Montclair Township vs. Board/School District: Server Wars

BY  |  Friday, Jan 17, 2014 7:50pm  |  COMMENTS (27)

montclair township councilSince the Council voted to deny the Board access to its shared server last month, it seems the relationship between the Council and the Board/ School district has been tense and getting tenser.

Barista Kids has obtained a copy of a letter sent via email from Montclair Township attorney, Ira Karasick, (Township Manager Dashield copied) to Mark Tabakin, Board attorney, on January 16 in which the Township states:

The Township has learned that during the last week and possibly longer, the Montclair Board of Education (“MBOE”) repeatedly gave high-level access to confidential information located in our shared databases and servers to unauthorized persons in violation of the New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines – Shared Municipal and Police Computer Systems, and other federal and state regulations governing the confidentiality of information.

These regulations require, inter alia, that persons with the permission and capability to access such information undergo background investigations and receive clearance from appropriate law enforcement agencies.  Until an MBOE employee or contractor is properly cleared, the Township is obligated to deny the MBOE “administrator” and/or all other comparable high-level permissions to access to any shared data or information technology.

By way of implementing this action, the Township will modify, delete or disable any user accounts that include the prohibited permissions. The Township expects the MBOE to cooperate in identifying these accounts, and to refrain from surreptitiously creating or attempting to create new accounts with unauthorized access as was done during the past week. During the time without high-level access to the shared IT system, the MBOE should contact Joseph Fagliarone, the Township’s IT Director, for administrator-level assistance.

The letter ends noting that the Township has been “appalled by the lack of candor demonstrated by the MBOE, both in circumventing assurances to the Township that unauthorized permissions were deleted, and in modifying a user account in the Township’s email database.”

It seems that the issue the Township has is who is accessing the network and not with regard to the Board’s (and now the state’s) investigation.

When reached for comment, Superintendent MacCormack said “The accusations are unfounded and untrue.”

Barista Kids has reached out to Township attorney Karasick and Manager Dashield for comment and is awaiting response.

District’s Response
Barista Kids has also obtained a copy of the response to Karasick from Tabakin sent via email and regular mail (Board members and Chief Operations Officer Brian Fleischer copied) and it tells a very different story, as well as pointing out the the whole system is a mess. The letter begins:

I received your letter dated January 16, 2014, wherein you allege that the Montclair Board of Education allowed unauthorized persons to access confidential law enforcement information located on the parties’ shared databases/servers. Despite your sweeping accusations of surreptitious conduct and unauthorized “high-level” breaches, no objective facts were provided to validate your claims.

Let us be perfectly clear, at no time did any agent or employee of the Board access any confidential law enforcement information or data . There is no evidence of any such access . You demand candor in fixing the remarkable deficiencies in our shared network, but your accusations and refusal to allow the Board access to its confidential information demonstrates otherwise.

Then it gets into the problems with the set up of the shared network and the process of trying to remedy them:

It is abundantly clear to the Board and the Township that the “shared” network was poorly designed from its inception. For example, the Outlook Exchange server is comingled such that the Board’s and Township’s archived e-mail reside on a single server, as do the active e-mails {albeit on a separate server than the archived e-mails). The lack of a written shared service agreement only added insult to injury. Representatives from each side have met in an effort to identify all of the shortcomings in the shared network.

The parties have engaged in a continuing dialogue in an effort to remedy the situation, which included meetings where Township employees were told that the Board’s consultants were charged to interface with the Towns hip’s representatives to try to salvage and fix the shared network so as to permit the parties to continue their economically beneficial shared service. Everyone involved knew that the Board’s consultants also were responsible for managing the District’s on-going network activities, needs, upgrades, purchases, etc.

It goes on to explain the problems with the existing network server. There is improper level access, the confidentiality of student records is not being appropriately maintained and protected, and Alan Benezra the former Network Administrator “set up his Board e-mail account so that it would pull Township e-mail into his Board mailbox. As such, when the Network Administrator’s e-mails were accessed by virtue of an existing employee’s  Exchange access authorization, e-mails relating to the Township could be read.”

The letter ends saying “The situation transcends politics and gamesmanship. The parties must come together in good faith to rectify shortcomings of the shared network as it’s currently configured.”

Read the entire letter here.

When reached for comment, Board President Robin Kulwin deferred questions to Tabakin’s letter as the Board has not had time to meet and discuss.

27 Comments

  1. POSTED BY dan tanna  |  January 17, 2014 @ 11:21 pm

    A bunch of bums on both sides. Bad Penny’s troops vs. the clowns who appointed them and her. This crowd deserves each other.

