Roselle school board OKs disputed firm for audit

ROSELLE, NJ — The school board has voted to appoint the controversial Bayonne-based firm Donohue, Doria & Tomkins to conduct a forensic audit after previously deciding not to use the company.

The firm was hired at a March 13 special meeting to conduct a forensic audit for the period of Jan. 1, 2017 to Jan. 31 of this year for a price not to exceed $28,000, according to the resolution.

The review was called for after former school board business administrator Jason Jones and his secretary were “relieved of their responsibilities” effective Jan. 30, the superintendent previously said.

School board member Archange Antoine abstained from the vote, while Keyanna Lovett voted against it. Richard Villeda did not take his seat at the dais until after the board had already voted on the agenda’s only measure.

Roll call was taken after the vote by the school board attorney’s assistant, Mark DiPisa, when residents attending the meeting reminded school board officials that it was needed.

It appears the firm began work in the district before a contract for a special auditor appeared on an agenda for the board’s approval.
Reading what appeared to be a written statement, school board President Patricia Fabrizio said at the board’s Feb. 8 meeting: “The board can confirm that we have hired an outside auditing firm to conduct a forensic audit and that the forensic audit has already begun. As this matter involves investigation (and) potential matters of personnel, the board, its members and employees cannot discuss the matter any further at this time.”

School board attorney Allan Roth, who was not at the Feb. 8 meeting, told LocalSource the next day that Donohue, Doria
& Tomkins had been chosen. A resolution for the firm did not appear on the agenda until Feb. 26, after LocalSource inquired about it.
The Feb. 26 school board meeting lasted until almost 2 a.m the next day. A vote for the forensic auditor wasn’t taken until about 1 a.m., as members of the audience shouted while board members voted.

Roth, who was struggling to keep a tally of votes, said the measure did not pass in a 5-4 vote against the firm, although he couldn’t “recall” how each member had voted.

Donohue, Doria & Tomkins recently audited the Bayonne School District and initially found a $2 million deficit, until the state later discovered the hole never existed, The Jersey Journal reported in November 2017.

The Feb. 26 resolution said the Bayonne firm “has an excellent reputation in the area of public school auditing.” That resolution originally called for the firm’s compensation not to exceed $25,000, or $3,000 less than what was approved at the March 13 meeting.

The school board also took a voice vote Feb. 26 to have its counsel contact the state Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance to investigate its central office. State Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple told LocalSource on March 2 that the state planned to meet with local school officials soon.

“The DOE’s goal is to assist school districts and provide technical support whenever possible,” Yaple said March 2. “In fact, staff from the DOE plan to meet with local school officials in the near future.”
In other business, DiPisa gave newly appointed school board member Courtney Washingington her oath of office again during the March 13 meeting.

He explained that although Washington had been sworn in at the Feb. 26 meeting, she had not signed her oath. DiPisa told school board members that all Washington’s votes at the Feb. 26 still count.

Washington was appointed by school board members after Arthur Rice abruptly resigned in January, causing the board to stall on most measures due to a 4-4 split.