Letter to the Editor: So Much for Democracy
Writer expresses views about this week's school board meeting.
Over the clear and eloquently articulated objections of an ardent group of concerned residents, the Millburn Board of Education disenfranchised the community in a defiant vote to not only extend their own terms by nearly nine months, but to unilaterally rescind the rights of Millburn-Short Hills residents to vote on the annual school budget.
The vast majority of those that spoke asked the BOE to allow the community to vote on this measure by adding a referendum to November’s election ballot. After all, the strongest argument for moving the vote to November is to increase voter participation in school board elections. To disregard the will of the voters in making this decision unilaterally is not only the height of hypocrisy, but also demonstrates a callous disregard for those members of the public who cared enough about this issue to show up on Monday night and speak out.
The shock reverberating though the crowd as the vote was taken was visceral. Sadly, many were not surprised as we once again witnessed the school board discounting public comments. Though never has this disregard been so flagrant. Board President Michael Birnberg actually stated that he believed those who spoke were not truly representative of the community. And though he admitted public sentiment was 7 or 8 to 1 in favor, he said because these individuals often spoke out at Board Meetings that their comments were somehow not worthy of consideration. Other board members nodded in agreement.
Those of us who do attend board meetings regularly have come to expect a level of arrogant disdain from a number of board members but we still had trouble comprehending what had transpired. The Board of Education continually claims they are open and receptive to public input. Monday night they simply and deliberately choose to ignore the strong, consistent, and thoughtful expressions of the will of the people.
The singular most shocking moment occurred as Dr. Mark Zucker expressed his ethical reservations about voting against community wishes. Yet he stated that as he is in the midst of teacher contract negotiations – negotiations that should have concluded a year ago – he needed the extra time the vote would provide him to complete these complex and delicate negotiations. He quite apologetically admitted that his 'yes' vote was based on his ability to extend his own term not the intrinsic merits of the resolution.
When the audience members shouted that he should therefore recuse himself from the vote, that he had admitted an ethical conflict, his response was that Sam Levy should then recuse himself as well. To which the audience responded resoundingly, "YES!" The inherent conflict of interest his vote represented quite clearly eluded him.
When the final vote was taken only Regina Truitt, Lise Chapman and Jean Pasternak stood up for the rights of our community and voted "no," emphatically backing up strong statements they made previously that evening as to why this resolution should not pass and should be left up to the voters to decide in November.
The remaining board members took away your right to oversee the expenditure of your property tax dollars while extending their own terms with law that is not subject to any modification for four years.
– Carolyn Most, Millburn