  2. POSTED BY montclairpublic  |  January 18, 2014 @ 2:05 am

    for the record, the Mayors appointed the BOE members, the worst of them by Jerry Fried. to determine the more culpable party here, ask yourself just who these board members have been able to get along with in the past 2-3 years, besides the super. who haven’t they turned on when facing any level of push back and dissent, including their fellow member? the question remains, how long will the current Mayor allow them to continue their mean-spirited campaign to discredit anyone in their way without reining them in or asking for their resignations. you know the names, no need to repeat them.

  3. POSTED BY Cary Africk  |  January 18, 2014 @ 8:10 am

    This is an important article, and I thank Georgette for a great reporting job, especially in ferreting out the letters from the board.

    But, folks, this is an article about IT. It is about networks and computer systems.

    It is not about common core, or high stakes testing, or how teachers are treated. All these are extremely important issues and I have wide agreement with many of the comments being made here and elsewhere.

    But I spent my career surrounded by superb IT people and systems. so I talk here about IT.

    The question for me is this:

    We have basically a $200MM organization (school plus municipality). Is this organization, from an IT and systems perspective, sufficiently funded and adequately staffed? Are there enough senior IT people, with experience that goes beyond Montclair? Do we invest enough in hiring the right people — people who are going to earn salaries competitive to what good people on the “outside” earn?

    On the Town side, the Town Manager is responsible for making this happen.

    On the BOE side, the Superintendent and the Business Manager are responsible for making this happen.

    This is not about who Jerry Fried or Robert Jackson appointed to the BOE.

    It’s about building, operating, and maintaining an IT organization with great people.

  4. POSTED BY dan tanna  |  January 18, 2014 @ 9:34 am

    Jerry Fried miserably failed. Discounting all the other things that went wrong in his tenure, show me one bike lane in Montclair or one real example of Montclair going greener. Funny that during his tenure, bike lanes sprouted all over the city.

    The current mayor is little better and likely worse, once all his buddies build their horrific developments. We seem doomed to either have folks with no clue or with not-so-hidden agendas on board. It strikes me that this is a consequence of the salary, which attracts either people who can’t get good jobs or people who want to use it for their own financial agendas.

    Who appointed the BOE members doesn’t matter. These appointments should be made from and by people who pay money to keep their children in the system, in other words, taxpayers in town!

    An IT organization with great people? Last I heard the head of our network commuted in from Colorado every now and then. I’m sure, he’s great. I’m also sure Cary, that the Mayor will listen to you and throw scads of our tax money at the system and it’ll wind up even worse.

    Corruption and incompetence. The hallmarks of New Jersey government.

  5. POSTED BY fishoutofvodka  |  January 18, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

    The funniest thing about this new drama is that Mr. Tabakin, MBOE’s attorney, wrote the following sentence–presumably with a straight face: “Despite your sweeping accusations of surreptitious conduct and unauthorized “high-level” breaches, no objective facts were provided to validate your claims.”

    I guess that means he’s the only one who is allowed to do this? So many thoughts about pots and kettles, geese and ganders, motes and beams, and glass houses right now…

  6. POSTED BY Cary Africk  |  January 18, 2014 @ 1:22 pm

    I can’t speak for the BOE, but the Town has shown little desire to invest in IT, including people, at a level commensurate with the task that needs to be done.

    Money will not be thrown at the problem, because the decision makers don’t see that there is a problem.

    My “guess” for the BOE is that they WILL change, and will improve. The new business manager for the BOE has the experience to know what is required, and I think the new superintendent, once she gets her head above water, will invest.

  7. POSTED BY montclairpublic  |  January 18, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

    Cary,your faith in the super and the board is based on…..what?

  8. POSTED BY fishoutofvodka  |  January 18, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

    I don’t have much of an opinion about the super–other than I think she’s inexperienced at being a superintendent and that the Broad’s unaccredited 12-weekend Ph.D. was probably insufficient to prepare her. She might catch on and be great. She might not.

    But do you really, REALLY think the MBOE or their lawyer should be trusted with the town’s data, Cary? They’ve demonstrated a shocking lack of regard for the rights of private citizens. And while we might well have a problem with the IT in this town, I’m certainly not taking Mr. Tabakin’s word for it. He seems to be doing lots of things for the MBOE which magically result in legal trouble that then requires still more of his services (i.e., billable hours). And he said himself he’s not a cyber security expert.

    Also, as Mr. Karasick pointed out, it’s ILLEGAL for them to use their security consultants in the way they did–and no one on the MBOE or their lawyer seemed to know this.

  9. POSTED BY walleroo  |  January 18, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

    A bunch of bums on both sides. Bad Penny’s troops vs. the clowns who appointed them and her. This crowd deserves each other.

    Yup. Bunch of f#@king losers.

