A survey of 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.
In the online poll by new citizen group Vote Montclair, 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.
The Township of Montclair is currently 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.
BOE Models at Issue
The survey asked respondents to identify which type of elected BOE model they would favor. 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, “runoff” 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:
Currently, no New Jersey municipality has ward or district-based models for electing members of public school boards, and state law appears to prohibit mixing appointed and elected seats on local boards of elections, and mandate annual elections. There have been several unsuccessful referenda in recent decades to have Montclair convert from an appointed “Type 1” BOE model to an elected “Type 2” model, most recently in 2009. State law mandates that such votes can only be held once every five years.
Additionally, respondents were asked to rate the performance of Montclair’s public schools compared to their potential on a five-point scale, resulting in an average of 2.9 out of 5.0. Just over 75% of respondents said they have one or more children currently enrolled in the Montclair Public Schools, and an additional 16% had one or more children who previously attended.
Parallel Support for November Elections
Meanwhile, a large majority favored having all elections for Township offices in November rather than May, to help raise what traditionally has been notably low voter turnout and engagement.
As with the appointed Board of Education, Montclair is among just a handful of New Jersey localities where quadrennial municipal elections are held “off-cycle” in May. Average turnout in the last three municipal elections in Montclair was just below 25%.
Support for moving Montclair’s quadrennial municipal elections from May until November was strong among both supporters (89%) and opponents (69%) of converting to an elected BOE model.
The 320 respondents to the survey corresponds to roughly 8.1 respondents for every 1,000 residents of Montclair. By comparison, the most recent Monmouth University presidential preference survey of New Jersey voters, rated A+ by the website FiveThirtyEight, surveyed 635 registered voters, corresponding to just 0.071 respondents per 1,000 New Jersey residents.
- Press release and full survey reports download (PDF)
- Follow-up survey on BOE models and referendum timing
About Vote Montclair
Vote Montclair is a non-partisan, local grassroots movement working to increase voter participation and engagement in the Township.