MONTCLAIR, NJ – It seems that every Montclair Board of Education Meeting this school year has been an adventure, and that was no different on Thursday evening as past-president Laura Hertzog resigned from the board during the public meeting.
It’s been a years’ worth of meetings containing tension between the Montclair Education Association and the board over the 2019-20 school budget and a new contract for the teachers, and the twists and turns continued at the George Inness Atrium, this time with bad blood between board members.
Presiding over the meeting were Superintendent Kendra Johnson, new Board President Eve Robinson, new Vice President Latifah Jannah, Business Administrator and Board Secretary Emidio D’Andrea, Jessica de Koninck, Priscilla Church, Anne Mernin, new member Alfred Davis and past-president Hertzog.
The meeting opened with President Robinson addressing the change in leadership within the board and welcomed Jannah as the new vice president and thanked former vice president Joseph Kavesh and Hertzog for their service. Kavesh concluded his term on the board after the May 1st meeting.
“I look forward to working with the board and I look forward to working with Superintendent Johnson,” said Robinson. “I want to make a personal note to Dr. Johnson as this was a particularly difficult week for many of us in this district and Dr. Johnson has been exemplary and so helpful in light of the tragedies that we face and I thank her on behalf of the whole community for her support.”
Johnson then began her Superintendent Report speaking about the recent tragic event in the community.
“We have experienced a significant loss as a school community this week, and I would like to open my Superintendent’s Report with a respectful moment of silence,” Johnson said in a somber tone. “My heart is extremely heavy as I pause to ask all of our parents and guardians to use this difficult moment as a school community to engage in authentic conversations around very sensitive topics.”
Next up was the board discussion, which saw Hertzog make her statement of resignation.
“In every vote and every decision, the students have come first with me, as I had served on multiple boards and believed that when I began, that I could be part of making this a more functional board,” said Hertzog. “Sadly, when I see this almost comical and hypocritical behavior, and ongoing pettiness, I must accept that the hard work that I have done to help change things has basically meant nothing. I understand that despite my best efforts, I am unable to change the toxicity that I have experienced while volunteering on this board. I have spent four years dealing with people who present once face behind closed doors and a very different one when the light is shining on them. So it is best if I remove myself from this situation and allow those who have repeatedly felt comfortable behaving this way to remain with our newer members.”
Hertzog, who directed her comments and blame squarely at Robinson and Jannah, then excused herself from the meeting after the public comment portion of the meeting and said she will soon write her letter of resignation and provide it to the mayor.
While Herzog was reading her resignation statement, Robinson looked on with a gleeful smirk.
Hertzog concluded by saying, “thank you to the children of Montclair for letting me serve you for the past four years – I always did my best.”
Hertzog was received with a loud ovation by the students, parents and teachers in attendance.
The public comment portion of the meeting saw even more anger directed at the board, this time from Montclair High School students upset with the handling and secrecy of the May 20th Plan.
“If this May 20th Plan goes through, it will be a great injustice to our education going forward,” said MHS student Gabe. “One problem that I have is the lack of transparency from (the board) to us, and we the students feel like we’re in the dark about the rationale going into this decision, and so the result of that is an apparent angry mob of students and parents. You guys need a better way of communicating to us and (should do so) prior to when the decision has already been made.”
“I agree with Gabe in the way that (May 20th Plan) was communicated,” said MHS student Lucas. “I fully understand that the board of education is working under constraints, but there should have been a longer discussion. We can’t focus on learning our material if we no idea what’s happening in the next month. No one knows anything.”
“I also agree with Gabe and Lucas, and I am concerned about the logistical experience (of the May 20th Plan),” said MHS junior Thomas.
Several female MHS students commented to the board about their objections to the possibility of the school district not rehiring a popular assistant varsity field hockey coach next season.
The next Montclair Board of Education regular public meeting is Wednesday, June 5 in the George Inness Atrium. The meeting begins at 5:30 pm and immediately goes into closed session until approximately 7:30 pm when it re-opens to the public.