Mayor’s Board Appointees Not Showing “Financial Acuity” He Promised

Last week we posted about a meeting Mayor Jackson was taking with activists, and more importantly, that he was apparently meeting with them frequently. Not necessarily a problem in it’s own right, as the Mayor should be meeting with lots of folks (and emailers told us he’s apparently met with some other groups on these issues), but somewhat concerning given the serious consideration and degree of access being given to a fairly extreme set of views.

Monday’s board meeting – and in particularly, the vote on the budget – brought these concerns into sharp focus for us. From BaristaNet’s coverage:

The budget passed 4-3, with David Cummings, Jessica de Koninck, and Anne Mernin dissenting. The tax levy increase will remain at 4.15 percent. Cummings still wanted to see more central services cuts, and de Koninck found the cuts highly objectionable for taking teachers away from children.

This has been brewing for awhile, but the budget vote offered a clear picture on a real problem for our town. The three members that voted against the budget are all Mayor Jackson’s recent appointees. All three board members that he has appointed have, in their behavior on the board, become more interested in serving as critics of the district than in solving problems. We’re not convinced that there is actually a realistic budget that they would have supported and Cummings in particular seems more interested in any opportunity to take shots at the administration.

We could go into the specifics of their critiques – Cummings claims about the size of the central office, for instance, are something that we’ve debunked repeatedly. But the bigger, broader more important point is that the people that Jackson has put in place thus far have simply not proven interested in responsibly governing the district, and their block vote against the budget is a clear sign of that. When Jackson took the job, he promised that his board members would be “fiscally minded” and have “financial acuity”:

“We’re going to be looking for people who are pro-educational system but are fiscally minded,” Jackson said. “We’ll be looking for some ‘bold vision’ people.”

Jackson said he agreed with Fried, who said that the appointment of Board of Education members is one of the most important duties of Montclair’s mayors.

“I think it’s very analogous to the president appointing members to the Supreme Court,” Jackson said. “It’s a long-term commitment and one that impacts the lives of one of our most important assets, which are our kids.”

The mayor said he would be looking for candidates with “financial acuity” and candidates who would be “advocates” of public education, “so that we have a nice balance.”

Jackson said he will move carefully in developing his appointment process.

Unfortunately, financial acuity and fiscal mindedness were exactly what his board appointees did NOT display on Monday, and there’s been very little – if any – of that the from the three of them during their terms on the board.

Clearly, the results so far from Mernin, de Koninck and Cummings have been extremely disappointing. And the fact is that the mayor is accountable for them. We’re extremely curious about what’s driven his thinking on this, and are wondering if he’s simply too close to the MEA and the folks in MCAS – and that meeting is another hint in that direction. Rather than offering up strong leaders, so far he’s appointed activists who have too-often aided in MCAS’s attacks on the district. Rather than providing stable leadership that the schools need, he’s appointed folks who have poured more fuel on the fire and helped to badly destabilize things.

With two more appointments coming up, replacing some of the stronger board leaders our town has had, the mayor will need to pick some folks that can put a check on the MEA and their proxies in the MCAS crowd, or the issues around our schools will only get worse.

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