ROSELLE, NJ — The school board approved the contract of the new interim superintendent and announced it has selected a new assistant superintendent, trying to restore stability after a recent succession of resignations, suspensions, firings, investigations and a forensic audit.
The board voted to hire James Baker as its interim superintendent at its July 23 meeting.
When Baker was selected by a straw vote by the board members July 7, he became 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 the top administrator in June 2017, announced his resignation in May. June 30 was his final day on the job.
He was followed by Richard Brockel, who was hired on an interim basis. Brockel started work July 2, but on the morning of July 6, he told Roselle Board of Education President Patricia Fabrizio that he was stepping down because of personal reasons.
Lissette Gonzalez-Perez, who formerly served as principal of the Harrison Elementary School in Roselle, has been selected as the assistant superintendent, Fabrizio said in a July 24 telephone interview.
With Baker and Gonzalez-Perez in place, the “board can start to move forward,” Fabrizio said.
In particular, she said she has been impressed with Baker’s enthusiasm and professionalism, and cited Baker’s ability to quickly choose an assistant superintendent as a reason to believe he will bring “a lot of stability” to the board.
“He really did come in and hit the ground running,” Fabrizio said. “He’s gotten everything organized, especially because no one knew he was there. Really, nobody knew, and thank God, because he took all the applicants for the assistant … and he called them all in.
“That’s the first thing he did. And, he did all the interviews and he hired who he truly thought was the best person for the job without being influenced by anyone in the community, so to speak, or board members or anyone at all. He said our internal staff, our staff, our candidates are very talented. He loved them all and he had a checklist for his hiring. So, I’m very pleased with him myself.”
Anthony Juskiewicz was hired as the board’s business administrator at the meeting, board attorney Allan Roth confirmed July 25. Juskiewicz had previously been listed as the acting business administrator on the Roselle Board of Education website.
The previous business administrator, Jason Jones, and his assistant, Jade Wilson, were placed on administrative leave in January by Corbett. The two were later dismissed, Roth said.
LocalSource obtained a copy of a letter Roth sent to the state Board of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance in March which said Corbett discovered purchase orders had been placed on school board agendas months after payments were made, with Corbett’s signature forged on the purchases.
Roth said the Union County Prosecutor’s Office asked for and was given a copy of a forensic audit into the spending by the school district last year.
A copy of the audit obtained by LocalSource seemed to show that someone used district funds to purchase two pickup trucks, Apple watches and other items.
The audit called the lease purchase of two Ford F-150 trucks “questionable.” According to the audit, the lease agreement for the trucks — totaling $86,647 — was executed by the school business administrator. The down payment of $20,823 was paid with a manual check executed by the administrator “without any prior board approval,” the audit said.
The audit, which was conducted by Bayonne-based Donohue, Gironda, Doria & Tomkins and dated April 26, states the four-year lease agreement “was entered into without any board approval.”
It also seemed to reveal several over threshold payments, which state law stipulates must be put to bid because they exceed a certain amount; in the Roselle School District, that amount is $40,000, Roth said.
It has been a tumultuous year for the Roselle Board of Education, going back to January, when board member Arthur Rice resigned. On Jan. 29, only four members attended a scheduled meeting, leaving the board one short needed for a quorum; the agenda called for the appointment of a new school board secretary, approval of the board’s meeting schedule for the entire year and several field trips. The board later split on several measures, including picks for board president and vice president and Interim Executive County Superintendent Juan Torres was to determine the school board president and vice president.
Board Secretary Dorian Timmons also resigned in January.
The board eventually voted to appoint Courtney Washington to fill Rice’s vacant seat after a round of public interviews.