Montclair School District Reform Referendum, 2009
Currently, the Montclair school district is listed as a "Type I" district, meaning that Board of Education members are appointed by the mayor. The goal of the petitioners is to make the district classified as "Type II," wherein registered voters elect would elect the members of the board. The Montclair district is one of only a small handful of New Jersey school districts that are registed as "Type I," and so supporters of the petition declared "This is normal practice in a democracy. Montclair should be a democracy, not a benevolent dictatorship."
Support for an elected Board of Education has been strengthening since the beginning of the year, as the escalating number of homeowners have grown increasingly frustrated with rising costs of public education. Last March, the board approved a record $113 million operating budget for the upcoming school year which was eventually passed by the township's Board of School Estimate, an organization whose members are also largely selected by the mayor. As it had in the past, the budget increase was paired with an increase in the school share of local property taxes. Pegi Adam, who is heading the volunteers behind the petition drive, said the annual cycle of higher school budgets and tax increases is forcing residents out of the township.
Unfortunately for supporters of the measure, dissatisfaction with the organization of the Board of Education has led it to four referendum votes in the past 50 years (in 1963, 1969, 1971, and 1995). In each case, the proposed switch to an elected board was defeated at the polls.
This measure was defeated
The campaign for referendum hit a bump during the week of August 31, 2009 when Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin stated that two separate petitions for the same cause were being circulated. The two petitions were asking the same question but in different versions, with one not even mentioning a referendum.
According to the county clerk’s office, the two petitions have enough signatures combined to put the referendum to a public vote, but when separated they do not. The invalid petition that doesn’t mention the referendum, thus leaving it invalid, has more signatures than the other petition. The obstacle comes three weeks before the petition deadline.
Instead of legally challenging the decision of the clerk, the committee had collected 570 signatures two weeks before the deadline. Optimistic that they would meet signature requirements on time, the committee collected signatures at local events. According to organizer Pegi Adam: “We’re optimistic, and we’re committed to getting this done.” With 570 signatures collected, the group needs 400 more to meet the minimum amount necessary.
- The Montclair Times, "Petition drive underway for elected Board of Ed," June 25, 2009
- "Elect the Montclair Board of Education," June 2009
- The Montclair Times, "57.6 percent of voters want an appointed BOE," November 4, 2009
- Montclair Times, "Referendum slipping away?," August 31, 2009
- The Montclair Times, "Petition drive to the deadline," September 17, 2009