Michelle Fine Emails Document MCAS Alliance & Coordination With Extremist Right-Wing Racists and Bigots In Eagle Forum Here in Montclair

We’ve written several times before about the radical, right-wing politics that underlie a lot of the attacks on common core and the PARCC. While mostly that’s a national thing, it’s occasionally seeped into our local politics, notably with the recent pander-flop by Gov. Christie. And, as we’ve mentioned before, it’s even here in Montclair itself, with ties between the MCAS activists and the far right.

In March, we reported on the far right-wing website Breitbart’s publication of an MCAS video. Last May, we highlighted the source of content MCAS was sharing – far-right, extremist homophobic commentators.

And last June, we wrote about the anti-common core/PARCC advocacy locally by Carolee Adams, the head of the Eagle Forum in New Jersey. As we noted in our piece, Adams has an extremely disturbing track record of bigotry and hatred – and really, outright racism – that we’d have thought would be completely appalling to anyone in our community.

But lo and behold – just as they exposed her close coordination with the NJEA – the emails released show Michelle Fine actively coordinating with and working to support these groups, including the Eagle Forum and Adams herself. And notably, she understood how noxious their politics are, and wanted to keep her alliance with these racist, bigoted right-wing activists a secret.

Here Fine is, coordinating with one of her MCAS helpers on getting press for the Eagle Forum events “as long as she doesn’t say she is working with us”:

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At the end of the email, you can see the note she sent a reporter, letting him know about the event and trying to get some press for her allies at the Eagle Forum.

We’re written before about the Eagle Forum’s and Carolee Adams’ hateful, bigoted politics. Here’s a few more recent examples:

Here’s a few examples of some of their recent commentary on Common Core:

Despite their claims to be fighting for progressive causes, these emails show that Fine and her MCAS allies are about one thing and one thing only: their extreme political agenda. And they’re willing to work with anyone – even openly racist, hateful, political extremists – to try to win.

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Michelle Fine’s Emails Aren’t “Boring” – They Reveal the Nastiness Behind the MCAS Attacks on the District

We’ve uncovered quite a few surprises from Michelle Fine’s email release, from her vitriolic attacks on members in town, to her and Regina Tuma’s involvement with Assessmentgate, or even the collaboration with members on the Board of Education (That’s you, David Cummings)in plotting to undermine the district superintendent. All told, these records have been anything BUT boring. In fact, they’ve been highly revealing and have shone a light on the political special interests that have been sowing discord at the expense of our schools and our kids.

Yet at the last BOE meeting, Fine said:

“You could spend your summer reading thousands of emails of mine, but I would suggest that you don’t because most of them are boring. You’ll be highly disappointed if you are looking for evidence that I work for the MEA or that I’m making a fortune from corporations.”

No, she isn’t making a fortune – but yes, her grants are funded by the big banks and corporations she and her allies rail against. No, she doesn’t work “for” the MEA, but the emails did show that they collaborate closely in attacking the district.

More to the point though, Fine didn’t think they were boring either. In fact, she fought tooth and nail to stop their release – a fight that’s documented in some of the emails themselves. Here, for instance, is Fine complaining that the lawyers at her university are complying with the request, and asking the head of her union (whom she wrote a book with attacking school reform), the PSC, if he can get the union’s lawyers to get involved. She also notes that her corporate lawyer buddies are “outraged” – along with her friends from the ACLU (wonder who got them involved defending Assessementgate):

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In another email, we see Fine mentioning that “many fine legal minds” were involved in the investigation, presumably trying to prohibit the request from going forward:

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And here’s an email to the public records custodian at CUNY that contained a letter from several of Fine’s allies, demanding that the public records requests not be allowed:

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Fine fought hard to keep the emails from being released for a reason: because they show – behind the scenes – the sort of craven, nasty attacks she’s been engaged in, and the poison and personal vitriol that underlie her political crusade.

They haven’t proven to be just interesting to us, either. Since we’ve been reporting on them over the past few weeks, we’ve been averaging several hundred views a day – people are clearly very interested in and shocked by these details. The Montclair Times has promised further reporting on these issues, and we hope that they deliver.

Court Record Catches Sean Spiller Brazenly Lying in Public Statements About Status of His Conflict of Interest Complaint

We’ve written about Sean Spiller’s conflict of interest—serving on the Board of School Estimate while also serving as the Secretary-Treasurer for NJEA – at length in our previous posts. We’ve repeatedly contented Spiller’s seat on the BoSE represents a conflict because he has competing fiduciary responsibilities – one to taxpayers, who want the most efficient budget possible, and one to his teacher union members, whom he’s obligated to fight for increased benefits, salaries, and positions for.

