sure the Township’s 2016 server separation project is complete. An oblique inquiry from the Mayor to the BA at a recent BoSE meeting suggested it was not.

  3. Kudos to Paula White for calling it what it is, and Ms. Herzog for presenting the details. Clearly, the political operative who calls himself spotontarget was in fact wrong. Good thing you’re behind an avatar. Is this the new paradigm, get in a huff and walk out of a meeting or just don’t show up? Think about this – former Board members Kulwin, Larson, and Deutsch were attacked mercilessly at meetings by a coordinated group (FOIA documents proved this) and they NEVER once walked out of a meeting. They took all the personal attacks and turned the other cheek and worked for our kids. Now, instead, you take your toys and go home? Finally, why is Heron on about going after a BoE member’s residency? Just because he was one that voted in support of our new Superintendent? Next time, bring more props David. At least then we can laugh at your arguments AND your presentation. Maybe you should tell us all why you don’t support our new Superintendent. Of course, one should be reminded that all of this rolls up to the Mayor. Cracking good job there.

  4. Good point Frank.

    The article fails to note that a Board member (one of the “Absentee Three”) walked out of the meeting as Hertzog responded to Robinson’s “ego-driven rant”. And yet another member of the “Absentee Three” again did not show up for a meeting.

    Welcome to the District, indeed, Dr. Johnson.

  5. Ms. Robinson has a bright future as Donald Trump. Rumor is she has plans for a pre-birth education program for Montclair.

  6. Clearly there’s a reason why Eve Robinson spent a few minutes directly disputing the timeline that Board President Hertzog put forth last time to substantiate her Board majority’s actions. How it made Robinson and two others appear to be intentional no-shows at the Superintendent vote when Robinson claims other days could have been picked for a special meeting and all 7 board members instead allowed to vote.

    No doubt it’s the same reason Ann Mernin walked out in a huff last night when Hertzog again felt the need to provide defensive cover from her perspective of what really happened. So now, it’s a classic “she said, she said”?

    Perhaps? Depends who you believe.

    As to Dave Herron’s assertions that the board majority have now created multiple procedural improprieties and therefore produced potentially unlawful votes and actions — only time will tell. One might not be so arrogant here Mr. Bonesteel until that fat lady really sings. You know what they say: “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Because it appears, at least from Herron’s statutory quotes above — that he may just be warming those eggs up.

    Especially dealing with that Board member he says has not maintained legal residency. Therefore, has violated local and state board member service statutes. Otherwise, why would Franklin Turner also have walked out of the meeting when Robinson started speaking. Maybe there’s concern there about being confronted with some direct questions? Again, I would watch out for that premature arrogance Mr. B.. It’s clearly one of man’s great sins.

  7. I guess the MPS now has its Pre-K. Maybe some day we will have a Pre-K for the children.

  8. Ms. Robinson and spotontarget clearly live in the post-truth world. Is it OK to make up your own facts to suit your own narrative? Should our kids see walking away from their decisions or issues as proper? Board members are role models. Is this the sort of leadership our public school students should aspire to? It’s not arrogance to see and point out the mess the Mayor has created. SMH

  9. A leopard can’t change its spots, and neither can spotontarget. The same person who defends Robinson’s petulant “ego-driven rant” and Mernin bolting (two-thirds of the “Absentee Three”) regularly toes the company line about Turner’s residency issue and, based on prior posts here, has a particular axe to grind with another Board member who has served the community in numerous capacities (MPL Board; Civil Rights Committee; BOE).

    Why focus on kids when personal attacks will do?