  10. POSTED BY Cary Africk  |  January 18, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

    The BOE has a good, new, Business Manager. I believe he knows what needs to be done to achieve the proper technology and management and I believe Penny will support him in this. It’s not her job to run technology.

    This shouldn’t be about “trusting” people with data. It’s all so confusing and we need OUTSIDE consultants to figure things out.

    We need outside eyes.

  11. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  January 18, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

    fishoutofvodka,
    I think you missed Cary Africk’s underlying point….the township doesn’t care about their data.
    For that matter, the MPS doesn’t seem to care that much either.

    Since Target, Neiman-Marcus and CitiBank don’t see to care about their 100MM “guests”, why would we insist our little municipality be accountable?

    PS: per the current “rules of the road” in Montclair, we need to fire the Council and the BOE. The only untainted groups are the MEA & the MPA.

  12. POSTED BY fishoutofvodka  |  January 18, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

    But it IS about trusting people with data. That’s not my opinion. That’s the law.

    And it’s not confusing. There is a law about who can have access to specific information on the town server. Security consultants hired by the MBOE violated this law at least twice.

    Did they mean to? Probably not. Did they access any information they shouldn’t have? Probably not. Did they violate the law anyway. Yes. Was Mr. Karasick correct to point this out? Yes.

    Should outside consultants be hired to come in and straighten up the server? Possibly. Should these outside consultants have the proper authorization and clearances in accordance with the law? Yes. Should the outside consultants hired by the MBOE be given access to the servers? No because they don’t have the proper clearances, which makes it illegal.

    Should Mr. Tabakin keep complaining about people who make accusations about high-level security breaches when no objective facts validate these claims? Yes, but only because his hypocrisy here is very, very funny.

    Is the business manager for the BOE good? I hope so. I also hope he’s got a level head, a bit of common sense, and some integrity, because this situation could use it.

  13. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  January 18, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

    That’s not the law. I have no idea what your referencing.

  14. POSTED BY fishoutofvodka  |  January 18, 2014 @ 8:42 pm

    @FrankRubacky,

    Seriously? Try this:

    “The Township has learned that during the last week and possibly longer, the Montclair Board of Education (“MBOE”) repeatedly gave high-level access to confidential information located in our shared databases and servers to unauthorized persons in violation of the New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines – Shared Municipal and Police Computer Systems, and other federal and state regulations governing the confidentiality of information.”

  15. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  January 18, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

    Hysterical. The executive branch can now create laws?
    When did guidelines issued by another lawyer to other lawyers become laws.
    Do your research better.

  16. POSTED BY fishoutofvodka  |  January 18, 2014 @ 11:48 pm

    Um…work on your reading comprehension skills, maybe? Discover what “state and federal regulations” means. Also “governing.”

  17. POSTED BY dan tanna  |  January 18, 2014 @ 11:49 pm

    If that’s true, I hope that the police investigate the MBOE members and Bad Penny. This may be a criminal cyber attack from one bunch of self-proclaimed “rogues” on town data. Who knows what they’ve done with that information.

  18. POSTED BY Cary Africk  |  January 19, 2014 @ 7:54 am

    Both the BOE and the Town certainly do care about their data — seeing that it is accurate and access to it allowed only by those authorized properly.

    My comments are simple. IT and networking are complicated. I’m talking about the technical side of things. And to get them to work properly, which includes security and access, you need to have qualified staff. And to get qualified staff, and sufficient staff numbers, you have to be willing to pay the going rate. Excellent people are expensive. The alternative is even more expensive.

  19. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  January 19, 2014 @ 10:30 am

    fishoutofvodka,
    I’m sorry I was snotty. My problem with your original comment was that Mr Karasick never said the MPS broke the law.

    I think Mr Karasick’s letter is a little bombast. Lawyers tend to lead with their strongest argument. When they make the transition using the word “other…” this & that, this tells me they are leaving other possible options open by making a general disclaimer.

    I looked at the NJ AG’s guidelines which came out in 2000. Naptster was just hitting the mainstream! My reading leads me to believe that Montclair Municipal did not even follow the guidelines they are now arguing with. Also, off the subject, it is just fascinating is how far the US government has come from DOJ’s Carnivore to the breadth & scope of the NSA.

    The letter shouldn’t have been sent when a phone call would have done fine. Didn’t anyone read the Council’s resolution asking for the healing to start?

    PS: Cary A is right about the technology staffing issues. Shared services with other governments may be the answer. In this day of cloud computing, we can seek out partners pretty much anywhere in the USA.

  20. POSTED BY walleroo  |  January 19, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

    Gone are the days when Baristakids was a ghost town.

