Debra Caplan (COURTESY DEBRA CAPLAN)

Our current system concentrates all of the decision-making about how our schools are run in the hands of the mayor, with the opportunity for change only coming up once every four years. That’s a lot of consolidated power in the hands of one person. Should voters not get to have a say in education policy for four years just because their preferred mayoral candidate didn’t win or because they moved to town right after an election? 

Switching to an elected board would allow voters to have a say more often than a once-every-four-years mayoral vote. Voters would elect nine Board of Education members in staggered terms, so that there would be a chance to vote for new members almost every year. 

Our community deserves to be able to make changes when the Board of Education is not meeting the needs of our students. I can think of nearly a dozen times over the past eight years I’ve lived here when the BOE made a choice that many parents and community members strongly disagreed with: firing a beloved teacher or assistant principal or paraprofessionals integral to student learning, demolishing a playground that was central to the functioning of a school, purchasing an expensive pseudoscience air purification system or spending money to outfit our schools with ineffective plexiglass shields instead of focusing on more effective COVID-prevention measures like testing. In each case, parents and community members have articulated other options that would serve our schools better and brought them to the Board of Education, only to be ignored.

I’ve attended countless Board of Education meetings where public comment has gone on late into the night, with students and parents suggesting other viable options to meet the needs of our community. In our current model, there is no incentive to take the ideas of students and parents seriously, and no consequence for not listening to their voices. There are no checks and balances on an appointed Board of Education outside of the mayor.

This consolidation of power has not been good for our schools, and has led to many disastrous decisions that could easily have been avoided by listening to all of the stakeholders. There is no recourse in our current system for voters to create change when the Board of Education acts in ways that do not meet the needs of our students, parents, and schools.

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I trust my Montclair neighbors to elect good candidates to an elected Board of Education. If the discussion around the elected vs. appointed question has shown us anything, it’s that our town is well-equipped to deliberate thoughtfully and carefully about who we elect. 

It’s time we make this change and make accountability, transparency, and democracy the guiding values of how we run our schools. A vote for an elected BOE is a vote for a more functional system, with more checks and balances to ensure that the board is meeting the needs of our students and our community.

Debra Caplan
Montclair


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