By LORI PRICE ABRAMS
Special to Montclair Local
I have historically believed that an appointed school board has served Montclair well. And while I value the ongoing robust public debate throughout Montclair, my position is affirmed.
The following are my top reasons to vote no on Ballot Question 3, which would change Montclair’s school system from a Type I district with a mayor-appointed school board to a Type II district with an elected board.
- Ability to proceed with school funding decisions more expeditiously: Perhaps no issue has animated discussion more regarding our schools than the ability to get necessary funding approved for bonding to address HVAC and other infrastructure needs of our aging school buildings. Know that the necessary, sometimes cumbersome process of funding approvals and bonding will not be expedited through a change to a Type II district. In fact, school boards are constrained to seek voter approvals for the facilities expenditures to limited times of year under Type II. A switch will delay the ability to pursue much-needed approvals, which the Board of School Estimate is currently addressing with the District. If the primary goal of switching is to get the building improvement plans approved as soon as possible, then the conversion to Type II is very much ill-advised.
- Mayoral appointment allows for balanced skills, talents and experiences to serve a diverse Board of Education: The good of the township is intimately timed to the success of the schools, which is why it is among the mayor’s responsibilities to appoint leaders to foster enriched educational opportunities for all students. In so doing, she or he must constitute a board reflecting thoughtful representation across various facets of diversity — including race and ethnicity, as well as areas of expertise, such as education, finance, administration, law or experience with special needs students. The appointive process provides for that balancing and rounding out of the board’s strengths. By contrast, an elected board will be subject to the pool of those who choose to run, which guarantees no such reflective process.
- Risk that treasured magnet school system will be lost: Montclair’s magnet schools have been a jewel of the township, providing for rich learning opportunities for all children in town. An election will leave open the possibility of a reversing trend by those who may run on different priorities. This opens to a possible redirecting of the funds for busing, which are now understood as essential to the magnet schools.
- The experience and financial acumen of the township is an asset to the public school system:
Presently, the Board of School Estimates, composed of BoE and Council members, works with the school district to review and approve the tax levy for the budget and fix costs associated with bonding for infrastructure investments. The township has a strong financial team in the form of our CFO and financial consultant, who work with the township manager to guard the fiscal health of our communal institutions. Having the expertise and track record to secure, manage, and re-finance bond debt will enable us to do more for the schools.
It is a shared goal of all parties to provide excellent school facilities as part of excellence in education for our children and their families. Ultimately, my view is that our current form of “representative democracy” is more effective and efficient in securing these than would be provided by conversion to Type II district, which would require putting all funding decisions to a referendum of all voters every time.
Lori Price Abrams is a Montclair Township Council member, representing the Third Ward. She additionally serves on Montclair’s Board of School Estimate, which would be eliminated under a conversion to a Type I district.
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