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Monty School Board Member Asked to Resign for Trying to Negate the Public Vote

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted April 27, 2023

Two community members asked Montgomery School Board Member Joanna Filak to resign at the school board meeting on Tuesday, citing comments she made during a March school board meeting. Another community member pointed out that Filak is only doing the job voters elected her to do.

Specifically, Filak made a motion for the school board to: “Have a vote in favor of suspending all plans and efforts for full-day kindergarten and the taxes being levied to be stopped and returned until a complete analysis can be performed and debated. Then, if full-day kindergarten is viable on its merits—criteria to be publicly agreed upon—it should be brought out again for a referendum.

The motion was seconded by veteran board member Martin R. “Marty” Carlson.

Filak’s motion was shut down prior to a vote by the full board of education when the board attorney essentially pointed out that it’s illegal.

“I listened to the motion that Filak presented and I have a concern about it,” said board attorney Stephen Fogarty. “The motion included not only postponing any expenditure with regard to full day kindergarten, but also would have negated the public vote on the question. We don’t have the legal authority to do that.”

Filak withdrew her motion.

Board Member Joanna Filak (center) at the April 23 Montgomery School Board meeting.

Montgomery and Rocky Hill voters had narrowly approved adding full-day kindergarten in the school district during the general election on November 8. Voters passed the referendum by 43 votes according to the Somerset County Clerk Office — 3,892 to 3,849.

At the March school board meeting, Filak also proposed replacing “negative books” with “positive books with a positive message, to make sure all students feel inspired to be better people.”

Community members Christine Newman and Matt Rosenthal each stepped up to the podium at the April 25th school board meeting and requested that Filak resign.

Newman accused Filak of trying to ban books.

“On the surface, it seems like a simplistic interpretation of why we read books, simply to feel good, but do not be fooled. This is just the first step in her attempt to ban books she finds objectionable, and replace them with appropriate books, which no doubt match her world view,” Newman said.

Montgomery resident Christine Newman at the school board meeting on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, this is not the most appalling suggestion Filak made at last month’s meeting,” Newman continued. “At the prompting of a former BOE president … Filak made a motion to overturn the township vote in favor of a full day kindergarten.

“The Board of Education lawyer helpfully reminded Filak that this action would be illegal. School boards cannot overturn the will of the public. You can’t overturn the popular vote, no matter what some people in this room might think.”

Newman added that she finds it incomprehensible that, month after month, a group of Montgomery residents have been attending school board meetings to complain about a trip Montgomery educators took to attend a conference in South Africa. And, yet, Newman says, this group of conservative “patriots” has not “one peep” about a board member attempting to overturn the results of an election.

Filak should resign immediately, Newman said. “If she fails to do so, I call on concerned residents to file an ethics complaint against her with the NJ Department of Education, as her recent actions are in clear violation of the code of ethics.”

Next, Montgomery resident Matt Rosenthal took to the podium.

Matt Rosenthal of Montgomery (left) and School Board Member Marty Carlson (right).

Rosenthal took issue with Jeff Grant, a community member who regularly attends and speaks at school board meetings and who publicly called the board president a “racist, communist, and enemy of our country” in March because she attended a conference in South Africa.

“Let’s worry about what’s happening here [in our country and in Montgomery],” Rosenthal said.

“I ask board member Filak to resign,” he said. “It is unbelievable to me that [Filak] would ask to overturn the popular vote here in the township. Your job is to implement what gets voted, not to try to overturn it. And, Marty Carlson, since you seconded [the motion], why don't you step down as well?”

Montgomery Township Committeeman and parent Vince Barragan also spoke at the meeting, saying that public service is a noble cause. Elected officials take an oath, he said. He read his oath, emphasizing the part about “supporting the Constitution of the United States” and “under the authority of the people.”

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“I have a 14-year-old son and I’ve always told him not to take any oaths or promises lightly,” he said. “I expect all of my fellow elected officials to support the will of the people, especially referendums, whether they agree with it or not, ” he said.

The final speaker on the issue was Jessica Muentener of Belle Mead, an employee of the school district, who supported Board Member Filak, saying “I heard two people ask for Filak to resign. But I want to remind them that she was voted into the position that she’s in. You don’t have to like what she says, but you have to listen.

"She never asked for the election to be overturned. She just asked for clarity. She is doing what she was asked to do by the voters who voted her in. She is here because of the people.”

Filak was, in fact, the high voter getter in the November election.

The public may view the school board meetings at MTSD Board of Education Meeting 4/25/23 and at MTSD Board of Education Meeting 3/28/23.


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