Drilling Into Why Spiller’s Conflict of Interest Matters – Pt 2. – Evaluations Edition

On Friday, we wrote about why Sean Spillers conflicts of interest that have sparked a lawsuit – serving on the Board of School Estimate while concurrently getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in his role as a top NJEA official – actually mattered in a policy sense and represent a concrete issue, not an abstract matter of legal or ethical theory. We focused on technology spending in that post – today we’re going to write about another issue area: evaluations.

During the March 30th Board of School Estimate meeting, Spiller asked Brian Fleischer whether different models of evaluations could be used in the district to “allow us more flexibility in terms of keeping more individuals in classrooms.”

“I think one of the challenges, and you noted it there and we’ve heard some of the frustration here tonight surrounding testing or as many would consider over-testing and a lot of focus on evaluations. In this sense, maybe the number of them and I think in your implication and answer, there are many different models out there that the state does recognize, each of them requiring a different level in terms of number of administrators. I know that many administrators are also somewhat frustrated by the amount of time spent writing up paperwork around evaluations rather than able to observe and see good teaching. So I at least think that some of that should be part of the discussion to see which model we are using. Could other models be used that maybe would allow us more flexibility in terms of keeping more individuals in classrooms?”

Notably, Spiller’s push here was similar to when he testified at the NJ State Board of Education meeting last year. Then, he said some similar stuff, emphasizing the paperwork, for instance:

I need not remind you that New Jersey boasts the best educators in the nation – and the world. Our practices have been studied and copied as models for excellence. But this evaluation system treats teachers like data clerks, where they are resigned to documenting, filing, and assigning values to the numbers in their classrooms.

But more importantly and problematically, when Spiller asked if other evaluation models could be used during the March 30 BoSE meeting, it seems to us that he was really asking if the four NJEA stamped-for-approval methods should be used (out of the dozens of other models), rather than the Marshall Plan, which the district selected:

2015 4-13 BoSE Meetings - Copy

This mirrors Spiller and the NJEA’s push statewide to try to undercut the evaluations as their put in place (evaluations which, incidentally, in Montclair the MEA originally agreed to). But it’s also deeply concerning – and makes clear the conflict that exists – that a union official is using his power and position on this board to try to push for policy shifts (like a different evaluation system).

The argument has been made in some places that Spiller is just green-lighting the board / district’s budget, and doesn’t have any policy say. But during the course of the BoSE’s review, changes were made to the budget. And during the course of that review, Spiller used his position to push district staff to adopt different policies, using his power on the board to push the agenda of his NJEA membership. Obviously, that’s his day job, and that’s who pays his salary. But it also shows clearly why he shouldn’t be in this position – and he’s clearly violating the trust and interests of the taxpayers who he’s supposed to be serving.

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