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Montclair Council Meets With BOE in the Week Ahead

What's happening in Montclair this week and what stories Patch plans to cover.

The Montclair Planning Board meets Monday at 7:30 p.m. On the agenda are public hearings for subdivisions on Bradford Avenue and Valley Road, as well as site plans on Claremont Avenue and Park Street.  

The Montclair Council will meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. The council will go right into executive session to be briefed on an ongoing investigation by the Montclair Board of Education into a recent security breach. The council is expected to come out of executive session at 8:30 p.m. The public hearings on the ordinances dealing with creating a police director position have been postponed to 2014. See agenda.

The Montclair Public Library's Happily Ever After Film Festival continues Wednesday, at 1 p.m., with a screening of Libeled Lady  starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy.

Montclair High's School of Visual and Performing Arts Showcase 2014: Rockin' Out continues on Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14, at 8 p.m. There will also be a Sunday matinee on Dec. 15, at 3 p.m.

I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 December 09, 2013 at 08:25 AM
Please see here New Jersey's Sunshine Law regarding Open Public Meetings. The Montclair Board of Education nearly always begins its meetings in closed (or "executive sessions"), where it at least appears that the majority of the agenda is discussed, positions taken, and the results known prior to going to open (public) sessions. This is in violation of the Sunshine Law which intends that the public should be able to at least view the full and open discussion: http://hpcpsdi.rutgers.edu/NJHPG/downloads/Sunshine%20Laws.pdf Significantly the Montclair Town Council Meeting on Tuesday, December 10, will hold the discussion on the apparent violation of the members of the Board of Education and their lawyer of the law (in several respects) in closed session. The public has every right and expectation to view this discussion and to know the details of this illegitimate investigation. Notice on the second page/sheet, the law makes allowance for those who wish to protest a closed/executive session. If Mayor Jackson and the Town Council continue the secrecy of the behavior of the Board of Education, there will be little confidence in any (if any) outcomes of the discussion. A government that acts in secrecy loses its legitimacy.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 December 09, 2013 at 08:39 AM
Bear in mind as well: "[M]eeting minutes must disclose any official decision or action taken by a public body and must contain sufficient facts and information to permit the public to understand and appraise the reasonableness of the public body’s determination." http://www.njpa.org/njpa/legal_hotline/recent_questions.html This is not what currently happens in Montclair. Seldom are facts or information provided in meeting minutes that permit the public to understand the reasonableness of decisions. This is undemocratic and threatens the values of the community.
ira shor December 09, 2013 at 11:28 AM
63 is exactly right again. The Board of Education hides its deliberations from public view. Public comments and Board discussion are restricted. At the Nov. 18 Board mtg, the 10 3-min slots for public comment were filled very early by 6 names when I arrived at 6:45pm. Not surprisingly, these first six read scripted and rehearsed praises of the Board and the Supt. one after another. At least one of the six had no kids in the public schools but she praised what the Board and the Supt. were doing to our children there. This Board restrictionof public discussion has been bravely challenged by the only responsible member of this Board, Mr. David Cummings. He is the only one of the 7 appointees to raise in public at the meetings intelligent objections and questions. Thanks to Mr. Cummings, Montclair parents, caregivers, residents, and students there gained some fresh air at these suffocating, managed meetings. The tighlty-managed meeting is now a routine in this district when the Supt. convenes sessions at schools for parents, who must submit their questions in advance on blue cards from which the Central Office handlers select which questions to answer. There is no open debate; the current Board and Supt. are vulnerable on many issues so they hide from accountability by silencing criticism. For his civic courage to be the only one on the Board to stand up for free speech, Mr. Cummings has been subpoena'd by the Board and its attorney. Montclair should support Mr. Cummings as a model citizen and public servant. The Mayor would do a great service for our kids, our property values, and our by using his authority to dismiss the 6 cronies on the Board and replace them with neighbors who put teaching, learning and children first.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 December 09, 2013 at 11:52 AM
@ira shor Fully agree. Mr. Cummings is the only member of the Board of Education with integrity and moral values. He genuinely cares about education and has done his utmost best to bring a balanced and informed view to the Board discussions. The way he is treated by the other Board members, even publicly, is really sickening. I have had a difficult time to understand why he continues to serve on the Board, where he gets the courage to sit, discuss and listen to people who are so antithetical to him regarding intelligence and morality. I suppose he is someone who has no stomach for bullies. His statement at the end of the last Board meeting was so well considered and insightful. He understands education and, more importantly, he understands the appropriate role for a Board of Education. Mark A. Tabakin waited until the end of the last Board meeting, until everyone had gone home, to slap a subpoena on Mr. Cummings for having refused to "name names" and "be cooperative." What a cowardly and disingenuous way to issue and serve a subpoena, a subpoena directly supported by BoE President Robin Kulwin (and apparently the other Board members because not a single one of them has the courage to break ranks). Montclair is full of intelligent people who know about education and genuinely care. The appointees of the last two mayors do all appear as simply cronyism. The town is left with a Board with zero experience and knowledge of education. All of Mayor Jackson's four appointees are people from the business, managerial world. They are managers at heart, just as what the Broad school seeks. They are neither intellectuals or experts in education. Radical change is needed to save Montclair's public education. When things go bad, they often go bad much more quickly than people realize.
