By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
Eve Robinson, one of three board of education members who’ll be leaving their posts and replaced by new members next month, said Friday she chose to step down.
“I chose not to seek reappointment after spending six years volunteering on behalf of the children and families of Montclair,” she said in a brief statement to Montclair Local.
Under Montclair’s form of government, school board members are selected by the mayor. At a Monday meeting that stretched into the night, departing member Sergio Gonzalez said he was passed over for advocating for the sort of elected school board most New Jersey communities have.
In a five-page statement, Gonzalez alleged Mayor Sean Spiller — also the vice president of the statewide New Jersey Education Association, soon to be its president — had let the local Montclair Education Association “effectively appoint” appoint board members, and given the union de facto power to set school policy. Gonzalez claimed at least one outgoing member was made to interview with the MEA’s president while being considered for reappointment.
Spiller, in response, called Gonzalez’s statements “false and puzzling.” He said while each of his appointees for board seats — Crystal Hopkins, Eric Scherzer and Kathryn Weller-Demming — spoke to a wide variety of community members, including teachers, it wasn’t at his direction. And he said he hadn’t known where Gonzalez, or his own choices for school board seats, sat on the issue of whether the board should be appointed or elected.
Gonzalez never said which outgoing member he was asserting was first run by the MEA’s president; he said he didn’t want to break a peer’s confidence. But only three were leaving — himself, Robinson, and Jessica de Koninck, who’d already announced her plans to step down at the end of her term. De Koninck told Montclair Local she’d submitted a resignation, effective at the end of the term “some time ago.”
Robinson, a former board president, didn’t address in her statement when she’d decided not to pursue another term, or what conversations she might have had before that.
“I wish the board and Dr. [Superintendent Jonathan] Ponds the very best as they continue the work of the previous board towards stabilizing and growing the district for the benefit of all students,” she said, “I look forward to a time when the community can come together in the spirit of collaboration and caring that I know can be achieved in Montclair.”
The last few months had often been marked by conflict between the MEA and the school district, which sought to return students to in-person learning for the first time, on a hybrid schedule, in late January. MEA members refused to return, citing safety concerns, and saying the district wasn’t being transparent enough about planned practices and building remediations meant to mitigate coronavirus risk. The district, in turn, sued, alleging an illegal teachers strike. The parties eventually settled, and elementary school students began their hybrid schedule April 12. The district’s middle school students are set to return May 10, and while no date has yet been set for high school students, district officials say they’re still expected to come back this spring.
But the parties have worked together on other initiatives — for instance, a partnership with township municipal officials and Mountainside hospital to vaccinate hundreds of staff and faculty members.