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.
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.
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.