ROSELLE, NJ — James Baker has been selected as the interim superintendent of schools, making him the third man to hold the title in little more than a week.
Richard Corbett, who served on an interim basis for about six months before officially being appointed as top administrator in June 2017, announced his resignation in May, and his final day on the job was Saturday, June 30.
Corbett was followed by Richard Brockel, who was hired on an interim basis and started work Monday, July 2. However, on the morning of July 6, Brockel told school board president Patricia Fabrizio that he was stepping down because of personal reasons.
Fabrizio said Baker was strongly considered for the interim superintendent position at the time Brockel was hired.
“We are very fortunate the interview process was just a couple of weeks ago and the gentleman, our second runner-up, is still interested,” Fabrizio said in a phone interview with LocalSource on Friday, July 6, before Baker’s selection by the Roselle Board of Education. “It is an interim position, so we needed somebody in there we feel has a lot of experience to put together the central office so that we can keep the district moving forward. And then at some point, when he’s in there and comfortable, we will be conducting interviews for a long-term permanent superintendent.”
Baker can be officially hired at the July 23 school board meeting, but the board will also will have to search for an assistant superintendent after Shakirah Harrington announced her resignation Tuesday, June 28.
Fabrizio hopes Baker will help stabilize the district after it has been rocked by resignations, suspensions, firings, investigations and a forensic audit into its recent finances. The audit of the spending by the school district last year appears to show that district funds were used to purchase two vehicles, Apple watches and other items without the approval of the board or superintendent.
A copy of the audit obtained by LocalSource called the lease purchase of two Ford F-150 pickup trucks “questionable.” According to the audit, the lease agreement for the trucks totaling $86,647 was executed by the school business administrator and the down payment of $20,823 was paid with a manual check executed by the administrator “without any prior board approval.”
The audit, conducted by the Bayonne-based accounting firm Donohue, Gironda, Doria & Tomkins and dated April 26, states the four-year vehicle lease agreement “was entered into without any board approval.”
As previously reported, LocalSource also obtained a copy of a letter board attorney Allan Roth sent to the state Board of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance in March.
According to the letter, Corbett discovered purchase orders had been placed on school board agendas months after payments were made. Corbett’s signature was forged on those purchases, it said.
Corbett placed business administrator Jason Jones and his assistant, Jade Wilson, on administrative leave in January.
Board Secretary Dorian Timmons also resigned in January.
The Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance, at the request of Roth, has begun an investigation into the Roselle School District. And according to Roth, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office requested a copy of the audit, which also revealed several “over threshold” payments, which state law stipulates must be put out to bid because they exceed a specified amount — $40,000 in Roselle’s case, Roth said.
Jones, a member of the board of education in Neptune Township, is being investigated by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. According to a copy of the complaint obtained by The LocalSource, the commission is trying to determine if Jones and three others “failed to comply with the New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act.” Among the five counts contained in the complaint are findings that Jones, Michelle Allen Moss, Scott Fields and Donna Puryear, who formed the Neptune Legacy 2013 group, failed to report or incorrectly reported thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in 2013 when they ran for positions on the Neptune Township Board of Education.
The complaint, dated Wednesday, April 11, and signed by Gail L. Shanker, assistant legal counsel, was filed against Jones as a candidate and as a treasurer for the group. The complaint offered Jones and the others “an opportunity for a hearing,” but it is unclear whether that occurred. In a phone interview on Friday, July 6, investigator Danielle Hacker said it is commission policy to not comment on investigations.
Monica Kowalski-Lodato, former vice president of the Neptune Board of Education, said she had asked Jones during a public workshop meeting if it would be in the best interest of Neptune for him to resign, but he declined to do so.
“I eagerly await the results of the Union County Prosecutor’s investigation,” Kowalski-Lodato, said.
Roth said Jones and Wilson no longer work in the Roselle School District. Calls to Jones’ cell phone and home were not answered.
It has been a tumultuous year for the Roselle Board of Education, going back to Tuesday, Jan. 29, when not enough board members were present to hold a scheduled meeting. Only four members attended, leaving the board one short needed for a quorum; the agenda for that meeting called for the appointment of a new school board secretary, and approval the board’s meeting schedule for the entire year as well as several field trips.
Roselle Board of Education members Keyanna Jones, Jonathan Davis, Archange Antoine and Angela Wimbush attended the scheduled meeting. The other members were not present due to illness, work or family emergencies, Roth told LocalSource in a phone interview.
After board member Arthur Rice resigned, the board split 4-4 on several measures, including picks for board president and vice president. In the result of such a split, Interim Executive County Superintendent Juan Torres was to determine the school board president and vice president.
However, school board members told LocalSource that the legality of the oath of office for Keyanna Jones at the reorganization meeting was then contested, so the votes for board president and vice president were retroactively considered 4-3 instead of being split evenly.
Keyanna Jones had been sworn in by her partner, Rev. Barry Walker, at the Jan. 8 meeting. A person she has declined to identify apparently notified the county superintendent that a minister is not authorized to administer the oath of office. She was officially sworn in again soon afterward.
The board eventually appointed Courtney Washington to fill Rice’s vacant seat after a round of public interviews.