Spiller’s Excuses Don’t Add Up: He’s Used His Board Seat to Push Specific Budget Priorities for His Union

During a community meeting last month, Sean Spiller was asked about his conflict of interest – the whole having-a-seat-on-the-Board-of-School-Estimate-while-also-serving-as-an-NJEA-treasurer conflict. We covered his conflicts ad nauseam, and thought it was interesting that others in the community started to call out Spiller for as well. According to BaristaNet:

Inevitably, the issue of Councilor Spiller’s seat on the Board of School Estimate (BoSE) as a possible conflict of interest with his position as treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) came up. The question wasn’t whether it was a conflict of interest — Councilor Spiller has already insisted it isn’t. Rather, the question was why it wasn’t considered a conflict of interest, despite the fact that the councilor is a union leader and five of every six dollars spent on Montclair schools go to teachers’ salaries and benefits.

Councilor Spiller explained the BoSE has no say in what teachers’ salaries and benefits are. The BoSE’s  role, he said, was to decide the school’s operating budget. “We get a passed budget from the school board itself,” he said. “They come in and say, ‘This is what we asked for in our budget,’ we look at it and say, ‘That should be higher than you want,’ ‘It should be lower than you want,’ and that’s our role. We don’t go in and say, ‘Pay teachers more.’” He said that the BoSE meticulously questions everything in the operating budget.

Spiller insists that the BoSE has no control over the budget, that it’s already pre-crafted. But reviewing Spiller’s comments from the 2014 and 2015 BoSE meetings shows he made more than just a few simple suggestions. Spiller has asked very specific questions regarding the budget, and made some suggestions of his own during the March 30th meeting:

“But I do want to say Mr. Fleischer, I know that this is a very difficult process and I certainly commend you and the Board of Education for your work on this. I know that it’s not easy. I know that we have a challenge ahead of us here as well. And I am hopeful that we are able to push in some of these other areas that we’re talking about. And hopefully in terms of healthcare and what you’re able to hear from Brown & Brown and where we go there…I heard the mayor allude to possibilities of other conversations leading to some savings. I hope to see that as well. In a worst case scenario, you know that I’d like to see what does holding back on almost that $100,000 on technology mean? Is that another area we can look to save another staff member or two? You know, just looking at all these pieces I think that I’ve heard from a lot of community members and a lot of people in this room that we have got to do everything we can to keep as many people in contact with our kids- the paras and the teachers- as possible. And I think we also balance that against the need to be respectful of all of our taxes and other challenges we have in terms of paying our bills so it’s gotta be a balance of seeing “Are there other areas we can find some savings in this budget so that we keep those positions, but also are mindful of the increase we’re looking at and looking for.”    

Spiller insists that he has no say in staff salaries or benefits, but he has questioned bonuses (which fall under the salaries category):

95:30: What type of dedication is in this budget for…I guess payments that are somewhat discretionary and maybe somewhat not. What I mean by that is when we look at next year’s budget, does it factor bonuses that are paid out? What specific bonuses were paid out this year? And as we know that in the climate we’re in regarding superintendents and the reduced salary they’ve received, it’s almost become standard that you know, bonuses are automatic. In that regard, I’ve heard that there may have been some others put in this past year’s budget as well that may have occurred. How does that work moving forward in terms of what flexibility is there in this budget to continue that process in terms of paying bonuses? What’s anticipated in terms of paying bonuses, and what has it been for the last year?

Spiller also questioned Brian Fleischer about decreases in salaries for substitutes and secretaries as well as increase in salaries for administrative services:

11:33: The next one a little below that- salaries for substitutes, secretarial- for the schools and the over time for the schools. I noticed a pretty big decrease for both of those items, what is the rational for how you think you can reduce those both so greatly?

13:42: Next page, on the top line for the salaries for admin, info, tech services- I assume that’s the increase to the position and maybe also a few other things in that line?

From the looks of it, we’d say that this is more than just a hand-raising exercise—Spiller has the authority to say how our money should be spent vis-à-vis issues of great interest to his union members and he’s been using it. It’s incredible that he hasn’t stepped aside already.