  10. I wish Dr Johnson the best as she takes on a challenging job.

    I also hope she is smart enough to see through board members’ antipathies and the questionable actions and statements of our current board president. There is no reason to doubt Ms. Robinson’s account of what occurred with the scheduling of the board meetings; she has been up front and honest during her tenure on the board. That there was a special meeting called for that vote in the first should raise everyone’s concerns. While I believe Dr. Johnson was the best qualified candidate of the three presented to the town, why there was any need to deviate from standard, legal procedure is unclear. Simultaneously, Ms. Hertzog was not up front with the knowledge of when the other superintendent candidates removed their names for consideration and did quite a bit of backpedaling on this issue. Reasonable doubt as to her actions/motivations is not unwarranted. I hope Dr. Johnson is not tainted by this.

    It’s important to remember that when the Penny MacCormack debacle took place, her supporters were quick to attack the integrity and intentions of anyone who raised issues with her data-driven, authoritarian policies. This thread makes me worry that this will recur. And it’s not as if her spectre doesn’t linger with us; three of our current board members were on the AGAP committee that Penny M steered, after all. We all need to keep in mind that there are many ways to address not just the achievement gap but racism in our schools, including ways not advocated for by the AGAP panel.

    It was not ever Penny M as a person that was the problem; it was her blind, ill-advised adherence to testing, data, and standardization, combined with a very authoritarian, administrative-heavy stance in the district. While there are no signs that Dr. Johnson would replicate this, the same atmosphere of refusing to listen to debate or other, reasonable, informed points of view seems to be emerging from several members of the board.

    And some folks on this thread.

    Like it or not, Mr. Herron raises some excellent points. Insulting him (or me for defending him) won’t change that.

  11. So, let me see if I am reading this correctly: the “Absentee Three”, who also don’t have any kids attending the MPS currently, know better what is good for our District, and how to address the AG, and the needs of the black students, than Ms. Hertzog, Dr. Turner, and Rev. Caldwell, and our new super Dr. Johnson? Hm, I don’t about you, but I’m seeing a color pattern emerging.

  12. I do need your help Mr. Bonesteel, or anyone else who can supply the information. According to the Open Public Meeting Act, public meetings must be advertised, in two newspapers at least 48 hours prior to any meeting. Can you please tell me what newspaper you found the meeting of April 11, posted. I can’t find it anywhere. What I did find was a newspaper posting dated April 11th, in the Star Ledger. The meeting was on April 11, so that can’t be it. I did find an ad in the Montclair Times, dated April 12, that was the day after the meeting, so that doesn’t meet state requirement for public notice of meetings, either. So where are you finding the notice printed as required by law?
    By the way, I don’t recall ever saying that I don”t support our new superintendent. Actually no one has ever asked me that question. I support anyone who has the best interest of Montclair’s schools.

  13. Published is not the standard. It has to be received by the entity. Government can not dictate publication deadlines.

  14. That’s only partly accurate. More than a dozen court opinions have said, notices must be “received in time” to meet the 48 hour rule for publication. Calling a meeting on Monday would not meet Star Ledger or the Montclair Times publication deadlines. More interesting is the need to attempt to insult one who doesn’t share someone else opinion. So much for democracy. Guess that only applies to certain people.

  15. I wasn’t trying to insult you. I was answering what I thought was a question on the mechanism. I should have read your post closer.

  16. Actually, I think you have misread the law and totally misunderstand the 48 hrs thing. Many people do.

    By the dates you gave above, and assuming they did the post & file steps, the meeting clearly complies w/ NJ OPMA.

  17. It’s the blind keepers of the faith v. the fairness in process crowd once again. A morphed Montclair Cares About Schools v. Montclair Kids First round two — now with added racially focused overtones.

    Excellent analysis Flynnie, it’s too bad some here can’t accept that cutting legal and procedural corners to get their way still does not make it right. And Johnlayne, you are dangerously close to becoming a shill for this soon to change school board majority, in particular the now seemingly paranoid directed Joe Kavesh.

    Absolutely no axe to grind with Kavesh here, only the facts which you had specifically asked about. But when the topic presented is a proposed, town-wide grants fund-raising partnership to help generate more revenues for all (which the new Superintendent clearly supported) and Kavesh’s (and now your concern) is instead fear of working together with the municipality because of possibly losing “control” as seen in past conflicts, clearly there is a miss-direction of focus.

