Jason Sargis

One of the primary reasons people move to Montclair is for its magnet school system. In spite of that, enrollment in all schools has been declining since 2017, even though our population has increased. 

The cause of such dramatic decline can be attributed to mismanagement of our schools by the organizations focused on driving educational excellence — the appointed Board of Education and Board of School Estimate. While the appointed model may have been successful in the past, it is currently threatening the welfare of our school system.

Outside interests and influences are taking precedence over the growing problems our school system faces. Our current system has allowed outside money to take hold and stymie the success of our schools. Issues such as insufficient funding, a widening achievement gap and lack of diversity are snowballing. 

One of the main concerns about an elected BOE is that it would fail to pass a budget and provide sufficient funding to our schools. Right now, there is a $60 million bond that is awaiting its death within the BoSE. Proponents of an appointed BOE point to the fact that school bonding enjoys the same AAA credit rating as the township. If that’s the case, why doesn’t the BoSE approve the bonding? The reality is the problems that people fear are already happening under our current system. 

There are signs the achievement gap in our schools is widening. This is not something new to Montclair; it has been a long-standing issue. In 2014, the Achievement Gap Advisory Panel was convened to investigate the achievement gap, Even as recently as last June, Elise C. Boddie, director of The Inclusion Project at Rutgers Law School and a Montclair resident, worried that low-income families in town are ignored by the schools. “We need structures and policies across our schools that center their experiences in and outside the classroom,” she told Montclair Local at the time. The current system has failed to produce remedies and effective policies to address this.

Montclair is a diverse community and that should be reflected within our BOE. Our previous and only Latinx member of the BOE, a technology executive, was an outlier in personal and professional background. His committee resolved busing to high school students in the South End by engaging with various stakeholders. Even though he wanted to continue serving and fought tirelessly for our children, he was not reappointed.

Outside money and influence is already controlling our school district. Our current system allows for one vote for mayor every four years during a spring election — that consistently has lower voter turnout than the fall — to determine the BOE, whereas an elected BOE provides an opportunity to elect three board members during the annual fall elections.  Annual BOE elections provide the opportunity to elect a diverse group of individuals who are committed to resolving the issues that affect our schools without the worry of insider politics. If we don’t make a conscientious effort to change the status quo, our school district and township will continue to suffer.

Montclair deserves better and we have a chance to do better by voting yes on Question 3.

Jason Sargis
Co-Chair, Vote Montclair campaign for an elected BOE


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