Cummings’ Collaboration: Records Show that Behind the Scenes, David Cummings Plotted Attacks on District with Michelle Fine/MCAS

In her previous farewell comments, former board member Shelly Lombard had taken on the scorched-earth attack campaign of MCAS and Michelle Fine in a not-particularly-oblique way – referencing Fine’s funding hypocrisy (as a recipient of big bucks from Deutsch Bank, who simultaneously crusades against others’ supposed ‘corporate’ influence.)

I am disappointed this year that we have gotten sidetracked. We let our town be divided by people who accuse others of corporatizing education while they took hundreds of thousands of dollars from people like Leona Helmsley and Deutsch Bank. I am disappointed that we squandered our precious time looking and talking about who’s on the agenda and what order they spoke in rather than focusing on what was right for our kids. I am disappointed that we have allowed people who have a vested interest in the status quo because of their day jobs, their anti-charter school books or anti-ed reform speaking tours, we allow them to make our children collateral damage while they advance a national or state political agenda.

During Monday’s BOE meeting, Lombard again warned the board of the same issues she spoke of previously – about how some members of the community have launched a campaign of misleading and manipulative attacks on the district leadership. Lombard has also had a chance to look through some of the Michelle Fine emails that we’ve been looking at, and understandably was disappointed after she read some emails that exposed Fine plotting with other members of the board (it looks like, based on the emails, that she was referring to David Cummings) to try to attack the district superintendent. According to Baristanet:

Lombard cautioned against not wasting time and focusing on specific goals so that at the end of their tenure they would be able to see what they had accomplished rather than spending time putting out fires. “Please play by the rules. I haven’t read all of them, but I’ve read some of the Michelle Fine emails. Some of them are really sad. The saddest is that it appears there were BOE members that may have cooperated with her,” said Lombard, adding that it is the job of BOE members to listen to all points of view and bring all issues to the superintendent, not to gather complaints from staff and use the information to ambush the super. Lombard called for a review to determine whether there were any ethics violations. “You can’t ignore it. It has to be addressed or, like Alex Rodriguez and steroids, it will taint everything else in the future.”

Lombard closed her remarks by saying to the members that they need to be willing to make hard decisions and not be more concerned about being popular.”

We mentioned in our first post on the emails that we thought that Cummings’ clear coordination with the activists to try and attack the district was very concerning and ethically shady. We wondered whether the Times would dig into the emails – and wondered whether Cummings’ wife being an executive at the Times would help spike the coverage. Thus far – unfortunately for our town – it looks like it has. The Montclair Times has been bizarrely quiet about the revelations contained in the emails, including the bombshell we reported that reveals that Regina Tuma was behind the AssessmentGate leaks and attacks.

Incidentally, in letter to the editor today, Lombard also questioned whether Cummings’ wife’s role was affecting their coverage – something that we wouldn’t have thought much about a year ago but is growing worrisome with their lopsided coverage (and lack thereof) on these issues.

We want to point out a few of the emails that support Lombard’s concerns about Board members coordinating with Fine to attack the district and advance her political agenda.

In this email, Cummings talks about using Fine’s content to push the district, and asks that Fine keep him in the loop on her coordination with other board members, so it doesn’t look like they are all coordinating, and so that they can keep the puppet master (Fine) a secret:

1 - CF Coordination

In another email, Cummings sent Fine this subject line: “Different issue…but potential idea” and pasted this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/nyregion/east-ramapo-school-board-is-criticized-by-new-york-city-monitor.html?_r=0

According to the NYT article referenced above:

A monitor appointed by the state to investigate the East Ramapo School District in Rockland County delivered a sharply critical report on Monday, saying the board had shown favoritism to the Orthodox Jewish students who attend private schools in the district and calling on the Legislature to give the district additional money while overhauling its governance.

In the face of such complaints, the state education commissioner, John B. King Jr., in June appointed Mr. Greenberg, a former federal prosecutor and senior legal adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo when he was attorney general, to investigate the board’s conduct and fiscal management.

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).

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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:

Central services staffing has grown by more than 50 percent:

In 2008-09, the district budget showed there were 12 administrators at central office and 21.4 secretaries/clerical staff for a total of 33.4. Now, there are 51 administrators, secretaries and other staff in central office – a 52.7 percent increase since 2008, according to a central services staff list received from the district..

