Sean Spiller


President, New Jersey Education Association
Mayor of Montclair, NJ

Political Party:

Democratic Party

Associated Organizations:

New Jersey Education Association


Montclaire, NJ

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Sean Spiller is the president of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), a left-of-center labor union that claims to represent more than 200,000 educators in New Jersey. 1 He is also the elected mayor of Montclair, New Jersey, which he accomplished using significant union political funding and where he has been accused of favoring the interests of NJEA members over local students, parents and taxpayers. 2

Education and History

Sean Spiller is a graduate of Rutgers University who became a high school science teacher after a brief post-graduation role as an assistant sports editor for the Associated Press. 3 He has been active in union roles since 2005, becoming secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) in 2013, vice president in 2017, and president in 2021. 4

Under Spiller, the NJEA is one of the most politically powerful organizations in New Jersey, and was credited with combining major donations and “get out the vote” efforts by its members to secure the closer-than-expected reelection of Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in 2021. 5 6 7 8

In 2020, Politico reported that he had sought to be named Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education by then-President-elect Joe Biden. 9 In 2022, he launched “Protecting our Democracy,” a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization similar to those formed by previous candidates for governor in New Jersey. 10

Union and Elected Roles

Spiller is a Democratic elected official in Montclair, New Jersey, having first won election to its city council in 2012. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), its leadership and its affiliated political action committees have supported Spiller’s electoral efforts, with Spiller’s 2020 campaign receiving $7,900 directly from NJEA PAC, $5,500 from the former NJEA president and her husband, and $8,000 from a local NJEA affiliate. 11 A slate of candidates that included Spiller has also received $41,000 from NJEA PAC, 81 percent of the total donations the PAC received during the campaigns. 12

As president of the NJEA, Spiller has promoted a variety of pro-union positions including reducing the required college grade point average for teachers in New Jersey from 3.0 to 2.5. 13

In 2016, a group of parents successfully sued to remove Spiller from his role on the local government board that approved school district budgets, arguing that he could not be trusted to operate in the best interests of taxpayers. 14 15 A judge agreed with the plaintiffs that Spiller’s role with the NJEA created the potential for a conflict of interest with his governmental role. 16

2020 Election Controversy

In Montclair, the city council member elected with the most votes becomes the township mayor. In 2020, Spiller won election as mayor by just 195 votes in an election that was held entirely by mail-in ballot because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The election results were controversial because 1,101 ballots, comprising 9.1 percent of the ballots cast, were disqualified by elections officials. 17 This included 60 ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but were not delivered by the U.S. Postal Service until after a 48-hour post-election deadline to count votes had passed, and another 614 that had late postmarks or no postmarks, which some local observers blamed on the main Montclair post office having closed for four hours on the day before Election Day. 18

The second-place candidate filed a challenge alleging a variety of problems with the election’s management, including undelivered or mis-delivered ballots, the closure of the city’s main post office on the day before the election, insufficient transparency and 222 rejections for signature mismatches. 19 The League of Women Voters of New Jersey and NAACP New Jersey State Conference, among other organizations, also filed legal challenges calling for disqualified votes to be counted, but judges rejected their arguments.

The League of Women Voters organized a protest outside Spiller’s swearing-in ceremony, which was unexpectedly officiated by Spiller’s political ally New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy (D) in a process that was described by journalists as “unusual by any standard.”  20 Later that day, Spiller joined Murphy at a bill signing ceremony for legislation promoted by the NJEA that reduced teachers’ share of their health care premium costs. 21

Conflicts of Interest as Mayor

Spiller’s role as mayor created controversy in Montclair, as at the time of his election the mayor had effective control over the city’s schools as the person responsible for appointing the members of the local Board of Education (BOE). In 2021, former Montclair Board of Education member Sergio Gonzalez accused Spiller of letting the Montclair Education Association teacher’s union control district policy, saying, “I absolutely can say that the MEA leadership has worked tirelessly to usurp the BOE’s legal status as the decisive policy-setting power in the district, and in this effort has been almost totally successful. While the Board of Education is, according to law, the local body that sets school policy, the BOE’s power and independence today is to a great extent fictional.” 22 Another former board member called Gonzalez’s criticisms “completely consistent with my experience and that of others on the board.” 23

In the 2021 election, Gonzalez campaigned for a measure in which Montclair’s residents voted by a wide margin to have members of Montclair’s Board of Education selected by public election, rather than appointed by Spiller or future mayors. 24


In late 2020, the Montclair Board of Education announced a post-pandemic plan to begin partially re-opening schools in January 2021. However, NJEA member teachers refused to return to classrooms, boycotting preparatory sessions despite 60 percent of public schools in the state already having returned to some form of in-person instruction. 25