Carol S December 09, 2013 at 07:04 PM
As someone who spoke at a recent meeting, I wrote down what I planned to say to be sure my main points would be said within the 3 minutes and to respect the time of everyone attending. I disagree with your characterization of the public comment time during the BOE meetings. I think the board has struck a good balance between needing to do their business and vote on agenda items and hearing from the public. There is now a 30 minute section for public comment (with the first comment from the MEA) followed by their voting and then unlimited additional public comment. I was dismayed at the exodus of people after the initial public comment section and ended up making my remarks to an almost empty room (even the reporters had left that evening). I would also disagree with your characterizations of the board and administrators. I have some concerns about CC as well as the costs involved in purchasing tech to administer the PARCC but am willing to listen and learn from the professional educators in our district. I attended the common core presentation at the high school last week and heard Gail Clarke comment on her dissatisfaction with the common core in the younger grades. It sounded like the district is already working on tweaking them to better fit our kids. That to me sounds like admins who are responsive. Finally, you seem to have trouble with the process to find out who leaked the assessments than the fact that they were leaked.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 December 11, 2013 at 03:07 PM
@Carol S Your comment here is well considered and more than fair. I believe, though I am not sure, it is more directed to ira shor than to me. There is certainly legitimate and well considered support by some for the education reforms being introduced in Montclair. And it is unfair to caricature all opposition as being staged or disingenuous. (There are, however, sufficient times when the support for the Superintendent MacCormack or the MBoE does appear less than believable or not serious. Most especially, the recent excuses offered for the illegal activities of the MBoE.) Perhaps some small points: Regarding your reference to the "professional educators" in the school district, you are certainly not referring to any member of the MBoE. There there is zero knowledge or understanding of education. And Superintendent MacCormack is a rookie School Superintendent fresh off her doctorate. If you only attend Montclair School District Functions and/or just read the local press, you will not become well informed regarding the CCSSI or PARCC. You will receive only a shallow and non-critical understanding. Regarding the leaked assessments, if you go back to the moment the security breach was discovered by a parent, you will see that it has been consistently and all along those who question Superintendent MacCormack and the MBoE who have called for a full and independent investigation to find out just what went wrong with this $500,000 investment. Read Assessmentgate's recent blog http://montclair.patch.com/groups/troubling-facts-about-montclairs-common-quarterly/p/a-leading-nj-forensics-expert-shares-thoughts-on-the-boes-cyber-investigation Perhaps you might realize that the process of a cover-up and a witch hunt will also not provide to you the results you desire. And if you really have a problem with "the fact that they were leaked" in the first place, you could not possibly continue to support the person ultimately responsible for their security, Superintendent MacCormack.
Carol S December 11, 2013 at 08:34 PM
Please do not attempt to speak for me or make assumptions about me. I can speak for myself. I have been an active volunteer for many years in the district and have had my eldest child go through the whole school system so I am looking at things from how she has been educated and prepared for college and beyond. I have read extensively on Common Code and PARRC (not just in MOntclair) and have attended events in town to hear presentations to understand all perspectives. I am also willing to post under my own name and speak publicly. You assume, for example, that during the executive sessions, the BOE is discussing the agenda for the public part of the meeting. While I have not been privy to this, my understanding is that they use that time to discuss personnel issues and issues requiring privacy or confidentiality such as placement of special needs children outside the district, settlement of lawsuits, etc. I would prefer they protect both employee and family privacy for those. I have regularly seen the board vote on issues that were discussed in executive session. When I referred to "professional educators," I was referring to central services staff, our principals and teachers. Would you not consider them professional educators? The Board has a very clear role and I believe many people misunderstand what they can and can't do. Their job is not to be educators. Many of the issues we are now dealing with are because of actions and inactions by the previous superintendent and his team of administrators. It was under Dr Alvarez when the agreement to share servers wtih the town with the board paying 95% was negotiated to be administered by a former employee now living in Colorado. (Not in the best interests of the BOE or our children.) There were also many times poorly performing administrators ended up in central office still on the payroll doing essentially no show jobs. Planning for common core and the PARRC in terms of curriculum, purchasing books aligned to the standards and planning for the technology needed to administer the tests should have been well under way before Dr MacCormack was even hired.
Carol S December 11, 2013 at 08:41 PM
One other point - someone got access to a password protected site and published those assessments. That, not the board's subsequent investigation, is the cause for the expense - to determine who broke the law. As a parent of a recent grad, the assessments are an improvement over the midterms and finals they replace. Four shorter, less heavily weighted tests is much lower stakes than a 2 hour midterm or final. The in class assessments also mean the kids will have more time spent in class learning and less time off during midterms and finals. This is not "high stakes testing" at all. that's a distortion of what has been implemented. In the lower grades, I have heard Gail Clarke, when asked, say they are already looking at making adjustments to make the assessments and curriculum more age appropriate. To me, that sounds like the administrators are being responsive, accountable and responsible.
Teresa Akersten (Editor) December 12, 2013 at 11:33 AM
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