________________________________________

Those now-vanished budget surpluses tell an important story about our schools: As our school budget surpluses swelled, our classrooms underwent severe cuts. Parent Chris McGoey breaks it down, helping us to understand how the district’s budget decisions have affected our children’s education. Read more

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:

3 - CF Coordination

There’s more where this came from in the emails. At this week’s meeting, Fine called her emails boring and asked for people to ignore them. Unfortunately, the press is. But they shouldn’t be. These emails contain serious revelations about the conduct of officials in our town, as well as the huge news about Regina Tuma/AssessmentGate, which has somehow gone completely unreported. And as these emails show, we have serious questions here about who’s side David Cummings is on as he uses his position to work hand-in-hand with those attacking the district he’s supposed to be helping lead.

Why is Zazzali, Faegella, Nowak representing Spiller?

It turns out the heavyweight law firm of Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum, & Friedman of Newark is representing the NJEA’s Sean Spiller in the Montclair Kids First suit that alleges a conflict of interest. That suit stems from his participation on the Board of School Estimate despite his role as a senior union official since the BoSE deals with issues that impact the union members he represents. We’ve written about this issue extensively in the past, detailing the different issues he’s touched on in this role that might constitute conflicts of interest.

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Baristanet reported that the law firm tried to have the case thrown out, but they were unsuccessful.

We wanted to know more about the law firm that represented Spiller and it turns out they serve as the big guns for the NJEA. Recently, they also represented the NJEA on a different front: suing the state, Gov. Christie, the treasurer and the state senate and assembly on the grounds that the state’s budget did not include the $1.57 billion pension fund payment.

That’s quite an ambitious case for this law firm to take on. But this isn’t a unique instance of this law firm representing the NJEA. In fact, Zazzali has represented the NJEA since at least the 1980’s in multiple cases.

And most recently, the law firm (this time representing both the NJEA and the Camden Education Association) filed a motion to have the Commissioner of Education David Hespe reconsider his determinations in granting the application of the State Superintendent of Camden City School District to close some schools.

In fact, the NJEA’s highest paid contractor (according to their 990s) is Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum & Friedman. At a price tag of $1,655,198, the NJEA is shelling out a pretty penny on this law firm. And with the recent cases – suing the state and fighting Hespe on school closures, we’ll likely see this cost increase. It turns out this is the NJEA’s go to firm.

Given that the complaint against Spiller focuses on the intersection of his role with the NJEA and his board service, it seems pretty interesting that it’s the NJEA’s legal team leaping to his defense. Are they paying for the lawyers, or is he? It’s particularly interesting because thus far, a big part of their defense seems to revolve around the argument that there isn’t NJEA involvement on his part in this role. So if that’s the case, why are the NJEA’s lawyers involved here?

Michelle Fine Email Trove Details MCAS’s Close Coordination with MEA, NJEA, Sean Spiller

In addition to the important revelation that MCAS’s Regina Tuma is behind AssessmentGate, the public records release of Michelle Fine’s emails provides a unique opportunity to understand how MCAS and the MEA have built their operation to attack and oppose the school district. We’ve reported before on Fine admitting that MCAS was serving as a proxy for MEA’s organizing work, but these emails show in even greater detail the way that they coordinate with the unions and Sean Spiller to push their political agenda.

The new records that we’re detailing today show some of the extent of that. We’ve just picked out a few emails to keep this from being too long, but its reflective of the close coordination evident throughout.

In one email in October of 2014, New York union operative Maia Davis (name is redacted but visible) and Michelle Fine email about coordinating an event in Montclair. In particular, they’re curious about getting funding from the NJEA, and ask if maybe their close friend “Sean” would help them get NJEA funding for their activism (that would be Sean Spiller, who definitely doesn’t have any conflicts of interest in voting on the BoSE…):

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According to the email, they sought to have NJEA fund the event rather than MEA, to help shield MEA during upcoming negotiations. The familiar discussion about Spiller (and other email communications between him and Fine about PARCC, as well as this here blog) make clear that they are close allies.

In another more recent situation, Fine and Christine McGoey discussed an event that they would eventually host in February for the movie “Standardized.” In the email, McGoey askes if MCAS will want to sponsor it (and notes the lack of diversity at their event), or if it should be left to MEA/NJEA:

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They also assigned someone to smooth out the MEA’s role, but that redaction is a bit difficult to read through.