    Instead of seeing benefits from working together to bring in more revenues for kid related needs, you and Kavesh are worried about the past shared ‘server’ fight. How an old (also paranoid) Penny McCormack school Board tried to run their over-the-top and costly investigative resident witch-hunt which the town government finally said “enough” then and wouldn’t let them continue to dig using a shared computer server.

    This same kind of ‘authoritarian’ behavior has been displayed here in process by the current Board majority. And Mr. Kavesh’s race obsessive focus sadly still continues, this time during his public comments the other day, no matter how inappropriate they come off. (to parapharase) “Dr. Johnson will not be just be a great ‘black’ Superintendent. Larry Bird was not just a great ‘white’ basketball player”.

    Clearly he (and others) just don’t see how their continued race-based focus (diversity must have to create change) presented as the underpinnings for decision-take-aways hurts — rather than helps Montclair.

  18. therealworld,

    I assume your 1st sentence, 2nd paragraph is either intended to say the ends doesn’t justify the means, but I want to rule out is tongue in cheek.

    flynnie’s analysis being excellent? It is typical spin, not analysis.

    – Analysis would have pointed out the easily verifiable point the neither Robinson, Merlin or de Konnick objected to the legal basis for the meeting.

    – “There is no reason to doubt Ms. Robinson’s … she has been up front and honest during her tenure on the board.” Analysis or spin?

    – Attack on Dr MacCormmack’s administration, 3 superintendents ago, for pushing data, testing & standardization, then point out there is no comparison to current superintendent! Analysis or spin?
    (and leave out the the Governor you all voted for has signed us up to PARCC for at least another 2 years.)

    – Other ways to handle the institutional racism besides using the data the AGAP compiled and teeing up the recommendations like, umh, let’s see…oh yes – maybe a Asst Superintendent of Equity position and the package deal kicker of a Equity Advocate position. Analysis or spin?

    I could go on, but frankly I’m bored.

  19. Good points Frank.

    therealworld and/or spotontarget, perhaps one and the same, continue their personal attacks and suggest people commenting here are merely shills. If so, it could be argued that they are shills for: (a) the union; (b) the mayor; (c) the mayor’s Planning Board water carrier; and/or (d) all of the above.

    In the final analysis, it’s a good thing that Montclair FINALLY has a Superintendent without the “interim” tag. Dr. Johnson may be a superstar, she may fail, or maybe something in between. One week into her tenure, no one knows how it will play out.

    The question now is: where does the District go from here?

  20. Are people aware that the AGAP is not a “Montclair problem?” It’s largely everywhere in the U.S. and the gap is apparent even pre-school. That suggests MPS in particular is not failing its black students (even with its rampant “institutional racism.”

    Perhaps were using the wrong benchmark; instead of minority vs. non-minority here, maybe we should compare minority student performance here against minority students’ performance in other, comparable districts. Or just compare the AGAP here to AGAP “there.” Those gaps, if any, would indicate if Montclair in particular was disadvantaging is minority students. Of course, that comparison would be require standardized test scores and we know those are useless for addressing AGAPs.

    But it sounds like Flynnie has AGAP all figured out: “there are many ways to address not just the achievement gap but racism in our schools, including ways not advocated for by the AGAP panel.”

    Please enlighten us Fynnie about those other ways, and give us some concrete examples of the racism endemic to MPS (remember though, that the black-white suspension gap doesn’t prove racism any more than the white-asian gap proves anti-white animus, or the male-female gap proves reverse sexism).

  21. Give Eve Robinson a break – she apologized for not being at that meeting; some people have lives, not everyone is on their smartphones 24/7! As the school board president, Hertzog should not have chastised Ms. Robinson during the meeting. This was embarrassing to everyone and unprofessional at best.

