HILLSIDE, NJ — Board of Education member-elect Dennis Kobitz has been disqualified from his three-year term after a background check revealed an unspecified criminal offense.
Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple, who confirmed Kobitz’s disqualification, said that when a town’s board of education is notified of the ineligibility, they aren’t given many details.
“The department only tells the district that there is a disqualifying offense and the person cannot work or serve as board member in the district,” Yaple said in an email on Dec. 13. “But the department does not divulge the nature of the offense.”
State law requires that all new school employees and school board members to undergo a criminal history background check within 30 days of election or appointment. Disqualifying offenses include: a conviction for a first- or second-degree crime, crimes involving force or the threat of force against a person or property and anything involving the manufacture, transportation, sale, possession, distribution or habitual use of drugs.
When contacted by LocalSource, Kobitz had no comment about the disqualifying offense and said he wasn’t certain whether he would challenge the disqualification.
“I’m consulting with an attorney and we haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet,” he said in a phone interview on Dec. 14. “It’s under review.”
Kobitz can appeal the disqualification within 14 days of receiving written notice. Yaple said the notice was sent Nov. 30 via the U.S. Postal Service’s next-day delivery service. The appeal would have to challenge the accuracy of the criminal history record information, according to state laws.
Aside from an appeal, a person with a disqualifying offense would only be able to serve if the offense were expunged from their record, according to Yaple. Should the disqualification be valid, the vacancy will be filled by Daryl Palmieri, the interim county superintendent, according to state law.
“Vacancies in the membership of the board shall be filled as follows: by the county superintendent, if the vacancy is caused by the absence of candidates for election to the school board or by the removal of a member because of lack of qualifications, or is not filled within 65 days following its occurrence,” the statute reads.
Current board member Joi Stanley confirmed in a Dec. 17 phone interview that the board received a letter from Palmieri disqualifying Kobitz.
“There’s not much else I can comment on,” Stanley said.
She also said that before the county superintendent chooses the new board member here will be an interview process and that a new member would be appointed before the second board meeting of 2019. There will be a posting regarding the open seat and interested candidates will need to apply before they are interviewed.
“It’s not a seat that will be voted by the board,” Stanley said. “It will come directly from the appointment of the county superintendent once the process is completed.”
Hillside Superintendent Antoine Gayles had no comment when contacted by LocalSource, and messages left for school board President Hawaiian Thompson-Epps and board attorney Derlys Gutierrez were not returned.
Kobitz ran as a part of the “Children First Team” with Kim Cook, Pinchas Shapiro, Laquana Best and current board member Joel Chapman. That team was endorsed by the Hillside Democratic Committee.
“Mr. Kobitz was a major contributor to the vision and overwhelming victory for our endorsed school board candidates last month. Although unfortunate as the situation is, Mr. Kobitz has asked for privacy while he simultaneously seeks legal advice to weigh his options for a possible appeal. We will respect his wish for privacy at this time,” Hillside Democratic Chairman Anthony Salters said in an email on Dec. 14.
Children First won all five open seats in November’s election, with Kobitz receiving 2,706 votes. He, Chapman and Kim were elected for three-year terms and Pinchas and Laquana were elected to one-year terms.
Kobitz is a former school board member, Union County Board of Elections administrator and Legislative Committee member with the New Jersey School Boards Association. He is chairman of the Hillside Zoning Board.
“Respecting Mr. Kobitz’s privacy and as he contemplates his next steps, at this time I will not be commenting on his situation,” Chapman said in an email on Dec. 17.