Fine replied, saying that MEA/NJEA can’t be out front on this, and instead they “have to b mcas on movie,” and provide them with the front:

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There is also a disturbing bit of tokenism in her discussion of having Belvin be a speaker, especially given the previous comment. Rather than focus on the opinions he might present, she’s solely focused on the optics of having him on stage.

There’s a lot more of that sort of thing in the emails as well, and frankly it makes Fine’s approach to issues of racial equity look a bit political rather than sincere, but we’ll leave that aside for now.

Rather, the main issue in these emails included here is the clear evidence of the way that MCAS – despite presenting itself as an independent grassroots group – is serving as the “out front” arm of the unions in their fight. When they don’t want to attach their name to something (say, an attack on PARCC), they use MCAS to carry their water. Rather than being an independent group, they’re clearly a proxy for the agenda of the MEA and NJEA. Rather than being interested in what’s best for kids – a subject almost never mentioned in any of the emails – they’re interested in their own political agendas.

Breaking: Records Show MCAS Leader Regina Tuma Is Behind AssessmentGate Leaks, Attacks

UPDATE: The entire original post is included below as posted. After this report, Regina Tuma wrote a letter to the editor of the Montclair Times denying that she is AssessmentGate. You can read that letter here. We’ve since posted a response to that letter which you can view here. We’ll take Tuma at her word that she isn’t the word one who has posted the materials as AssessmentGate, but the emails detailed below leave no doubt that she is the one coordinating the attacks. 

We’ve also updated the post below to reflect the comment about the district test files made by the commenter. However, addressing the rest of their comment, Tuma’s denial not withstanding, the evidence included below does suggest that Tuma is in fact behind the attacks. 

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Original Post:

After the public records release of Michelle Fine’s emails by Montclair Kids First, we dug in and started reviewing. There’s a ton there, but the biggest news is clearly records that show that MCAS activist and Michelle Fine ally Regina Tuma is the person behind the AssessmentGate leaks.

This blog is reporting this information for the first time.

AssessmentGate leaked district test files, costing the district thousands of dollars in additional expenses and prompting a large-scale investigation, both by the district and by the state’s Office of Financial Accountability and Compliance. The OFAC report concluded that,

The initial “release” of the assessments that allowed posting to a site accessible to the general public could only be accomplished by an individual/s possessing a district issued user name and password.

And,

If the party or parties responsible are identified, the district should consider appropriate disciplinary action.

As we wrote last fall, the investigation was held back because the town council – led by Sean Spiller and Bob Russo – acted to shut down access to the records in a move that now looks even more ethically dubious.

In this email, sent Sept. 17, 2014 at 2:51 PM, (available here in the 2014 disclosures) Michelle Fine sent a post from our blog about AssessmentGate’s attacks on school breakfast, in which we referred to AssessmentGate as “MCAS/MEA Attack-Dog AssessmentGate”. Details on the recipients and part of the subject line were redacted, but the redaction is imperfect, and if you look closely at an enlarged image, you can read that the email was sent to Regina Tuma, Maia Davis and Stan Karp.

More importantly, the subject-line in full reads “regina, you have been promoted!” The very clear implication there is that Regina Tuma is behind AssessmentGate, the ‘promotion’ being a reference to us referring to it as their “Attack-Dog”.

Here’s the original email:

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Here’s an enlarged image of the subject and address fields:

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The conclusion that Tuma is AssessmentGate is confirmed by other pieces of evidence in the email as well. For instance, in this email exchange, Fine emails Cary Chevat and Regina Tuma about posts being made under a pseudonym on ShareMontclair. She’s worried that it is the superintendent’s assistant, Matt Frankel, who is posting, but it turns out it is AssessmentGate, who replies directly to her email.

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It’s unclear why she includes Chevat, although it’s possible that there is more than one person posting under the account. Nonetheless, between this and her reference to Tuma as AssessmentGate above, it’s pretty compelling evidence that it is Tuma, under Fine’s direction, who is behind AssessmentGate, which means it’s basically just another blog name for MCAS.

