Vote Montclair ‘Implodes’ After Founder Goes Off on Teachers with Seniority

Vote Montclair was successful in its mission to change Montclair to an elected board, but now those associated are distancing themselves from the group’s founder.

Vote Montclair was the group that worked to get Montclair’s Board of Education to change from appointed to elected and saw two candidates it endorsed get elected to the BOE. But its founder, Montclair parent Erik D’Amato has inexplicably destroyed the organization with just a few keystrokes.

In an opinion piece entitled “This Is How Montclair Mayor/NJ State Teachers Union President Sean Spiller Was Humiliated at the Ballot Box,” D’Amato lashes out at Montclair teachers with seniority, saying that in Montclair “truly toxic senior teachers were seen as untouchable.”

D’Amato makes references to one of Montclair’s most beloved current teachers and cast aspersions on a former teacher and BOE candidate. The piece was published Monday, less than a week after the first-ever election for Board of Education members took place.

“I have no idea why, after winning an election, you would go after two well regarded educators who devoted their lives to Montclair school children,” says Cary Chevat. Chevat, who serves as secretary for Montclair Democrats as well as of the Montclair branch of the NAACP, added he was only voicing his personal opinion, not that of any these organizations.

“Any good will this group had developed has now evaporated with D’Amato’s comments. People associated with this group now have to reevaluate what the cost of this association will be,” Chevat added.

In August 2020, D’Amato told Baristanet he was not “connected to any education reform group, but rather is interested in this issue [an elected BOE], as well as a larger, related issue — increasing participation and voter engagement in town.”

In an October 2021 opinion piece on Baristanet, D’Amato spoke of how an elected Board of Education could “repair and lift up Montclair,” but his post Monday, on an education blog known for being critical of teachers’ unions, has only served to create division and destruction.

The two candidates endorsed by Vote Montclair call the organization “defunct” and denounced D’Amato’s comments in this statement:

Erik D’Amato does not speak for Phaedra Dunn, Melanie Deysher nor anyone else who was involved with the now defunct Vote Montclair. Nor do his opinions or views reflect that of anyone that was affiliated with Vote Montclair.

It is generally not our style to address people or matters that are loud and wrong, however this time we find it appropriate, because there is so much at stake. First and foremost no one speaks for either of us, we each solely speak for ourselves, unless like in this instance we speak together.

As people who are builders of consensus, who often represent disenfranchised voices, it is important that we state with conviction, that what was said was; tasteless and out of line and again, does not reflect any of our opinions, views or values. We stand by our teachers and believe that teachers should have a voice and a seat at the table.

We never imagined a time where we would ever have to make a statement of this nature, most especially when we thought we were coming together with, neighbors/people who wanted to impact change. We were being idealistic in nature, and we have learned a hurtful and valuable lesson.

As long as people sit behind cell phones and laptops and spew commentary with broad and sweeping generalizations, lacking factual information; we will never get anywhere as a society.

We as your neighbors and fellow community members apologize for the hostile and hurtful comments made by this individual.


Phaedra and Melanie

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  1. As a newcomer to town, I’m so puzzled who is allowed to claim victory here? The Baristanet headline suggests an awful lot of churn beneath the surface. Obviously, when my wife and I were shopping for homes here, looking to get our little ones into the school system next fall (2022), we never thought the schools were in such disarray. I know no town is perfect, but Montclair does an awfully good job of (mis?)representing itself as the very best NJ has to offer. I never thought I’d say this, but we will be looking into private schools later this spring. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Gordo,
    I can see one’s eyes opened if you have had a chance to experience NJT trains, but our schools?
    We’ve been pretty vocal about school issues in the last 24 months. Insider tip: find a knowledgeable neighbor to help you pick your schools if you decide to go with our schools.

    Curious: was your buying agent with the same real estate firm as the selling agent?

  3. Thanks, everyone.
    Mr. Rubacky, the buying agent did what she had to do, and we were just excited to get out of New York. And no, there’s no turnip truck parked in our newly paved driveway next to our darling center-hall colonial with fully renovated kitchen and bath. We are just getting used to Montclair as it re-emerges from Covid. The mandatory masking in businesses was a little weird, like someone was copy-catting NYC’s paranoia, but we weren’t paying close attention to the schools, and I’m embarrassed to admit, all the election brouhaha.
    Spooky, can you clarify?
    And thank you, Flipside. I suspect you’ve seen your share of hubris and pretension in Montclair? Would Maplewood have been any better? People warned us Morristown and Summit wouldn’t fit our personalities, but we never took a personality diagnostic test when we we’re being fitted for real estate agents.

  4. D’Amato’s win with the vote for school board referendum seemed to make him think there would be no impact if he ventured out of his lane and made such ill-advised comments. He should have been better at reading the room.