  21. POSTED BY fishoutofvodka  |  January 19, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

    @Frank Rubacky,

    Sorry I was snotty right back. I actually share your concern about bad feelings between the township and the school board–but I was focusing on how the MBOE seemed to have hired consultants to muck around with the server without notifying the township that it was doing so.

  22. POSTED BY montclairpublic  |  January 19, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

    Again: who has this BOE actually gotten along with and not tried to steamroll?
    the teacher aides? no
    the MEA president? not quite
    the teachers: try again
    its one dissenting member? uh, nay
    its colorado-based IT person who had the audacity to shed some light on the assessments to the local paper? next
    the town council? oops
    the 500-plus parents and others who signed the petition asking a slowdown to the testing? dismissed
    anonymous bloggers? be silent or else!
    we could go on….

  23. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  January 20, 2014 @ 8:08 am

    Yes, but can we also expect lane closures on Orange Road this week?

  24. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  January 20, 2014 @ 8:25 am

    My head is spinning. Can someone let me know when there will be an info session to keep track of all of this?

    Better still, don’t.

  25. POSTED BY assessmentgate  |  January 23, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

    With the 2nd round of our Superintendent’s assessment tests about to hit our children, here’s some info that’s worth pondering:

    Penny MacCormack was the Chief Academic Officer for Hartford Public Schools in Hartford, CT from 2008 through 2010. According to her resume (which I’ve just come across), her accomplishments included producing “Hartford’s highest rate of student achievement growth as evidenced by state assessment scores for three consecutive years.”

    This success was cited as a primary reason for why she was hired by the NJDOE in 2011. But a closer look at the reality behind her accomplishments in Hartford reveals an unusual tactic that made the stellar results possible.

    In March of ’11, Robert Cotto Jr. wrote an editorial in the Hartford Courant entitled “Hartford’s Claim of School Success Flawed”. Cotto is a lecturer on contemporary education at Central Connecticut State University and an elected member of the Hartford Board of Education:

    “To be sure, teachers’, parents’ and students’ hard work resulted in modest gains. But the largest factor in test score increases over the past two years was excluding special needs students from the regular tests.

    Hartford’s school leaders offered the improved test scores as validation of their reforms. The apparently increased rates became a green light to continue flawed policies…

    If scores lagged, schools were closed, students were dispersed, parents were ignored and educators were fired. If test scores improved, the schools remained open. School and central office employees earned bonuses if test scores increased. In 2010, this ‘merit’ pay amounted to $2.77 million dollars.

    Most disturbingly, the test score inflation led the public to believe that the current reforms improved the quality of education. Proponents of school choice, charter schools and test-based accountability schemes point to Hartford as a national model for change. On the contrary, Hartford’s model, based on the single-measure of student test scores, is an example of a poor reform policy. It is a model pioneered in the 1990s in Houston and now widely recognized as a fraud — what Walter Haney, a researcher of evaluation systems, called an ‘illusion arising from exclusion’.”

    Questions:
    • Why did MacCormack implement this misleading testing methodology in Hartford?
    • Does her “Strategic Plan” for Montclair also exclude special needs students from the assessment tests as a way of artificially boosting overall scores for the district? If so, is the BOE aware of this, and do they support it?

    Links:

    -NJDOE Commissioner hires MacCormack – http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/11/1016/2139/

    -Hartford Courant editorial – http://articles.courant.com/2011-03-01/news/hc-op-cotto-hartford-schools-0301-20110301_1_test-scores-proficiency-rates-students

    -Robert Cotto Jr. LinkedIn – http://www.linkedin.com/pub/robert-cotto-jr/12/644/816

    -Walter Haney “myth of Texas miracle in education” quote – http://books.google.com/books?id=J57RKj6SpucC&pg=PA72&lpg=PA72&dq=walter+haney+illusion+arising+from+exclusion&source=bl&ots=ENmYjR6GPy&sig=LjKbNXigNqetW6rJ5UgR_gt0YXw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=T33ZUomAA83JsQTm_YHIAw&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=walter%20haney%20illusi&f=false

  26. POSTED BY State Street Pete  |  January 24, 2014 @ 11:24 am

    “Fortunately, the next [Hartford] superintendent can end the policy of using standardized test scores as a single measurement for evaluating schools. Along with the school board, the superintendent can transform our district into one that is more inclusive of parents’ and educators’ opinions.” – Well that sounds familiar. Seems the good people of Hartford had the same reaction to MacCormack that many Montclair folks are having now.

  27. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  January 24, 2014 @ 9:04 pm

    Being the good Progressive I think I am, the terms “inclusive” and “transparency” should be relegated to a high place in one of our decades past. Frankly, the NSA has essentially made the terms a given.

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