The Montclair Local reports that NJEA President-elect/Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller has appointed three new members to the Montclair school board. That now makes four-of-seven school board members appointed by Spiller, so his appointees are now a majority. Spiller’s judicially-recognized conflict of interest has now spread to the school board.
First, Sunlight would like to say that it is not criticizing the appointees. Sunlight hopes that they will be as “independent” as claimed by Spiller.
The problem is that the school board is charged with representing Montclair citizens’ interests in collective bargaining and developing the school budget. Sitting on the other side of the bargaining table from the school board is the Montclair Education Association, an affiliate of the NJEA, to whose members NJEA President-elect Spiller owes a fiduciary duty to advance and protect their interests. Mayor Spiller’s appointees now constitute a majority of the school board, which negotiates with the MEA, an affiliate of the NJEA, an organization led by NJEA President-elect Spiller.
Recall that Spiller sided with the MEA back in January by stating that schools could only be reopened safely if all teachers were vaccinated. Spiller has since backtracked but the damage was done: the MEA boycotted Superintendent Ponds’ reopening plan. The Montclair school board and Superintendent Ponds were forced to sue the MEA, which helped bring about a settlement whereby Montclair elementary schools reopened for hybrid learning on April 12.
But Spiller’s conflict of interest has had real-world consequences: the emboldened MEA was able to exercise veto power over the Montclair school system, keeping elementary schools closed for another two months, and Montclair middle- and high schools remaining closed to this day. Montclair students and parents were powerless against this array of union strength.
Now Spiller’s conflict of interest just got worse. For example, it is now fair to ask whether the new school board vote to sue the MEA the way the previous one did? Will it support Superintendent Ponds and push aggressively to give middle- and high school students the option for in-person schooling?
MEA members are clearly ably represented by the MEA and their state union’s president-elect. But now that the school board is dominated by Spiller appointees, who will stand up for Montclair parents and students who want to return to class?