The NJEA sponsored a letter-writing campaign by residents to encourage the schools to stay closed, but in February the school district sued the local NJEA affiliate regardless, alleging that the teachers were engaged in an illegal strike. 26 27 A state judge refused the school district’s request for an immediate injunction to force the teachers to abide by school district policies, and in March the school board and teachers’ union settled the suit with plans to partially reopen classrooms in April, three months later than originally planned. 28

In May 2021, Gov. Murphy lifted New Jersey’s mask mandate, but the NJEA continued to advocate for children, staff and visitors to be masked in schools. 29 Spiller was criticized at the time for advocating for school mask requirements while being frequently photographed at events where he and other attendees, including elderly people at far higher statistical risk than young students, did not wear masks. 30


  1. “” New Jersey Education Association. July 3, 2023.
  2.  Agaton Strom, “Parents Sue to Remove Teachers Union Official from Local Board,” The Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2016,
  3. Patrick Rumaker, “From Mentors to Members,” New Jersey Education Association, August 31, 2021,
  4. “President,” New Jersey Education Association, August 31, 2022,
  5. Jeff Pilletts, “How A Teachers Union Puts Its Stamp on NJ Politics,” NJ Spotlight News, October 27, 2021,
  6. Matt Friedman, “NJEA Contributed $2.5m to Murphy-Aligned ‘dark Money’ Group,” POLITICO, May 20, 2019,
  7. “No. 10: Sean Spiller,” NJBIZ, September 20, 2021,
  8. “In Close Election, NJEA Members Make the Difference as Students Get a Win,” New Jersey Education Association, November 5, 2021,
  9. Carly Sitrin, “NJEA’s Sean Spiller Making the Rounds for a Job as Biden’s Education Secretary,” POLITICO, December 1, 2020,
  10.  Joey Fox, “Spiller, NJEA Form New ‘protecting Our Democracy’ Organization,” New Jersey Globe, October 19, 2022,
  11. Winters, Jaimie. “Watchdog Think Tank Targets Spiller.” Montclair Local. May 6, 2020.
  12. Winters, Jaimie. “NJEA Critic: Mayor Spiller ‘Siding with His Union’ Not Montclair.” Montclair Local. February 5, 2021.
  13.  Harry Lee and Sean Spiller, “It’s Time for DOE to End the Teacher Shortage,” NJ Spotlight News, March 2, 2023,
  14. Agaton Strom, “Parents Sue to Remove Teachers Union Official from Local Board,” The Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2016,
  15. Stephen Sawchuk, “Should Teachers’ Union Officials Help Approve the Budget?,” Education Week, November 20, 2020,
  16. Dan Ivers, “Judge Ousts State Teachers’ Union Exec from Local Board,”, February 23, 2016,
  17.  Julia Martin, “Montclair Gets New Mayor, but Rally over Uncounted Ballots Precedes Swearing In,” North Jersey Media Group, July 1, 2020,
  18. Julia Martin, “Montclair Gets New Mayor, but Rally over Uncounted Ballots Precedes Swearing In,” North Jersey Media Group, July 1, 2020,
  19. Julia Martin, “Montclair Gets New Mayor, but Rally over Uncounted Ballots Precedes Swearing In,” North Jersey Media Group, July 1, 2020,
  20. Julia Martin, “Gov. Phil Murphy Makes Surprise Appearance in Montclair to Swear in Sean Spiller as Mayor,” North Jersey Media Group, July 2, 2020,
  21. Ashley Balcerzak, “NJ Public Teachers Will Be Offered Less Expensive Health Insurance after Murphy Signs Bill,” North Jersey Media Group, July 1, 2020,
  22. Jon Meredith, “Former Wayne Teacher and Current Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller Responds to Criticisms,” TapInto Montclair, April 23, 2021,
  23. [1] Erin Roll, Talia Weiner, and Louis C. Hochman, “Montclair Mayor: Claims I Let Union Run School Board ‘False and Puzzling,’” Montclair Local News, April 20, 2021,
  24.  Andrew Rice, “New Jersey’s Education Rebellion Was a Long Time Coming,” New York Magazine, November 5, 2021,
  25.  Tully, Tracey. “Schools Were Set to Reopen. Then the Teachers’ Union Stepped in.” New York Times. January 25, 2021.
  26. Hochman, Louis C. “800-Plus People Urge Montclair to Delay Reopening Schools.” Montclair Local. January 19, 2021.
  27. Hochman, Louis C. “Lawsuit: Montclair Schools Accuse Teachers of Strike,’ as Remote Learning Continues.” Montclair Local. February 3, 2021. learning-continues/
  28.  Julia Martin, “Montclair and Teachers Union Reach Tentative Settlement for Students to Return to School,” North Jersey Media Group, March 10, 2021,
  29. Rob Jennings, “N.J.’s Largest Teachers’ Union Still Wants Masks in Schools,”, May 20, 2021,
  30. Kristin Sinclair, “Dear NJEA President Sean Spiller,” Chaos and Control, January 12, 2022,
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