Opinion: Elected BOE Would Lead To Less Diversity and Poor Financial Health For District

On Tuesday, residents going to the polls to vote on the referendum to determine whether Montclair stays with an Appointed School Board or switches to an Elected School Board deserve facts and not rhetoric. It is disingenuous innuendo if you listen, read, and watch what the Vote Montclair supporters are saying and promoting.

Two claims I want to challenge with facts are:

The School District will inherit the Townships Triple-A credit rating.

An Elected Board will replicate the diversity of Board members that an Appointed Board has consistently delivered.

Let’s start with the Triple-A Credit rating: Erik D’Amato and former Board of Education Business Administrator Brian Fleischer have claimed the School District will absorb the Township’s Triple-A Bond rating. This measure allows the Township to borrow money at low-interest rates. How can they legitimately forecast this rating for the School District? Mr. D’Amato says he has called rating agencies. But he does not say which one or who from the agencies gave him the information. Give us the names and agencies? Mr. Fleischer has agreed with Mr. D’Amato but doesn’t back his rationale with any information or facts.

The truth is no one knows. But the facts provide a good indication. Of the 560 plus municipalities in New Jersey, only 29 have a Triple-A rating. Montclair is one of the 29. Of the 550-plus school districts, only 9 have a Triple-A rating, not including some regional school districts. How can anyone determine Montclair will get a Triple-A rating when only 9 of the school districts in the 29 Municipalities with a Triple-A rating have attained the sought-after rating. The numbers don’t add up.

Considering our School Districts’ history of poor financial management, why would a reputable rating agency assign a Triple-A rating? The previous Business Administrator left after a damaging whistleblower report, and no offense, but the current BA has never held the position before. Remember when District officials claimed we had a $5 million deficit, when the fact was, we had a $9 million surplus. Look at this year. The District asked for $60 million in August. Then presented a long-range plan with a $147 million price tag in September, including $15 million for 2022. Do you think a credit agency will rely solely on residents’ ability to pay taxes and not consider that history and the inexperience of the District’s current financial administration?

Now, let’s pivot to the makeup of the Board. The thought that an Elected Board will result in a diverse group of candidates is another unknown. We do know whoever runs will need money to campaign for the position. We do know slates can and will be formed. Do you want an alliance of individuals with agendas and personal priorities that are literally well-funded candidates? Do we need political campaigns? Who has the money? Where will the money come from to support slates and campaigns? Insurance companies. Engineering companies. Law firms. Testing outfits and publishers. They will all be looking to financially support candidates to gain access to the hundred million school budget. The sincere volunteers committed to educational excellence will no longer contend for a seat on the Board of Education. Is that what we need?

Another essential item to consider is with an Elected Board, the candidates with the most votes win. The last time vote count determined the entire public body of our government in Montclair was in the late ’70s when the Township operated under a Commission form of government. In that system, the members of Montclair’s Town Council were decided by the top seven vote getters. The Council did not reflect the Township’s diversity. The majority of voters were white, the majority of the Council was overwhelmingly white. Ward residency did not matter.

In 1980 the Township voted to switch to the Faulkner form of government created to provide municipalities with greater flexibility in determining their leaders. Montclair’s Black population did not have equal representation in the Commission form of government. Since switching to the Faulkner Form, where each Ward chooses its representative, we have had three Black Mayors and never less than two African American Council members.

I fear that an Elected Board, like the Commission Form of Government, will lead to less diversity on the Board of Education, the poor financial health of the Township, and the bottom line, the elimination of a system that has served this Township, and the students well.

David Cummings is Montclair’s Fourth Ward Councilor. He previously served as a member of the Montclair Board of Education.

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  1. disagree with Councilor Cummings on two points.

    I can, FWIW, guarantee the school district will not be or ever be AAA-rated under an elected board. Most companies in Chapter 11 are better managed than our school district.

    Diversity? Montclair know how’s to dress up for appearance’s sake. We have our races, ethnicities, token he/him. Appearances are important here. What we won’t do under either system is acknowledge that public education is broken here. Math, reading, science…pick one. We don’t do accountability. All the stakeholders like it this way.

    I blame the stakeholders and put the parents and union at the top of the list. The union has allowed instructional quality to go down without repent. The parents…well, I think the buck still stops there last I checked. Maybe that concept doesn’t apply in the Facebook era. Remember, these include the same parent leaders that, in spite of rogue board, managed to railroad a newly hired superintendent out of town and didn’t bother to do the same with her predecessor. I was never able to count how many parents were involved there. That’s how this town works.

    When parents want things done, they get done. Take my word for that one. They make up their own rules if they want something done. They want a playing field turned into state-of-the-art facility at the expense of building infrastructure. A new field house? Done. Renovate the new field house? Done. You know the registered organization behind that? Of course not. Some seriously whacked priorities here.

    We let the each of our school PTAs Balkanize our magnet school concept to the point where each school not only uniquely customized, but they are customizing to the classroom level. Crazy. We don’t want equity in this town. If we did, we wouldn’t have 11 different PTAs. Does anyone ever stop to thing about reality here. Not what we say, what we actually do?

    Let’s throw bright shiny balls that distract. But don’t say the elected board will be better. On its best day it will be no better than an appointed board.

  2. I unintentionally omitted the MFEE from their role abetting the educational status quo instead of being a relevant agent of change. To single out outstanding performance, especially at the level called excellence, they have to know the overall performance. Their silence is part of the problem. They are granted unique access and then waste it like a single-use plastic water bottle. I get they have a narrow mission to dole out money. That’s good. But, anyone can do that.

  3. Disagreed with Mr. Cummings on most things. He got a few important things very wrong. I was totally right, he was totally wrong. IMO, of course – but, in 100% hindsight, too. He made Montclair democracy messy. I had to engage with him. He left me no choice. Oh, yes, he was appointed.

  4. History – and these emails, oh, those emails – has shown I was right. An elected board would not have changed that. Hey, a new generation. This generation gets to make their own mistakes. After all, it is their progeny. This is how it works in White Picket Fence Land.

    The older people need to move to the side. We have had our time. There are plenty of other essential volunteering roles where we can still be relevant. Land use anyone?

  5. Did anyone, at anytime, stop – just for a moment – and wonder why both sides were glad-handing a 1 year extension of the previous 3-yr union contract? At its highest % increase? OK, this all will be covered in a class offered next year at the Adult School. And online, to boot!

    Seriously, life is challenging. Parents just want peace & quiet. A nice weekend. Is it wrong to want to send the kids to camp in November?

  6. Another For What It is Worth regarding the MFEE:
    The total they have raised & distributed over the last 30 years amount to a fraction (or 20% if you prefer) of the amount the district wants a blank check written to them today. All are appreciative of the MFEE effort, but relatively speaking, a drop in the bucket over 30 years of school spending. It is not enough to move the needle.

    Focus. It helps. I swear.

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