This spring, Montclair Kids First filed a complaint, which we’ve been following carefully. Back in April, Spiller’s attorneys (the same law firm that represents the NJEA, as we reported) tried to dismiss the case, a motion that was denied by a judge. According to Montclair on Tap:

On April 26, Spiller’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case, of which Judge Moore has now denied. This has resulted in the MEA now having to produce requested documents in the given time frame.

On Friday, May 29, the civil case filed against Spiller was heard before the same judge. Montclair on Tap reported that Spiller claimed that three of the four complaints were dismissed:

Spiller asserts that three of the four complaints were dismissed. He said, “The judge dismissed three of four complaints. No documents have to be produced, as now we go back to court to determine if anything has to be provided for the one count remaining.”

And on the same day, Spiller gave a statement to BaristaNet saying something slightly, but importantly, different:

“Without any surprise, as both the township attorney and my personal attorneys have reviewed the matter extensively and determined the claims to be baseless, a judge dismissed three of MFK’s claims outright without even hearing them. With only one claim even remaining, once heard, that too will be judged baseless.”

 In the comment he gave to BaristaNet, Spiller said the judge dismissed three of MKF’s claims without even hearing them. In fact, that’s not even close to being true. Conveniently, Montclair Kids First posted the judge’s actual order on their website…

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According to the Order, the Court considered the submissions and arguments of counsel. In other words, they heard the arguments, despite what Spiller said.

And more importantly, the claims weren’t dismissed. In fact, not only were they not dismissed, three of the four claims were actually UPHELD by the judge – Spiller didn’t just lie, he lied brazenly:

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As you can see from the order, the civil rights complaint was dismissed, but the motions to dismiss the other three were all denied.

Spiller also suggested that they would never have to turn over any documents, but the order actually says exactly the opposite – directing the parties to begin the discovery process.

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TAP Into Montclair got it exactly right with their headline:

“Judge Rules to Uphold MKF’s Complaint Against Spiller; Spiller Responds”

Unfortunately, other local media let Spiller advance his lies about the case, and didn’t bother to do their own reporting on it. As a public servant, we’d expect that Spiller’s integrity would be better than this, and it’s disappointing that he’s electing to lie directly to his constituents and the media on this case.

Michelle Fine Tries to Use Racial Politics as Defense, But Her Own Emails Reveal History Of Racist Attacks

Last week, the Montclair Times finally engaged in reporting on some of the deeply troubling revelations that have come up in the Michelle Fine emails. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much to delve into any of the scandals that these emails have revealed (some of which we’ve reported on here, including David Cummings ethics code violations). Instead, as a letter to the editor in The Montclair Times from former New York Times National Editor David R. Jones noted, the Montclair Times’ reporting fell short by failing to delve into those issues, and instead just serving as a platform for Fine’s spin:

The Times was correct in giving Ms. Fine an opportunity to comment on her emails. But I trust future coverage will also reflect the views of the many local residents who disagree with her spin, and who feel that her allies are pursuing an agenda that puts their personal interests over the welfare of Montclair children. The emails underscore the damaging, misleading and corrosive impact this approach is having on the community.

And that spin is notable. Fine took the opportunity offered her to make baseless accusations that the criticisms of her deplorable conduct in waging a scorched earth campaign of personal attacks over the last few years were actually aimed at others. In her words:

“I feel like I am the portal to other people’s emails,” Fine said. “I am thinking they want dirt on Cummings, Jackson, Shepard and Spiller, four major African-American figures in the community.”

And suddenly, Fine has tried to make an issue that was entirely about her own divisive agenda even more divisive, by trying to claim that racism was somehow involved. It’s an absurd notion – there were over 30 people connected to her whose emails exchanges with her were requested, most of whom it doesn’t apply to.

But, on further review of some of her emails, it does actually reveal something important about Fine’s perspective. Perhaps she see’s it that way because that’s how she behaves – viewing prominent African American’s as chess pieces for her agenda.

We’ve mentioned before the tokenism latent in some of her emails about strategy.

In a November email to Debra Jennings, Fine accuses former superintendent Penny McCormack of “parading african American faces “as if” they are her supporters.. she does a perverse minstrel show with james earle”

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Obviously, it’s a deeply insulting suggestion – not just to McCormack, but also to James Earle.

