MONTCLAIR, NJ - A group calling themselves Vote Montclair, has been circulating a petition since July asking residents their opinion on an elected Board of Education. The group has recently announced that the votes are in.
Montclair resident Erik D’Amato is the organizer of Vote Montclair, whose primary initiative involves having Montclair join 97% of the other municipalities in New Jersey, where local boards of education are elected by voters rather than appointed.
Organizers wrote, "As part of this effort we are currently undertaking a series of public surveys on the topic, to find out not only whether Montclair voters are interested in an elected BOE, but what kind of elected BOE voters and other residents think would best suit the Township." Results of the previous survey are here, and the current survey is here: https://votemontclair.org/boe/
Montclair is now one of only 11 out of 565 municipalities in New Jersey where members of the local Board of Education are appointed by the mayor rather than elected by popular vote. The first survey of 333 Montclair residents, indicates strong support for having the township moving from an appointed to an elected Board of Education, along with backing for an inventive, ward-based model of electing BOE members.
According to published reports, Vote Montclair is currently focused on two initiatives centered on the desire for more voter engagement in the township’s public life. Both involve referendum questions Vote Montclair is working to place on the ballot.
While there are some arguments in favor of an appointed Board of Education, organizers state that they "believe the current system lacks democratic accountability and legitimacy and should be replaced by one in which voters rather than mayors choose who sits on the BOE."
There are other problems that have also arisen with Montclair's appointed Board model, which is, having an appointed Board while the sitting Mayor is also Vice President of the New Jersey Education Association, serves as a conflict of interest that has been difficult for residents to ignore.
According to the initial survey, more than three out of four respondents (77%) said they favored an elected BOE, with 13% saying they were unsure, and 9% saying they were in favor of retaining an appointed board.
Many respondents were unsure of the ward they lived in, which may correspond to a historic low voter turnout and suggest a need for more communication to residents identifying the wards and the role they play in the municipal election by the Township.
The first survey asked respondents to identify which type of elected BOE model they would be in favor of.
Respondents were asked to choose between a nine-member board with three groups of members elected “at large” each year — the standard in New Jersey — and a novel model in which two members would be elected from each of Montclair’s four wards, with a BOE president elected at-large. Among those who favored an elected board, 80% favored the ward-based model, while among those who favored retaining the appointed model 72% favored the ward-based approach.
Meanwhile, respondents suggested alternate models, notably a nine-member board with one member elected from each ward and five elected at-large.
As a result, Vote Montclair is holding a second, survey aimed at further gauging voter support for different BOE models, as well as the timing of any drive to place the matter on the ballot. The new survey and other related material can be found at:
Everyone is not in agreement. Recently, the League of Women Voters released a statement in favor of maintaining an appointed BOE in Montclair, adding that past referenda on this issue were held in 1963, 1969, 1971, 1995 and, most recently, 2009 – and all were unsuccessful.