Dissent Isn’t The Problem. The Problem Is When Folks Are All About Their Own Politics, And Not Our Kids

Over the weekend, “AssessmentGate” took issue with our suggestion that Gayl Shepard and the MEA’s opposition to the changes to the district health plan – with it’s $1.2 million in savings for the district – were about politics, not what’s best for the district.

Apparently, what we were really saying there was that there shouldn’t be any dissent from the district.

Nope, that’s not it at all. In fact, there’s plenty we’d disagree with the district leadership on if pressed. But – no big shocker here – we do tend to agree with the general direction, and we certainly agree in the areas where there’s the most debate (ie should we be doing our best to do a good job implementing common core, investing in technology, etc).

Moreover, we’d be among the first to admit that Shepard was well within her rights to do whatever she thinks is right in her job. Even if it isn’t the right thing for the district or more importantly, for the students  – which we think is definitely the case with her opposition to the changes to the health plan. But just because she’s within her rights to do it, doesn’t make it right.

The problem we have is that for her (and her allies), the debates around our schools here have instead become about a national political fight. We need look no further than the comments from Deputy Mayor – and American Federation of Teachers Vice President – Bob Russo, who also weighed in on the health insurance discussion:

During the comment period, members of the public echoed the MEA’s concerns, including Deputy Mayor Robert Russo, who also serves as a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers union. Russo urged the board to respect teachers’ concerns and added that the AFT, New Jersey Education Association, and Montclair Board of Education are together in “fighting a national battle” regarding public education.

Shepard and her allies’ focus isn’t on what’s best for the district – it’s on how best to advance the political fight they’ve picked. So they’re willing to sacrifice over a million dollars in savings for our schools in order to take more shots at the superintendent, create more issues for the administration to deal with, and make things in the district generally work less well.

Why? Because they aren’t at all interested in what’s best for the students of Montclair. If they were, they’d want to save the money which we know could be well used. Instead, their goal is to attack the superintendent and – they hope – get rid of her. And so instead of the district being able to move forward on something together, they work to make things harder for the district. To create additional bureaucratic and legal hurdles for staff to clear. To build another talking point to complain about how the district just doesn’t listen to them (ignoring the question of whether what they’re saying is of merit, which the Board of Education decided unanimously it wasn’t). This really was an opportunity for collaboration, to work together to make this transition work for teachers in the best way possible, while benefiting the district as a whole. And Shepard blew the chance, and showed her true political colors in the process.

The real problem we have is that for them, this is a purely political debate. A national political fight they’ve picked that they’ve decided to wage here in Montclair, at the expense of our local schools and our kids. A fight between adults about political interests, with them trying to use their political power get their way. It’s not about whether we have all the resources our schools need, or whether our kids here have the best education we can give them. Their use of our kids and our schools as a political football is something we’ve gotten tired of. That’s why we started this blog in the first place – to call that out for what it is. 

We’re fine with dissent, when it’s well reasoned and sincere. But that’s not what this is. It’s politics at the expense of our kids. And we’re going to continue to shine a light on the adults that play these underhanded games, and call them out for the hypocrisy that it represents. 

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