The irony, of course, is that as we mentioned the emails show that it’s Fine who – as we’ve mentioned before – is the one trying to “parade African american faces” at her events.

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In it, McGoey expresses concern that they don’t have enough persons of color confirmed for the event, and asks who Bevin is (in addition to talking about stuffing the ballot box on an MFEE survey).

Fine replies that Bevin is great – because he is an Older african American (not mentioning his qualities as a speaker or anything like that).

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That’s exactly the sort of thing she’s accusing others of, and makes clear that those accusations are more telling about how she thinks about the world, than about the actions of anyone else.

Even more disturbingly though, is another email she sent to the MEA’s Gayl Shepard, with a long piece dedicated to claiming that her opponents are fierce and abusive racists. Indeed, the piece contains a series of intense accusations aimed at the district leadership, accusing them of parading black reformers on the achievement gap panel (insulting to those participants as well), baselessly accusing the district’s leadership of getting kickbacks from sugar companies (does she have any evidence, at all, for spreading this kind of crazy attack?), accusing her of racist attacks on parents and kids in a way that is pretty disgusting.

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We really wonder how Shepard responded to that – if at all.

Michelle Fine’s emails show where the real racism is: in the kind of white racial paternalism that thinks that anyone who doesn’t agree with her extreme political agenda is being used, rather than a free-thinking human being capable making their own decisions. Not only is it racist in its own right, it’s the sort of divisive, with-us-or-against-us thinking that has divided the town. Not everyone is going to agree with you on policy, but that doesn’t mean that they’re a racist, or a sell out. Fine’s incredibly hostility towards those who disagree with her extreme political agenda has done tremendous political damage to our town, and those political leaders who have associated themselves with her need to put an end to it. Our town can’t afford any more of it any longer.

As Fine herself said at the end of the article,

“It is a profound embarrassment in a town like Montclair that someone is engaged in tactics that are not about education.”

It’s abundantly clear that her tactics have nothing to do with education and nothing to do with our children, and are instead all about tearing her enemies down, even to the extent of engaging in racist attacks on members of the community. It’s an intense and brazen form of hypocrisy that’s exactly what’s wrong with our national politics, and it’s terrible that this sort of poison has seeped into our community and schools through her actions.

David Cummings’ Collaboration With Michelle Fine’s Attacks May Represent Multiple Violations of New Jersey’s School Board Ethics Code

We recently reported on records that were released through a public records request showing that Montclair school board member David Cummings was plotting with scandal-plagued activist/antagonist Michelle Fine behind the scenes to attack district leadership – including the district’s then-Superintendent.

As we reported then, in one email:

Cummings then wrote: “There may be something here to consider. When she discusses cuts, but increases central staff.” Presumably Cummings is referring to MacCormack, and he’s trying to relate the Ramapo’s BOE favoritism/spending to something about MacCormack and the Central Office staff (we’ve already debunked MCAS’s claims of big increases in Central Office staff size and spending in a previous post).

This email is particularly troubling, as it shows Cummings coordinating with Fine and suggesting issues for her to use to attack the district. And lo and behold, the very next day, MCAS sent out a their digest to supporters, making exactly the same point – arguing that classroom cuts are linked to supposed central office increases.

And in another:

That’s a real problem there, with Cummings coordinating these (false) attacks with Fine, and providing the ammo for her political attacks.

And of course there’s this exchange, with Fine and Cummings discussing strategy around opt-out. Fine replies “happy Halloween – get rid of the witches and let’s return to the fun,” presumably a reference to their effort to run McCormack out of town:

While the Montclair Times has begun reporting on these emails, it has strangely ignored these exchanges thus far. And that’s problematic, because these exchanges should be big news. They represent violations of the New Jersey Code of Ethics for School Board Members, and should be grounds for an ethics complaint against Cummings – if they aren’t enough to prompt his immediate resignation.

Here’s the code of ethics:

18A:12-24.1 Code of Ethics for School Board Members

A school board member shall abide by the following Code of Ethics for School Board Members:

  1. I will uphold and enforce all laws, rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, and court orders pertaining to schools.  Desired changes shall be brought about only through legal and ethical procedures.

  2. I will make decisions in terms of the educational welfare of children and will seek to develop and maintain public schools that meet the individual needs of all children regardless of their ability, race, creed, sex, or social standing.

  3. I will confine my board action to policy making, planning, and appraisal, and I will help to frame policies and plans only after the board has consulted those who will be affected by them.

  4. I will carry out my responsibility, not to administer the schools, but, together with my fellow board members, to see that they are well run.

