HILLSIDE, NJ — Allegations of misconduct have surfaced at the Hillside Board of Education. Michael Schwarz, technology manager for the school district, has allegedly violated the School Ethics Act.
An anonymous source in the department, hereafter referred to as Alpha and given male pronouns, told LocalSource in an exclusive interview that Schwarz, who has been with the department for approximately 16 years, allegedly accepted a $6,000 quote for tech training materials from KnowledgeNet, an online IT training company, after KnowledgeNet offered a free Xbox or Surface 3 tablet to each technology department employee.
LocalSource has obtained all emails mentioned in this article to verify these allegations.
The allegations go back to March 14, when Schwarz contacted the rest of the department, informing them that Hillside school district’s business administrator Ken Weinheimer had monies available for the department to use for the acquisition of tech training materials. Schwarz informed his colleagues that he had reached out to Brian Ferry, national account manager of KnowledgeNet.
According to Alpha, CBT Nuggets, another tech training firm was at the top of the list of training firms, and the company was contacted in addition to KnowledgeNet. Demos were presented by both companies, after which it was decided that the department would select CBT Nuggets who offered the training materials for $3500. A purchase order for the training system was then sent to Weinheimer for final approval.
The situation changed a week later, on March 21, when KnowledgeNet’s Ferry contacted Schwarz via email asking whether the department had made a decision, to which Schwarz responded that the department had chosen another company.
At this point, Ferry responded with an offer: “And is there anything we can offer to change their minds?” Ferry asked via email. “Like let’s say an Xbox or Surface 3 with registrations? Their pick one for each person?”
Schwarz then forwarded Ferry’s email to the rest of the department. “They really want our business, LOL!” he wrote in his email to his coworkers. “Read below and let me know what you want to do,” he said, referring to Ferry’s email.
For this story, LocalSource reached out to Ferry who said he would not comment, after which he hung up abruptly.
Schwarz emailed Ferry letting him know that he had forwarded his offer to the other employees in the department. “Mr. Schwarz stated that all four of us, including himself, were getting an Xbox,” Alpha said. “He also explicitly told the department not to mention it to Ken or we could not keep them,” he said, referring to Weinheimer.
Ferry sent Schwarz the list of Xbox bundles they could choose, who then forwarded it to the rest of the department. The list included the “Xbox One Rise of the Tomb Raider Bundle,” “Special Edition Console Quantum Break Bundle,” and “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege Bundle,” among others.
According to Alpha, Weinheimer did not approve the training subscription from KnowledgeNet for the entire year, as agreed upon between Schwarz and Ferry, which led to further email discussions to ensure that the team would still receive the Xboxes.
Schwarz allegedly approached the team, telling them that Weinheimer would not approve the training subscription for an entire year, but that Weinheimer was willing to approve it until July to coincide with the end of the school year. Schwarz allegedly then asked Ferry to change the quote so that it ended in July, which changed the amount to approximately $1,200. According to an April 1 email, Schwarz believed Weinheimer would allow him to renew the contract for the next school year and pay the originally quoted amount of $6,000, at which time the Xbox bundles would be sent out.
Schwarz then informed Ferry in an email that Weinheimer would sign off on the subscription for three months and that although Weinheimer would not sign the agreement then, a PO could be entered for the following year as early as April or May, at which time Schwarz believed Weinheimer would sign the agreement.
When LocalSource reached out to Weinheimer for this story, he said it was a “private matter” and that he could not comment on the allegations.
Alpha and another anonymous source, hereafter referred to as Beta and given male pronouns, maintain that Schwarz had joked with his colleagues that Ferry emailed him saying that he could add the Xboxes to the line items of the quote. Schwarz allegedly stated that he had to “pick up the phone and explain to him that if he did that we would not be able to keep them,” Alpha said of the Xbox bundles.
On April 4 in a subsequent email, Schwarz informed Ferry that he had downloaded the contract.