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to what Tuma has said elsewhere. We posted before on the hypocrisy of her claims to support open dialogue (and the disappointing way the Montclair Times carried it uncritically), but here’s a recap of some of the things she’s said about discourse:

  • “are delighted to offer to collaborate with them to help move our district forward through a healthy, democratic and engaged community process,” Tuma said.
  • “MCAS seeks to inform the public about issues we believe are important and to encourage open public dialogue on these issues,” Tuma said.
  • saying that the group has “always stood for an open, public dialogue in which all points of view are heard and respected.” “High-quality public education depends on community dialogue, debate and serious community discussion,” Tuma said.

Oh, and of course…

On the issue of anonymous public education advocates such as MSW, MKF and Assessmentgate, Tuma said the group does not know the identity of Assessmentgate other than as “a person [who] questions the policies of public officials, not the speech of private citizens.”

But now we know that isn’t – at all – true. In fact, the reporter she lied to should be interested to know that she is actually AssessmentGate. It’s her (and MCAS) who oppose the district’s efforts to provide school breakfast, and who have waged a scorched earth campaign against the district’s leadership.

We’re already turning up lots of other interesting revelations in these emails, and it’s clear that while this is pretty big news – and hopefully will give OFAC and the district the material they need to re-open their investigations – this is just the tip of the iceberg. MCAS/AssessmentGate, under Tuma, Davis and Fine’s leadership, has been waging a destructive, relentlessly negative campaign, and those tactics will be embarrassing to anyone affiliated with the group. It’s time for folks like Cummings, Mernin and de Koninck who have been associated with them to condemn them and distance themselves from their activities. Short of that, they’re continuing to endorse these tactics.

Coalition of National Civil Rights Organizations Blast Opt-Outs, Groups like MCAS for Trying to “Claim a False Mantle of Civil Rights Activism

Some big news over the weekend in the education debate that we thought was particularly telling in terms of how these debates play out in our town. A big coalition of all of the leading civil rights organizations in the country – the NAACP, La Raza, the Urban League, and the Leadership Center, among others – came out aggressively with a strong statement blasting the efforts by some to push out-out and other test disruption strategies. This effort to disrupt testing “only makes it harder to identify and fix the deep-seated problems in our schools,” according to the civil rights groups.

Here’s the statement they led with:

Today, 12 national civil and human rights groups announced their opposition to anti-testing efforts springing up across the country that are discouraging students from taking standardized tests and subverting the validity of data about educational outcomes. Data obtained through some standardized tests are particularly important to the civil rights community because they are the only available, consistent, and objective source of data about disparities in educational outcomes, even while vigilance is always required to ensure tests are not misused. These data are used to advocate for greater resource equity in schools and more fair treatment for students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners. Anti-testing efforts have resulted in statewide bills and local pressure on schools to discourage students from taking assessments, which would undermine the validity of this data. The groups’ joint statement follows:

“For the civil rights community, data provide the power to advocate for greater equality under the law. It’s the reason we’ve fought to make sure that we’re counted equally in every aspect of American life, such as in employment, the criminal justice system, and consumer lending. Our commitment to fair, unbiased, and accurate data collection and reporting resonates greatest in our work to improve education. The educational outcomes for the children we represent are unacceptable by almost every measurement. And we rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children. These data are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity.

The full list of groups signing on included The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, The American Association of University Women (AAUW), Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA), Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), NAACP, National Council of La Raza (NCLR), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Urban League (NUL), Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), TASH. All told, it’s a broad coalition of civil rights advocates, saying the same thing: the efforts to sabotage these tests HURT kids – especially those who need our help the most.

We’re glad to see these groups speaking out powerfully and forcefully on this, and calling a spade a spade. It’s easy to forget, but as they mention, a big reason we have tests is to understand – in a basic way – how we’re doing at educating our kids. That’s information we don’t have otherwise – we just have to take their word for it. And not long ago, as the statement reminds us it was possible for school districts and schools to hide the achievement gaps that exist way too often, and to sweep them under the rug:

Until federal law insisted that our children be included in these assessments, schools would try to sweep disparities under the rug by sending our children home or to another room while other students took the test. Hiding the achievement gaps meant that schools would not have to allocate time, effort, and resources to close them. Our communities had to fight for this simple right to be counted and we are standing by it.

That’s why we’re troubled by the rhetoric that some opponents of testing have appropriated from our movement. The anti-testing effort has called assessments anti-Black and compared them to the discriminatory tests used to suppress African-American voters during Jim Crow segregation. They’ve raised the specter of White supremacists who employed biased tests to ‘prove’ that people of color were inferior to Whites.