  5. I will recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the board.

  6. I will refuse to surrender my independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups or to use the schools for personal gain or for the gain of friends.

  7. I will hold confidential all matters pertaining to the schools which, if disclosed, would needlessly injure individuals or the schools.  In all other matters, I will provide accurate information and, in concert with my fellow board members, interpret to the staff the aspirations of the community for its school.

  8. I will vote to appoint the best qualified personnel available after consideration of the recommendation of the chief administrative officer.

  9. I will support and protect school personnel in proper performance of their duties.

  10. I will refer all complaints to the chief administrative officer and will act on the complaints at public meetings only after failure of an administrative solution.

By our count, these and other emails show Cummings in violation of at least five different parts of the code of ethics, and most clearly in violation of section (i).

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the code of ethics violations these emails suggest Cummings may have committed:

a. I will uphold and enforce all laws, rules and regulations of the State Board of Education, and court orders pertaining to schools.  Desired changes shall be brought about only through legal and ethical procedures.

Despite this requirement, the emails show Cummings plotting behind the scenes to bring public pressure on the board – through the kind of scurrilous attacks Fine has led. This is probably a bit iffy and would depend on whether there’s more information about Cummings involvement than has been disclosed.

d. I will carry out my responsibility, not to administer the schools, but, together with my fellow board members, to see that they are well run.

Both in the emails mentioned before and in other newly released emails posted by Montclair Kids First, Cummings crosses this line. We haven’t had a chance to review all of those emails yet, but he is called out on it by district administrators more than once.

e. I will recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the board.

This is a clear violation, with Cummings acting behind the back of the rest of the board to try and influence policy by executing these plots with Fine.

f. I will refuse to surrender my independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups or to use the schools for personal gain or for the gain of friends.

Cummings coordination with Fine and her MCAS crowd clearly meets this threshold, and shows that Cummings has failed to act in an independent way, and is instead acting on behalf of these special interests.

i. I will support and protect school personnel in proper performance of their duties.

This is the clearest violation of all. Rather than supporting the district’s Superintendent, Cummings plotted with Fine on ways to undermine and oust her.

All told, we count several demonstrated violations of the ethics code by Cummings – more than enough reason for him to be removed from his position. Across several different fronts, Cummings has been an embarrassment as appointee for Mayor Jackson, and the mayor should put an end to it, and remove him immediately.

Our Response to Regina Tuma’s Letter In the Montclair Times Denying That She’s AssessmentGate

The Montclair Times has published a letter to the editor from Regina Tuma, in which she responds to our investigation of released emails that we found revealed she was behind the AssessmentGate leaks and attacks. In the letter, she responds that she is not, in fact, AssessmentGate, and claims to have a letter (which Tuma has since posted on the MCAS facebook site) from an ACLU attorney certifying that she is not AssessmentGate.

In the interest of fairness, here’s her letter, in full:

MSW (mis)information campaign

It has come to my attention that Montclair Schools Watch (MSW), a pro-PARCC anonymous blog in town has mistakenly identified me as the anonymous blogger known as “Assessmentgate.” The MWS blog goes a step further and accuses Assessmentgate/me of activity that borders on the criminal, that of leaking “PARCC test files.”

The MSW blog, which asks for civility and decries intimidation in the discourse about public schools, calls out my “hypocrisy and my “lies” to The Montclair Times, stating that “she [Tuma] is actually AssessmentGate.”

However, the blogger known as Assessmentgate does not want me to take credit for his/her persona. I am currently in possession of a letter from Jeanne LoCicero, the ACLU attorney who represented Assessmentgate during the overreaching and expensive subpoenas issued by the Board of Education in 2013, legally certifying that, “As we both know, you [Tuma] are not Assessmentgate.”

Given these serious factual errors by MSW, one wonders what other misinformation this anonymous blog, using civility as a battle cry, is disseminating for the sake of silencing critics of unpopular PARCC reforms.

Regina Tuma

Montclair

The letter Tuma references from the ACLU has been posted on the MCAS page, and given the letter and Tuma’s insistence, we’ll take her at her word. In our reporting on this we obviously want to be as accurate as possible, and so with it appearing that we may not be fully accurate here, we’ll be updating our prior post to reflect this new information.

