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Public Education In Montclair And Your Power

Two weeks ago, I endorsed choosing an elected board of education for Montclair in this blog post. I’ve since have read a lot of letters from constituents and have had many conversations which have inspired me to expand more on my thinking, below. At the bottom of this note you’ll also find everything you need to know about voting between now and Election Day. I also thought it would be helpful to share these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and answers for those of you who have questions.

The Right to Vote for Your School Board

Whether ordinary citizens should have the right to elect their Board of Education or not to me is no question. And I find the arguments against giving you this right – that you won’t participate or that you won’t make the right choice, very disheartening. Principles only mean something if you stick to them when it’s inconvenient. How can we with one breath fight against voter disenfranchisement in states across America and then right here at home say we don’t want you to have this right in this context because we’re afraid of what you might choose? I trust the electorate to make the right choice, always, even if I disagree with that choice. That is democracy. Being concerned about voter education and the decisions voters make just means that we must work harder on educating voters, not deny them a right to vote on something so fundamental.

Money and Influence

While I understand the concern that special interests can and may spend money on Montclair school board elections, there is nothing that prevents the same thing happening in terms of electing a mayor who then appoints the entire board of education. Isn’t it better to not have all our eggs in one basket? Why have one election every four years where special interests can have outsized influence and gain full control vs. nine separate elections spread out over that same four years? If I’m someone who is concerned about special interests, I’d rather have nine chances to influence school policy with the ability to re-elect or choose new board of education members nearly every year (See FAQ’s above for an explanation).

Bond Referendum & School Repairs

I recently read a letter where the writer expressed concern that having the public vote on bond referendums for capital improvements to schools was problematic because the public might reject such a referendum. I understand that argument. But what has the alternative done for us to date? Look at the condition of our schools. Consider that even something as obvious as installing and repairing HVAC still has not advanced or been approved by the existing governing structure. We’ve now gone two full summers when this work could have been done and we still don’t have the funds cleared, a vendor hired, or work planned. Something tells me that if Montclair parents were asked to vote on a bond referendum to approve HVAC for schools, this would have happened already. I don’t have kids and likely never will. I pay taxes just like everyone else and I would vote for a significant bond issuance in a heartbeat because it’s unbelievable to me that your kids and our teachers should have to work in these conditions. I’m not interested in a slightly lower property tax bill if the quality of life and education in Montclair isn’t held up. Plus, I think having two more board members (9 vs. 7) to do the work can only help.

Hybrid Models & Other Solutions

Over the last several months, several prominent organizations, leaders and every day citizens have proposed various hybrid solutions, additional bodies created to give guidance and more. The challenge with these – while good ideas, is they either aren’t legal per the State of New Jersey or in the case of advisory groups, wouldn’t have the force of law behind them. Let’s take the hybrid example – New Jersey State Law simply doesn’t allow for this. Our choices are to be fully elected like 97-98% of other municipalities in New Jersey – or – remain type 1 in which the mayor appoints the board. In terms of advisory committees to the mayor or council appointments to the board – while any mayor can pledge to take the advice of an advisory committee or his/her council colleagues, so long as we remain a type 1 school district, the mayor is not required to listen to or take advice from anyone. The law gives her or him the exclusive authority to appoint anyone they wish, even if we formed a board of education advisory committee. State law does not allow this flexibility.

This is a binary choice and it’s a tough one. I hope you’ll make an educated decision that you feel is right for you.

My Pledge to Montclair

I will never put my voice, vote or resources behind any candidate for school board who doesn’t support upholding our magnet system and the extensive busing network to support that system. Too many people worked too hard to get here and this system is part of the soul of Montclair and structurally underpins our efforts for true educational equity, even though our struggle to achieve that is still quite real. But I also expect all of you to work to protect the same and educate yourselves and to vote in every election.

Voting Early in 2021

2021 is the first year you can vote early in New Jersey (talk about voter enfranchisement!). All registered voters have the option to vote in person at any early voting location from Saturday, Oct. 23rd to Sunday, Oct. 31st from 10:00am – 8:00pm except Sundays which are 10:00am – 6:00pm.

The three closest early voting locations are:

  1. Cedar Grove Park Community Center – 199 Fairview Avenue, Cedar Grove
  2. Watsessing Park Community Center – Bloomfield Avenue & Conger Street, Bloomfield
  3. New Education Center at South Mountain Recreation Complex – 560 Northfield Ave., West Orange

Otherwise, you can of course vote on Election Day, Nov. 2nd at your Polling Place from 6:00am – 8:00pm

Lastly, you can still apply for and vote by mail, which is something I highly recommend so that you always get a ballot for every election and can vote at your convenience. You can still apply to vote by mail until Oct. 26th at www.essexboardofelections.com/forms-resources. However, if you do end up needing to vote by mail close to Election Day, I would strongly encourage you drop your ballot off at Town Hall in the secure bin – 205 Claremont Ave., vs. mailing it.

However you decide to vote, please vote for every office and don’t forget the school ballot question – question three. I’m voting yes on that.

Thank you for participating in our democracy, no matter how you vote.

-Peter