With mail-in ballots for the 2021 general election having begun to arrive in Montclair mailboxes, local voters are already casting their choices for governor and state legislators, and also deciding whether they, rather than the Township’s mayor, should select members of our local board of education. We believe the choice is clear:
A vote for an elected BOE is a vote for voting rights. Empowering citizens rather than politicians to choose who sets education policy is now a basic feature of local democracy in New Jersey. It is a right enjoyed by residents of almost 100% of municipalities in the state, including all eight of our surrounding communities. It is a right our voters deserve as well.
The status quo isn’t working for Montclair’s students, especially those who are most at-risk and underprivileged. Despite their many strengths, our schools are falling behind in most objective measures of educational success, while the stubborn achievement gap continues to mock the Township’s image as an inclusive and caring community. A vote for the status quo is a vote to accept this deteriorating situation.
The appointed BOE system breeds unhealthy politics. A key selling point of the appointed system is its supposed ability to insulate local education policy from politics. In reality, the appointed system fuels political intrigue and dysfunction, while failing to produce diverse boards rich in relevant skills.
The twin system of BOE and BOSE is confusing and inefficient. The current status quo features both an appointed Board of Education and a parallel appointed Board of School Estimate in charge of approving budgets, which is partly responsible for our twin crises of chaotic budgeting and crumbling school infrastructure.
Even supporters of the status quo admit it is largely unsupportable. The League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area, which has been the most prominent supporter of the appointed BOE model, has in recent months suggested two different alternatives to the current model. These included having the Township’s Deputy Mayor make BOE appointments, owing to what the League called the “troubling” question of the mayor’s day job as head of the state teachers’ union, and formation of a nonbinding advisory council of community members to nominate candidates for appointment by the mayor. No other local civic group is openly supporting retention of an appointed BOE.
An elected BOE will increase transparency, responsiveness, and accountability. Local government in Montclair is being transformed by the ability of residents to instantly communicate with and better track the activities of municipal officials, and our community’s expectations are rising as a result. An appointed BOE purposely insulated from the public can no longer meet these expectations. An elected board will be more open, responsive, and accountable, and more focused on the needs of children and families.
For these and other reasons we strongly urge a YES vote on the “Township of Montclair School Governance Proposal,” and the creation of an elected Board of Education.