  5. Gordo, Familiarize yourself with the Montclair group think. If you have an original thought or disagree no matter how well informed you are on the subject keep your mouth shut. Be aware that virtue signaling is the biggest past time in town. Put a sign on your lawn and buy a Tesla, that will help. Disregard the fact that rare earth mining is destroying some of the last pristine places on the planet and that Hunter Biden’s lap top is real. Being on the right side of the mind set here is as important as wearing the right brand of clothes is to middle schoolers.
    There are plenty of good things about Montclair and I have meet some great people here. Don’t get discouraged. No place is perfect. There is plenty of variety here so you will find your niche. (It does help if you have a place to escape to now then.)

  6. Yeah, the COVID danger was exaggerated here too, according to many. The many did their due diligence and applied their critical thinking skills.

    Your direct exposure to our public school’s quality problems was an unfortunate, but anomalous outbreak directly caused by the COVID thing. I assure you it was an acute event and will soon be put back in the bottle. Yes, we actively misrepresent the quality of education here.

    It sounds like you & wife made a good choice picking Montclair and I think you will acclimate quickly. Maplewood runs our electric energy aggregation program and, well, you made the right choice with Montclair – and you can still Opt-Out of that program!

    PS: You made two wrong assumptions in your reply to my agency question. They were of minor consequence, but I worry this may become a habit of yours. Not turnips. Maybe cabbage.

  7. D’Amato is hero in my eyes. His remarks are standard, legitimate imo, criticism of teachers Union. They protect incompetence and drain vitality. That’s bad for the kids. Witness the rubber rooms in nyc.

  8. Gordo,
    This is not to suggest there aren’t issues with the schools — there are, everywhere. Montclair has its own fairly unique issues, especially for a good-sized suburban town. But if you listen only to the union-bashing dweebs who regularly post here, they’ll have you believe that the schools are some third-world garbage heap. If you want the real story, take a look at where a healthy percentage of the graduating MHS seniors go to college year in, year out. The district has many great teachers and virtues, not least among them a diverse student body that, yes, may well fit your family’s personality, if the conservative-leaning likes of Morristown and Summit weren’t your thing.

  9. Gordo. Give Montclair a chance and give the public schools a chance. Our kids went through the public school system and sure if you’re in the top 10% or the bottom 10% then you need something extra and maybe the school system can’t provide it but otherwise we were very satisfied.

    That said, the whole system has been ineffectively managed due to a merry go round of superintendents. Now we seem to have someone who’s going to stick around, the distractions of the pandemic will be gone and things will improve. Meanwhile in any individual classroom it’s really fine, especially for younger ones. I wouldn’t be at all concerned about introducing a kindergartener to the Montclair Public Schools system.

    As for this article, when you come after Dan Gill you’ve come after all of us.

  10. Hmmm. Spring has sprung. Birds and others are chirping. Festivals & finances. Oh, and I almost forgot the new teacher’s contract. Shiny balls. Shiny balls.

  11. So Erick D’Amato writes a letter, suggests there are some laggards among the ranks of the school union. Shocking. He plays political gamesmanship with the mayor, who we might remind ourselves is a politician and union leader and has, like all of them, said intemperate things. The VM board resigns in horror that Mr. D’Amato has a strident view of the schools and their leaders; in fact, the VM Board is shocked, shocked that there’s anything wrong with the schools that would have made them join VM to begin with and want to spend time, labor, capital and reputations to change the system itself. So far, so good, makes perfect sense for a town like this.

    D’Amato doesn’t actually name names, but the reporters over at Montclair Local, donning Pulitzer caps, decide to out one of those allegedly criticized, and so we have been given this person’s name, possibly against his/her will, and said reporters inform us that this person ran for the BOE and as an educator, and a union member, was actually backed by the Union. Shocked, shocked again.

    And since we have this person’s name now (and, unlike the award-seeking Montclair Local with a Board of Directors of some of the bigger names in media in this town, I will not name names), I dug up my file on how I would get to know all the nine candidates, courtesy of the Montclair PTA, before actually casting my vote. There, as if by magic, at the bottom of the list, eliminated first, is the only candidate for office who adamantly refused to fill out Section 3, the opportunity for the candidates to introduce themselves further to the voters by self-rating their “work/life experience.” This candidate explained that h/she would not require anyone under his/her direction to fill out such a form, and therefore he/she refuses to do so as well, and ends by saying, “Therefore, I respectively am not completing this section.” (“Respectively,” oh my.) Mind you, this is a self-described life-long educator, exhibiting poor grammar, being uncooperative in group settings, lacking the basic initiative to complete an assigned task regardless of whether or not it is not his/her liking, dismissive of rules established by none other than the PTA, and, as I went on to read in fascination, thoroughly grounded in the malarkey that is bandied about at all of the NJEA conferences teachers get paid-time-off to attend. This was the first candidate I eliminated in my search for my top two.

