By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
Montclair Mayor Sean M. Spiller has been named president of the New Jersey Education Association for the coming 2021-23 term — after being the only candidate to run for the role.
NJEA elections for the coming term haven’t taken place yet — with balloting set for April 1 through April 15. Petal Robertson, the current president of the Montclair Education Association, is one of three candidates vying for the office of NJEA Secretary-Treasurer, against Brenda Brathwaite and Denise King.
But Spiller, who became vice president of the NJEA in 2017, and was previously the union’s secretary starting in 2013, was uncontested for the president’s seat, the NJEA said in an announcement dated Monday. Current NJEA secretary-treasurer Steve Beatty was the only candidate for vice president and will serve in that position for the 2021-23 term, the NJEA said.
The term begins Sept. 1.
Voicemail and email messages left for Spiller late Wednesday afternoon haven’t yet been returned. Spiller also hadn’t yet addressed the new role on in any public posts on his Facebook or Twitter accounts, which focus on his activities and statements as mayor. A “SpillerForNJEA” Twitter account hasn’t been updated since February.
Spiller, as Montclair’s mayor, has the authority to appoint members to the township’s board of education. Montclair’s mayor also typically sits on the township’s Board of School Estimate, though in December, the Township Council instead approved the appointment of Deputy Mayor William Hurlock to that seat.
The mayor’s roles as a Montclair elected official and NJEA officer have caused friction at times. In 2015, a group calling itself Montclair Kids First successfully sued to have then-Councilman Spiller removed from his then-membership on the Board of School Estimate, alleging his role with the NJEA was a conflict. Montclair Kids First’s members included Matthew Frankel, now a member of Montclair Local’s governing board.
Earlier this year, a watchdog group known as the Sunlight Policy Center, which has a history of criticizing the NJEA, took aim at Spiller, accusing him of “siding with his union, not his town” in a dispute between the MEA (which had support from the statewide union) and the Montclair Public School District over returning teachers and students to classrooms.
Spiller told Montclair Local on Jan. 25 — the day the school district had set for elementary school teachers to return for a hybrid learning schedule, before MEA members’ refused to do so, citing safety concerns — his role as mayor “is not to dictate policy for either the Board of Education or the MEA, however I have encouraged all parties to come together to see if they feel safe conditions have been met at this time.” He said he would be supportive of the “collective conclusions” of the school system and MEA, “including whether or not vaccines are a prerequisite.” He also told the New York Times in January vaccination is the only way to guarantee safety, but said in later statements that didn’t necessarily mean he considered them a prerequisite for a return.
He also told Montclair Local at the time he was “not in the habit of responding to [Sunlight founder] Mike Lilley’s right-wing vitriol, and this latest diatribe is no exception.” Lilley rejects the categorization of his group as right-wing.
The school district and MEA have since settled a lawsuit — in which the district alleged the MEA’s refusal to return constituted an illegal teachers strike — and in-person elementary school classes are expected to begin April 12.
Spiller, during his campaign for mayor, said he intended to “fulfill my duties” and appoint “independent Board of Education members who share the goal of providing the best possible education for our students at the very best value to taxpayers.”
The article above references a lawsuit that involved Mayor Sean Spiller, as well as a member of Montclair Local’s governing board. Montclair Local operates under an editorial independency policy that bars governing board members, advisory board members or donors from directing the news organization’s coverage.