MONTCLAIR, NJ - Following a groundswell of support for an elected Board of Education in Montclair, Mayor Sean Spiller broke his silence on Thursday.
He stated that he is in support of whichever method the residents decide is best. Spiller said, "I have the utmost confidence in the judgement of the residents of Montclair and would be fully supportive of moving to an elected Board of Education."
In past years, Board of Education members in Montclair have been appointed by the Mayor. Over the years, since the 1960s, there have been unsuccessful challenges to the existing model by a small community of opponents. Voters have opted for an appointed Board with each challenge. The last challenge occurred in 2009 and was defeated by 57% to 43%.
However, with the election of Spiller, opponents of an appointed Board have gained momentum, as activists have questioned the Board's decisions of the past few years and Spiller's affiliations with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) teacher's union, where he is the current President-elect.
A group calling themselves VoteMontclair is at the forefront of the push to force a ballot question asking residents if Montclair should continue to have an appointed school boar or if it should have an elected one. The majority of New Jersey communities have elected school Boards.
During the most recent Board of Education meeting, outgoing member Sergio Gonzalez made a statement blasting Spiller's conflicts and then asked residents to join him in signing a petition to have residents to vote for an elected board.
Montclair is one of only 3% of districts in the state with a so-called Type I board, consisting of seven members appointed by the mayor. The vast majority are under a Type II model, with nine members elected by the public.
Stating that he was 'angry', Gonzalez, informed the public that he was not reappointed by Spiller after being 'outspoken' over being in favor of reopening schools. Gonzalez had been appointed by former Mayor Robert Jackson nearly 20 months earlier.
In his outgoing statement, Gonzalez also accused Spiller and others of making an effort to chase away Superintendent Jonathan Ponds and seeking, "...money, perks and power."
In his role as mayor, Spiller has the authority to appoint Board of Education members who negotiate the contracts that determine teacher salaries, which, as the soon-to-be NJEA President, has been an issue of contention for many Montclair residents.
When school closures were forced due to the pandemic and the local teacher's union took a stand against possible reopening, Spiller publicly remained neutral. As lawsuits between the Board and the teacher's union and the parents and the Board came forth, residents became more vocal about Spiller's conflict of interest.
As an appointed, Type I school district, Montclair's school budgets are determined by the Board of School Estimate (BoSE), a separate body that includes the mayor and three council members. As councilperson, Spiller was one of the members of the BoSE until a group of residents sued to have him removed from the post. During which time, there had been murmurs of his conflict, but his ascension to Mayor has amplified the collective cries of the residents.
In a post on his social media page Thursday, Spiller responded, saying:
As Mayor it is my obligation to fulfill my duties and uphold the trust residents have placed in me. However, whether I as Mayor, or any Mayor should appoint members of the Board of Education, or whether those Board members should be chosen directly by residents is not a decision I can make.
That decision can only be made by the residents of Montclair.
Voters can and should be entrusted to decide for themselves what mechanism for naming members of the Board of Education will best serve students, residents, and taxpayers.
Even when there are differing opinions, I believe that everyone shares the ultimate goal of preserving our world class public schools.
I have the utmost confidence in the judgement of the residents of Montclair and would be fully supportive of moving to an elected Board of Education.