We noted with interest the lawsuit filed against Sean Spiller yesterday, highlighting the council member’s conflict of interest in serving on the Board of School Estimate while working as an NJEA employee. The suit was filed by a group calling itself Montclair Kids First, which is apparently a bunch of anonymous parents and such in Montclair. (As an aside, given the threats we got when we first started, including to our kids and families, and the ridiculous tenor of discussions from the MEA and MCAS, we can understand local parents wanting to be anonymous).
We’ve written about Spiller’s conflict before, in one of our earliest posts, and we’re not really surprised to see it coming to a head again – it’s just so obvious.
To re-cap – the substance of the complaint they are making is pretty simple. One of our council members – Sean Spiller – also simultaneously serves as the Secretary-Treasurer of the NJEA (rumor we’ve heard is that he’s campaigning for the top job…). He’s frequently referenced as also being a teacher, but as best we’re able to tell it’s been years since he taught, though he still collects a full salary. He also serves on the Board of School Estimate in Montclair. And that’s where the problem lies.
As we’ve noted, Montclairs budget is pretty much salaries and benefits for employees – almost all of whom are covered by the MEA. The MEA is part of the NJEA, which Spiller serves, and his day job is representing those members. Which means that he has a conflict in serving on a board that is in charge of approving their compensation.
That’s what the complaint says.
And here’s one more detail that we didn’t see in it, but that is important and damning, and should decide this issue once and for all.
We have contract negotiations with the union coming up (supposed to be ongoing, but we hear they’re stalling for McCormack to be gone). And typically it’s the NJEA that does the negotiating. So Spiller would be in the position of voting for a contract that he oversaw the negotiation of. Think whatever you will of Spiller and his intentions, there’s just no situation in which that doesn’t represent a massive conflict:
“Dr. Patterson has full-time job apart from negotiating contracts,” Larson said. “The representatives who come from the NJEA to negotiate for the MEA, that’s their full-time job. We don’t have the luxury of having somebody full-time in that capacity.”
But that’s hardly the end of it. If his clear fiduciary interest wasn’t enough, he’s got an evident personal and political interest as well. Here, for instance, is Spiller – in his NJEA capacity – testifying about budgets, like the one he’s supposed to be trusted to oversee:
“NJEA and its members understand that budgets require difficult choices. After all, our members have to make the same kinds of tough choices when it comes to their own budgets, particularly in light of Chapter 78’s impact on their wallets. They have had to face the serious economic repercussions of increased pension contributions and mandatory premium sharing on health benefits while salary settlements with school districts have failed to keep pace with inflation.”
There’s enough of a mess around the budget and the schools right now, and further chaos stemming from this conflict of interest doesn’t help anything. As we’ve said before, we think Spiller should step aside so the district can get this figured out.