    It turns out, this candidate ended up with less than six percent of the vote (in an election notable for low turnout), despite backing from the union, suggesting Mr. D’Amato was simply expressing publicly what the voters expressed privately in their voting booths.

    If Mr. D’Amato is disliked by some members of the media and union members because of his own dislike for Mr. Spiller, that’s fair game, Spiller being a public figure, after all.

    But as for this VM kerfuffle, I am just aghast that the response of Montclair’s leading lights is to throw bricks through Mr. D’Amato’s windows.

  12. Yes, Mr D’Amato & Mr Gonzalez manipulated quite a few people, yet they were always transparent about playing the GOTV/PAC/Disruptor roles.

    People like Mr Bonsteel didn’t think that mattered. Ms Dunn & Ms Deysher knowingly used VM for their personal advancement and now they have “learned” and drop them unapologetically. And they, not us, have been hurt by their “experience”! Wow. Got some attitude going.

    [FR: pauses to laugh for full 10 sec.]

    These two will fit right into the BoE Love Canal culture. I voted for Ms Dunn because she was a thoughtful, smooth-talker with an engaging delivery. She does not disappoint. However, I’m just going to call my vote a little boo-boo.

  13. Essentially, yes. And it is still all about the children, right?

    But, as the carnivores like to say, “got to get my 1/4 pound of flesh, sliced very thin.”

  14. “Ms Dunn & Ms Deysher knowingly used VM for their personal advancement and now they have “learned” and drop them unapologetically. And they, not us, have been hurt by their “experience”! Wow. Got some attitude going.”

    This part.

  15. It’s Bonesteel, with an “e”, and don’t put words in my mouth please. You attacked VM for having spent a meager amount to promote their candidates. I pointed out the idiocy of this comment, nothing less, nothing more. I’m not involved in any of this silliness, so stop making things up eh?

  16. Gordo,

    Welcome. It’s a beautiful town with a lot of beautifully diverse people. All have different opinions and most aren’t afraid to voice it. Our schools aren’t much different from any other town but you get to enjoy the fact knowing you kids with grow up with a very diverse population. You’ll see that some people think that one elementary school is the BEST, but honestly they all are very good and have lots to offer. Our 3 middle schools have bigger differences and then they all merge together in the HS. Hopefully they will fix the crumbling infrastructure before you get there! Btw- the HS puts on great shows/musicals, be sure to check them out! Not sure how diverse the town will remain because rents are obscene, housing prices have skyrocketed and gentrification is real.

    Now let me go back to figuring out why if all the city folks have moved out here and paid double what houses are worth, why the city prices haven’t gone down to reflect the mass exodus.

  17. Jon,

    I apologize for my careless misspelling of your name. Like The Ukraine, I am likely forever sensitized to missing the “e”.

    Here is my post from Mr Astor’s thread:

    Frank Rubacky March 13, 2022 At 9:12 am
    “I am the treasurer of Vote Montclair, which spent a total of $600 on this election.” – Clifford Kulwin, Treasurer, VoteMontclair (VM)

    And how much will VM spend next time on it’s candidate for the next democratic principle? I have no problem with VM or LWV trading on their GOTV legitimacy. The money is secondary; although I do wonder how much VM would spend on a mayoral candidate. It is really up to the VM leadership how to run a PAC. I just giggle when you use attributes of the N.R.A. model in Blue Wave Country.

    FYI, the N.R.A. abbreviation above is for the National Rifle Association. And, yes, I then jumped focus to other posters using The Ukraine, leading to “Oh, The Humanity!” and O’ Canada… and anthems.

    I missed any mention of whether the VM Officer & Treasurer, Clifford Kulwin stepped down. I assume, as the expression goes, “in for a penny, in for a pound”.

  18. Pardon,
    I agree that kids that go through the Montclair school system are very prepared for college. My kids all said that they were surprised how many kids that grew up in more homogenous towns were unprepared for the college social scene.
    As for expressing diverse opinions….I have to disagree with you there. I have found for the most part Montclair has it’s own version of cancel culture. There is not much tolerance for dissenting views. Look no further than this article and the reaction to D’Amato’s opinion for proof. If you have a business interest in town it is best to toe the line or stay very quiet.

  19. Flipside,
    I guess you are right on that. His friends all left him alone and we all know they knew his views before the article. That’s why it gets real hard to know who to trust in situations like these. Lots of reformers amongst us. Some new faces to the anti-union crowd, and they aren’t easy to spot when they meet up with Erik for strategizing, but then distance themselves when it got hard to hide from the truth. What a news week!

    Yes, kids are pretty well prepared for college after MPS although sometimes more socially than academically. Not to say the academics aren’t strong, but as we all know it depends on your situation. I’m always in shock when I hear parents talk about how much they spend on outside tutoring!

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