There are some legitimate concerns about testing in schools that must be addressed. But instead of stimulating worthy discussions about over-testing, cultural bias in tests, and the misuse of test data, these activists would rather claim a false mantle of civil rights activism. At the heart of that debate is whether or not we will have the courage to make the necessary investments in each and every child, no matter their race, ethnicity, class, disability status, or first language.

But we cannot fix what we cannot measure. And abolishing the tests or sabotaging the validity of their results only makes it harder to identify and fix the deep-seated problems in our schools.

The statement powerfully calls out the anti-activists, blasting them for their efforts to “claim a false mantle of civil rights activism.” That’s something that we’ve seen plenty of here in Montclair, where MCAS has tried to claim their advocacy is in support of minority children (when in reality it’s just been focused on trying to pick apart the district’s work, and as often as not, to disrupt the efforts of the community work being done to tackle the achievement gap here).

Meanwhile (and we’re still working through them), the Michelle Fine emails show her efforts to try and seize this mantle for MCAS, constantly attacking the district and leadership as racist. In reality, as this statement – coming from groups like the NAACP and Urban League – powerfully states, it’s actually the sort of activism that she’s leading that is an attack on the civil rights of our children. This is a powerful reminder that as much as activists like MCAS and Fine claim their work is motivated by support for civil rights, the truth is that it’s all about their politics, their national agenda, the politics of their allies in the union (which explain the opposition to tests), and their single-minded effort to attack and disrupt the district’s efforts.

Comments By Shelly Lombard Contain Big Revelation About Montclair Charter School Supporter: MEA Union Head Gayl Shepard

We missed watching the board meeting on Monday, but finally got a chance to watch the video.

First, we read the account on BaristaNet. It gave those who spoke in support of Larson and Lombard a sentence or two, and devoted several paragraphs to printing the full – and redundant, and often  unsubstantiated – attacks of MCAS activists like Regina Tuma and Marcella Simidaris (seriously, how many times do we have to waste time listening to the same old ideological rants? It’s really a disgrace that BaristaNet is still giving them the airtime for their same old attacks on the district).

One big thing stood out to us: In the midst of Shelly Lombard’s farewell speech, some comments she made about the old charter school debate in town. This news – probably the biggest news of the night – wasn’t in the BaristaNet piece for reasons we don’t understand, but it should have been.  Specifically, if we’re understanding her words right, Lombard named the initial supporter and instigator of a charter school in town as the head of our local teacher union, Gayl Shepard.

Here’s what Lombard said (85:00):

“A few years ago, a friend of mine who was a teacher told me that she was working on starting a charter school. This is someone I respected, someone who was a great teacher. I still meet her former students today and they tell me that she changed their lives. That teacher was Gayl Shepard.

I told her that I did not think that a charter school would work in Montclair…there wasn’t enough money, no space…but I had so much respect for her as an educator that I figured that if she thought we should be doing something different, then maybe we should be doing something different. Plus, we all know Gayl by now, I knew I couldn’t stop her anyway.

So I introduced her to Norm Atkins of Uncommon Schools so she could get some advice from someone who ran a successful charter school. She and Norm didn’t end up connecting, and her charter school never came in to fruition.

But I respected the fact that a teacher that I respected was concerned enough about children to consider something that was actually controversial for a teacher to consider.

Not much in our schools has changed since that time. The concerns that motivated Gayl a few years ago are still concerns today. I don’t support a charter school in Montclair but we should be honest enough with ourselves to say that the status quo-peace without progress-is unacceptable.”

We’ve mentioned a few times before that we aren’t supporters of a charter school here in Montclair either, and we think it’s interesting that the union head was initially pushing the idea – especially given the vitriol that she and her allies like Michelle Fine and MCAS have directed towards other folks who are involved in charter schools. In fact, it’s an admission that the way we’re doing things isn’t working – and rather than trying to defend and entrench the status quo, we should be building support for progress. Of course, that’s not at all how the politics of the last two years have gone.

We also wonder what the revelation Shepard’s support for charter schools (and specifically, bringing one to Montclair) will mean for her in her role as union head and among her activist allies. Over on the MCAS page, they’re currently obsessing about the evils of charter schools (as they have been for years), so that ought to be interesting.