An inside look at the finances of the campaign for an elected board of education in Montclair

Politics in Montclair—and especially politics surrounding public education—often involve claims and counter-claims about the money raised and spent to further one or another candidate or cause. The upcoming referendum on reclassifying the Township’s board of education from mayoral-appointed to popularly elected will likely be no different. Because of this, I would like to be as transparent as possible about the finances of our initiative to move Montclair in the direction of an elected BOE.

As of today, we have raised a total of $7,163.13, $6,192.43 from our GoFundMe page net of fees, and $970.70 via PayPal ($1,000 minus fees). As Vote Montclair is not yet a formal organization, all the funds have been kept in a sequestered personal account at Citibank.

There have been 74 donors so far, with an average donation of exactly $100 before processing fees. The smallest donation was $5, the largest was $1,000 (two of them!). I and the co-chair of the initiative, my next-door neighbor Jason Sargis, eached kicked in $250 to get the ball rolling. While a number of donors gave anonymously, with more than one citing a fear of reprisal against their children, to my knowledge not a dollar came in from any “interest group” or individuals living outside Montclair. None of the donors offered up any demands or directions.

In terms of expenses, so far they have been limited to upgrades for this website so we could collect signatures electronically, and some clipboards, pens, table banners and other material for the signatures we collected in person, as outlined below:

Technology (WordPress upgrade)$276.00
Technology (gravity forms plugin)$59.00
Technology (gravity forms upgrade)$200.15
Technology (signature module)$122.55
Table banners$87.94
Pens, clipboards, paper clasps, hand sanitizer$61.64
Paper/ink (already purchased)$10.00

Note that my co-chair and I already had the folding tables and chairs we used for public signature gathering, and much of what we purchased will still be useful in this and other Vote Montclair initiatives.

One big expected expense that didn’t materialize was the roughly $5,000 in legal fees we ran up with retired judge James Rothschild in the runup to submitting the petition. Early last month Judge Rothschild informed me that, unbeknownst to him, another lawyer at his firm had been working for the Township Board of School Estimates, the budget-setting body that operates parallel to the BOE that was in the news several years ago when another judge blocked then-councilman Sean Spiller from sitting on it due to his day job at the state teachers’ union (and which will be folded into the BOE if the referendum succeeds). It didn’t take a judge to tell Judge Rothschild this was a bit of a conflict, and he cheerfully recused himself and waived his fees.

So there you have it: $7,163.13 raised, $817.28 spent, leaving a current balance in the Vote Montclair account of $6,345.85, which I vow to spend as frugally, responsibly and transparently as possible between now and November 2nd, and hopefully not all on lawyers.

Erik D’Amato, May 22

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