That said, Tuma’s letter actually makes things more confusing. We’ll take her at her word that she’s not AssessmentGate, but we wonder then why Michelle Fine sent emails saying she was? In the first email we posted, she made clear reference to that. And the second seemed to confirm that – with AssessementGate replying directly to an email sent to Tuma and Cary Chevat. Our reporting was based solely on what we read in the emails, and Tuma’s denial leaves us wondering if it wasn’t Chevat who was behind this.

So, forgive us for being confused by the mess of various political plotters and personas that make up Tuma and Fine’s world. It’s possible that we are wrong and that Tuma actually has nothing to do with posting on the AssessmentGate account – a possibility that we left open in our post in saying that Tuma was behind the attacks but maybe multiple people are posting. And the emails, at the very least, certainly confirm that – if Tuma and/or Chevat aren’t actually making the AssessmentGate postings, they’re certainly coordinating and directing them. And in that sense, they – and Michelle Fine through them – are still the ones behind the attacks that came from AssessmentGate. Unfortunately, the email correspondence on these issues that was released doesn’t go back as far as the leaks, so it’s hard to know what their role and participation was in those at the time.

Either way, if it wasn’t Tuma posting the attacks herself, it was her directing someone else to. And if she wasn’t the one who posted the leaked material herself, she may well have provided it to them. Without a doubt, we know that she was closely tied to guiding their attacks, and so was clearly “behind” them, as we said, even if she may not actually be AssessmentGate herself.

And that’s important, because while her letter focused heavily on the questions of civility and hypocrisy that our reporting raised, her denial does nothing to change the facts there. If it turns out she wasn’t posting the attacks herself, certainly, she was directing them. And so the hypocrisy of her comments about a reasonable and respectful discourse – and the details of the sort of scorched earth campaign that she and Fine have run to divide our community – remains clear.

Profane Fine Emails Expose MCAS Activists’ Campaign Rooted In Nastiness and Vitriol and Focused On Settling Personal Scores

Warning: This post contains profanity.

The emails detailing Michelle Fine’s manipulation and politics in Montclair have been extremely revealing. For instance, they’ve exposed MCAS activist and Fine ally Regina Tuma as the person behind the AssessmentGate blog and leaks. They’ve highlighted Fine’s close strategic coordination with the NJEA and MEA. And they have also showed David Cummings working with Fine to attack district employees (including the superintendent) – a clear violation of the regulations surrounding the job he’s supposed to be doing on the board.

But what comes through even more sharply in the emails is the pettiness, vindictiveness, and just downright nastiness that has defined her political crusade. It also exposes the general disrespect she has for the community and the people that are a part of it.

Take, for instance, this exchange between Fine and the UFT’s Maia Davis in which Fine writes that she loves “torturing penny and david” and “I like sticking to [David] deutsch and penny [McCormack].” Her email exposes her as someone who’s much more focused on attacking people she hates than thinking about the best interests of the kids in Montclair – which she clearly isn’t doing at this point, at all.

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Unfortunately, that email is pretty much par for the course in terms of her tone and thinking. And in fact, it only gets worse from there. In an email exchange during a board meeting in November between Assessmentgate/Regina Tuma and Fine, they seemed thrilled at a board of education meeting devolving into disorder. Tuma emailed: “OMGGGG. A public lashing. Good!!!” A few back-and-forth emails later, Fine responded: “Now she is sucking our dicks!!” Presumably, that distasteful email was a reference to McCormack, and it says everything we need to know about the general disdain and lack of respect Fine and MCAS have, and the personal, vitriolic focus of the campaign MCAS has been waging.

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Those board members who have allowed themselves to be associated with Fine and MCAS (specifically, Anne Mernin and Jessica de Koninck) should be embarrassed and ashamed by this, and ought to step up and condemn Fine and her vitriolic personal campaign immediately. They certainly shouldn’t be associated with any more of her or MCAS’s events. We’d add Cummings to that list, but he’s betrayed himself as being as bad as her – and given his conduct he clearly shouldn’t be on the board at this point. The Mayor should do the right thing and force his resignation.

This particularly unhinged exchange from October between Fine and Maia Davis exposes more of the same – “we need to shut these f****rs down”, calling the board’s leadership totalitarian, etc. Imagine the outrage of trying to have some diversity of voices during a meeting…

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There’s plenty more where these came from and they’re deeply telling about the priorities and tactics that Fine and MCAS have used. They aren’t focused on improving education for kids. In fact, the whole education debate is a bit of an afterthought for them. Instead, it’s all about advancing their political agenda and settling personal scores, which they’ve done by injecting intense vitriolic attacks into the process. It’s time for our town’s leadership and our school board to stop tolerating these kinds of tactics.