CBT Nuggets — the tech company that the department had originally planned on using — contacted Schwarz once again via email to find out if a decision had been made about the training materials. Alpha told LocalSource that he, along with the rest of his co-workers, began to feel uncomfortable about the situation. “I was uneasy about this whole process,” Alpha said. “I did not know if this was standard practice and I thought about it and decided to research if what was happening was ethical. I spoke with someone at the New Jersey School Board of Ethics and I explained my situation. She said she strongly recommended I read through the checklist and to make a decision about filing a complaint,” he said.
The School Ethics Act, part 18A:12-24 under the heading, “Conflicts of interest,” states the following:
“No school official, or member of his immediate family, or business organization in which he has an interest, shall solicit or accept any gift, favor, loan, political contribution, service, promise of future employment, or other thing of value based upon an understanding that the gift, favor, loan, contribution, service, promise, or other thing of value was given or offered for the purpose of influencing him, directly or indirectly, in the discharge of his official duties.”
According to Alpha, he approached acting Superintendent Zende Clark in mid-April to share the emails and speak about the emails. “Clark said that she’d get back to me,” said Alpha of the superintendent regarding Schwarz’s correspondence.
When LocalSource reached out to Clark, she said that she was aware of the allegations regarding Schwarz but that she was unable to comment on the matter until she spoke with other parties. Clark said she would respond to LocalSource’s inquiries at a later date, but there have been no further comments from Clark as of press time.
BOE member Nancy Mondella said that she could not comment on the matter for this story, and attempts to reach board member Hawaiian Thompson-Epps and BOE President Christopher James were unsuccessful.
Beta told LocalSource that he recalls Clark approaching him mid-April to ask whether the allegations about Schwarz were true. Beta confirmed the information by showing her the emails between Schwarz and Ferry. According to Beta, Clark then sent the emails to the district’s attorney.
But according to Alpha, he is unaware of any measures taken against Schwarz, despite the seriousness of his alleged misconduct. “The administration had a meeting with Schwarz on April 22 and those who attended told me that all he got was a slap on the wrist,” Alpha said. “He was told that he could no longer deal with vendors and that he wouldn’t be getting a raise,” he said of Schwarz.
Alpha said he was put on administrative leave for a day. “The superintendent was scared that I’d go to Mike,” said Alpha. “They didn’t want me talking to him or interacting with him at all,” Alpha said of the situation with Schwarz.
Alpha said that when he returned to his post the following day, his office had been moved out of the technology department. “I intervened to try and nip it in the bud and I got moved,” Alpha said. “I got moved to the Board of Education office across town. It was very unexpected. I’m not near the rest of the department.” he said.
According to Alpha, he had approached his union before regarding alleged issues with Schwarz. “You could always tell there was something off about him,” Alpha said.
Alpha maintains that he is now removed from all of his co-workers and that his working conditions and environment have changed dramatically. “I feel like I’m being treated like a problem employee,” said Alpha.
Alpha asserts that Schwarz is due for contract renewal soon and that contract renewals will be discussed at an upcoming BOE meeting.
Alpha said that he is concerned that no action against Schwarz has been taken thus far. “A lot of people want to see the right thing done and it’s not happening,” said Alpha. “The administration is downplaying it to make it seem less severe. Mike did the wrong thing but he feels protected. I think he should lose his job,” he maintains.
Alpha believes that Clark is trying to protect Schwarz but he is unsure why. “She’s trying to save his job before she leaves,” said Alpha of Clark, who is leaving her post in June, according to Alpha. “This is so clear-cut. It doesn’t make sense. I’ve seen people fired for much less than this. This seems like an easy one. Why are they protecting him?” Alpha said of Schwarz.
Alpha said that he wants to be able to fulfill the job he was hired to do. “I just want to go back to my office and do the work I’m supposed to be doing,” said Alpha.
Alpha said that although he has whistleblower protection, he is concerned about possible retaliation on the part of Schwarz. “I’m worried that Mr. Schwarz and his closely aligned administrators will retaliate against me,” said Alpha.
Still, Alpha said that he has no regrets. “I don’t feel intimidated or scared because I know I’m doing the right thing,” Alpha said. “I can sleep at night.”