ROSELLE, NJ — It was a half hour past midnight when school board member Richard Villeda came out of an executive session and told residents to “call the police.”
“Everybody … fighting,” the visibly upset Villeda said aloud as he headed toward the exit doors in the Abraham Clark High School auditorium. He eventually took his seat on the dais at the urging of residents.
Authorities were not called in during the early morning hours when tensions ran high and board members struggled to understand or properly vote on agenda items. But it was a startling moment during a nearly seven-hour meeting, which began at 7 p.m. on Feb. 26 and ended about 1:45 a.m.
The struggling school board — which in recent months could not hold a meeting or pass many measures due to a lack of quorum — faces a number of issues.
One school board member and the board secretary abruptly resigned in recent months, and those positions were not filled until the Feb. 26 meeting.
The board’s former business administrator and his assistant last month were also “relieved of their responsibilities,” Superintendent Richard Corbett said previously. Now, a Bayonne-based accounting firm has begun a forensic audit to investigate “misappropriations of funds,” school board President Patricia Fabrizio said Feb. 26.
However, the hiring of the accounting firm, Donohue, Gironda, Doria & Tomkins, had not been approved when Fabrizio first announced this during the Feb. 6 board meeting.
The firm’s appointment was on the agenda for Feb. 26, but it was unclear if it was approved by board members.
Most votes during the meeting were confusing and hard to follow, including one to approve the firm. Many measures were pulled from the consent agenda, voted down separately, and then reconsidered for another vote while the audience and board members shouted over each other.
Allan Roth struggled to keep track of many votes. His initial tally showed that the firm was approved, then he said it wasn’t. Roth told LocalSource the following morning that board members voted 5-4 against the contract, but he couldn’t “recall” how each board member voted.
Former Roselle Mayor Garrett Smith previously called the firm “politically connected” and some residents raised concerns about its work in other school districts. The firm previously said it had found a $2 million deficit in the Bayonne School District although the state later discovered the district was never actually in a hole, The Jersey Journal reported in November.
A message left with a secretary at the firm’s office in Bayonne on Feb. 27 was not returned by deadline this week.
Meanwhile, two representatives from a separate accounting firm, Suplee, Clooney & Co., presented an annual audit for the period of July 2016 to July 2017. One resident called the firm’s findings a “horror show.”
According to Steve McDermott, one of the company’s representatives, seven bids last year were made above the board’s threshold. In one case, $350,000 was spent on heating and air conditioning, though the threshold was only $40,000.
“There were some bids that were overbid,” McDermott said. “We asked for some documentation. It wasn’t provided to us.”
Suplee, Clooney & Co. also found that the board treasurer’s reports were never reconciled. Instead of the the treasurer filing monthly reports, the reports were “cleaned up” at the end of the year, McDermott said. Several district vendors also never received 1099 tax forms, the auditors said.
In other business, the board was able to move ahead on some pivotal measures, such as filling a vacant school board seat and appointing a new administrator and secretary.
Courtney Washington was appointed by board members to fill the vacant seat created when Arthur Rice resigned in January. Washington is a member of the Roselle Chamber of Commerce, runs her own boutique marketing agency and is the founder of Bold Community Care Services, a nonprofit organization that advocates for children with disabilities.
John D’Angelo, who served as the district’s business administrator from 1994 to 2008, was appointed as the new administrator and secretary.
During this week’s meeting, D’Angelo warned of a state takeover after confusion reigned with regard to approving the bill list. The bill list eventually was “reconsidered” after a no vote, and all the bill items on the agenda were approved, according to Roth.
“You’re going to have a hundred lawsuits on your hands with all kinds of collection agencies, and our credit will go down too,” D’Angelo said. “The county — the state government — is going to step in. I can tell you right now, you’re triggering incentive and they don’t like to get involved in local districts.”
He added that the state, “can replace everybody: me, the superintendent, the board, everybody. They have total authority.”
The board also approved an annual meeting schedule, which had not been passed at the reorganization meeting Jan. 8. However, the board has yet to approve a schedule of work session meetings, during which most agenda items for regular meetings are generally discussed.
The next regular meeting is scheduled for March 26 at 7 p.m. in Abraham Clark High School.