By RENÉE BASKERVILLE
Special at Montclair Local
I am writing this as someone who served for 12 years on Montclair City Council and three years on Montclair School Board, and continues to witness the regression of politics in Montclair.
Montclair’s political scene begins to mirror the national political scene, with “pay to play” emerging as the new modus operandi of Montclair policy. The removal and cancellation of voters documented without any corrective action resulted in 1,200 voters, who cast their ballots in a timely manner, had their ballots rejected, depriving them of a constitutional right they cherished during the last election of Montclair. Hundreds of Montclair voters, voting by mail, were denied the right to have their votes counted. In a subsequent election, there were inexplicable and irremediable candidate omissions in the ballot, again raising the specter of voter suppression.
A recent independent, non-partisan review of the May 2020 elections in Montclair clearly exemplifies candidates with better access to campaign funding and large employee payrolls who significantly leveraged a competitive advantage to achieve an extremely slim margin of victory. The person declared the winner by 195 votes spent almost $ 57 per vote compared to my campaign, which spent less than $ 1.97 per vote. Seventy-five percent of the funds raised by the declared winning candidate came from statewide special interest groups in what has traditionally and proudly been an election determined by the Montclairians.
For the above reasons and others, I have always opposed exclusively elected school boards. I understand that this position is against the norm. The vast majority of school districts are governed by elected school boards. Many believe that electing school board members will produce people who are more reflective and more responsive to stakeholders in a district. Some even claim that the electoral process for school board members is a good educational tool. However, there are concerns. Disproportionately, elected council members are less diverse than the communities they come from. There is also often a disproportionate representation of those with a college education and homeowners versus the larger electorate.
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Constituencies that adhere to the electoral ideals of fair and unfettered elections, in which every vote is counted and every qualified person can stand, are those that display the degree of accountability necessary to elect a school board without further checks and balances. . Flooding local elections with special interest money or money from top government officials who upset those who were “neither bought nor sponsored” like Shirley Chisholm fell short of expectations of the Montclairiens. Most Montclairians don’t want a repeat, especially not for the most important task of selecting the Board of Education – those whose decisions will have a direct and lasting impact on our children, our most precious possessions.
It is for the above reasons that I believe that a hybrid caucus process for the selection of school board members may better serve Montclair at this time. This would allow for the kind of transparency and stakeholder representation that better elections promote. It would also ensure the kind of diverse neighborhoods, skills, servant backgrounds, and ideas that would set the stage for a great council that embraces a rich and solid exchange of ideas, mirroring that of every neighborhood in the township.
My hybrid model would use a three-phase caucus. In the first phase, we would have a town hall open to everyone in the township. During the initial caucus, interested candidates would register to appear before the electorate and share their visions, values, qualifications, priorities and expected impacts on the board. Through an elective process, registered voters in attendance would narrow the pool of candidates to the required number of candidates to present to a group called the school board’s Community Referral Commission. The commission would interview the candidates and recommend a final pool with three more candidates than the required number of school board members. These candidates would be presented to the municipal council to select the final members of the school board. This process would be reminiscent of how we selected candidates for our Superintendent of Schools, setting a precedent for the success of this model.
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Until we show a commitment to securing “non-partisan” elections in which township residents, and not representatives of senior government officials, elect our representatives, we should adapt the process of election. ‘Identification of members of the proposed three-phase school board. We need to find a way to ensure that those entering the school board reflect the rich diversity of people, interests and issues of paramount importance to achieving and maintaining an exemplary and stigma-free environment in which students feel at home. feel comfortable engaging, sharing their feelings, and asking and answering questions.
A lot of things are wrong with the way we appoint school board members. Huge conflicts of interest can arise in a system where one person appoints the school board. Not only the future of our children and our families is at stake, but also the future of the municipality, the region and the State. If we jeopardize the future of our children, we jeopardize the economy, public safety, community strength, excellence, justice and ethics of Montclair.
As we as a township reflect on ways to improve the nomination process for members of our school board – a Type 1 school board – by learning from the undemocratic processes used in the last two elections in Montclair, please you join me in choosing not to turn back time to Montclair. We want to put in place a system that will increase the likelihood of having an excellent, diverse, “non-purchased, bossless” school board.
Dr. Renée Baskerville has been a Montclair resident, physician, political activist, former school board member, and former Fourth Ward councilor for 12 years.
Editor’s Note: 2020 campaign spending analysis referenced above was conducted by the Sunlight Policy Center, a reviewer for the New Jersey Education Association. Sunlight’s analysis counted, as expenses for then-mayoral candidate and now Mayor Sean Spiller, $ 156,110 in expenses by NJEA super PAC Garden State Forward described on the Election Law Enforcement Commission as for a May 2000 municipal election, but with a locality of “statewide.” “The NJEA did not respond to messages from the Montclair local asking if these expenses were for Montclair races, as Sunlight maintains it is fair to assume. Spiller is president of the NJEA and was its vice-president. president at the time of election.
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