  22. Johnlayne – now you’re thinking more clearly. “Where does the district go from here”….

    This Board can get it together and start to do things with its new Superintendent. They all just have to get past the BOE’s culture of personal animosity and start behaving like a board. That means when 3 members say they can’t make a vote, you don’t schedule it for that day and if you do because you feel you have to, even for strategic legal reasons believed to accomplish the majority’s objectives — another member then doesn’t attack the 3 who didn’t come when they’re not there…as if they intentionally didn’t show up. Because this only adds to the political and in this case – bad racial optics.

    Instead, you start to manage disagreements as philosophical, policy or even strategic political issues. You respectfully give everyone the chance to say their piece and express opinions even if completely divergent–but without personalized attacks. You listen..say your piece, vote and then move on without personal rancor.

    Real debate on policies and issues can very very illuminating – both for those debating and to the public listening. But so far, this Board has shown little ability to engage at a level like that.

    Interestingly, Dr. Johnson’s actions during this last BOE meeting were telling that she gets it. She just ignored the personal fray and continued on with the system’s business. All school board members, including the two who walked out – Mr. Turner and Ms. Mernin without needed comment for the public — should learn from the Superintendent’s lesson that night.

  23. where does the District go from here?

    For kicks & giggles, they could start by rereading both the Board’s and the District’s 2017-18 Goals.

    It is really not that complicated. You do or you don’t do. Whether this unbelievably petulant Board talks or doesn’t talk to each other doesn’t matter. Frankly, most people don’t care.

    This lot of malcontents has moved up into real contention for the least effective BoE of the post-segregation era.

  24. Hey Mommie, if Eve gives her dinner plans higher priority than her commitment to the BOE, maybe she should step down and review restaurants.

  25. justbob,

    You’re being a tad bit harsh towards Mrs. Robinson. If you’re going to chastise her for giving her dinner plans priority over a BOE meeting, then at least be consistent and rebuke other members for skipping meetings to attend Broadway shows and the like.

    Taking bets – and am nominating Bonesteel or therealworld to keep track – as to how many BOE members will show up for the reorganization meeting. The over/under is 5.

  26. @dherron Frank Rubacky is correct. Under OPMA and as odd as it sounds, the public body only needs to send the public meeting notice to the newspaper with a “good faith” effort of getting it published in the paper with at least 48 hours notice.
    Further, if this is a regularly scheduled meeting and an annual meeting calendar was properly noticed and published at the beginning of the year, they don’t even need to provide an additional per-meeting advertisement in the newspaper. The third OPMA requirement of posting in a commonly-used public location still must be met, however (a bulletin board in the BOE front office, etc).
    Public hearings are a different story entirely.
    There are many ‘loopholes’ in both the OPMA and OPRA that can be exploited by a governing body to avoid keeping citizens in the loop if that’s what they wish. But, keep in mind that if challenged, the spirit of both pieces of legislation always errs on the side of public disclosure.

  27. I am most concerned that this superintendent’s tenure is starting out with board members exhibiting this kind of behavior. If they want to support her, this discord is not the way to begin. I certainly hope this does not become the beginning of battle lines again. It was unhealthy for the town, for the schools and for the students (please don’t jump in here with arguments about whose fault that was- it’s irrelevant at this point). Bolondi was a breath of fresh air, for it seemed all he cared about was taking care of the needs of kids. The new superintendent would be well advised to take his lead.

  28. You go away for a bit… It is fascinating how a lawyer can have trouble understanding how the law works. The NJ OPMA was followed, yet you persist. The bigger question here is why you and other un-named actors seem to be already working to undercut the new Superintendent? Why not just get it out in the open? What is your goal here when you trump up (pun intended) reasons to invalidate the vote and have others do the same for a Board member over his residency? Why does the same group who went after Dr. MacCormack have issues with Dr. Johnson? Tell us please. PS – No need for me to keep track johnlayne. There are cameras.

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