In a repudiation of NJEA President/Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller’s massive conflict of interest, Montclair voters overwhelmingly chose to change from a mayor-appointed school board to an elected school board. It was a rout: 70% to 30%.
Journalist and Montclair parent, Andrew Rice, wrote an excellent piece on Montclair as well as the general anti-Democrat wave in New York Magazine. As Rice says:
“Who could have predicted this? Well, anyone with a kid in public school during the pandemic paralysis of last year.“
Rice details what happened in staunchly Democratic Montclair. His son’s school was closed for 13 months. Parents protested and organized a pro-opening group. And then in summer 2020, they watched as Gov. Murphy initially indicated that schools would re-open in the fall, but then the NJEA “declared that it was unsafe to return to classrooms, and Murphy immediately reversed himself,” allowing districts to keep schools closed if they had a good reason. As Rice states:
“Oftentimes, that reason turned out to be the objection of the unionized workforce. It was hard to escape the suspicion that Murphy was removing himself because he was unwilling to cross NJEA, his most important political ally. Among other things, the union had secretly funneled millions into a super-PAC formed to advocate for Murphy’s policy objectives.”
The bottom line is that Murphy caved to the NJEA’s wishes, and Rice believes that many New Jersey parents who would have otherwise voted for Murphy and other Democrats did not.
In Montclair, where the school board was appointed by the mayor, and where the mayor was then-NJEA Vice President Sean Spiller, this meant that schools remained closed for 13 months. Spiller removed parents from the school board and appointed his own people. The brand new superintendent tried to open schools over the “mayor’s organization’s objections,” led by the “vociferous” opposition of Montclair Education Association (MEA) head Petal Robertson (now the NJEA Secretary-Treasurer) but to no avail.
So Montclair parents took matters into their own hands. They organized and got a measure to change to an elected school board on the November ballot. And they won.
Sunlight applauds Montclair parents and voters for their repudiation of the massive conflict of interest that Spiller’s power over the school board represented. Despite being removed as a councilman from Montclair’s Board of School Estimates dues to his conflict of interest, Spiller was unconcerned about the even larger conflict of interest his being mayor would entail. And as mayor, he voiced support for the MEA’s refusal to work and acceded to schools being closed. Montclair parents and voters rightly focused on Spiller’s ties to the NJEA and eliminated his power over the school board.
While Sunlight sees this as a significant success for Montclair citizens, we must also note that the taxpayer-funded NJEA and its allies spent $310,000 to get Spiller elected mayor in 2020 and can spend that kind of money whenever and wherever it wants. The NJEA has a history of injecting large amounts of money into school board races it wants to win, almost always swamping the opposition. And with former MEA head Petal Roberston as an NJEA officer, we can imagine that the NJEA will be quite focused on Montclair. So, for Montclair parents, the battles have likely just begun.