ROSELLE, NJ — The local school board approved a measure at its Feb. 26 meeting to have its counsel contact the state to investigate its central office.
School board member Archange Antoine motioned for a vote to ask the state Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance to investigate the district’s central office. The move comes weeks after former school board administrator Jason Jones was “relieved” of his responsibilities, the district’s superintendent said in a Feb. 6 email.
The OFAC works on behalf of the state commissioner of education to review any school that receives federal or state funding. The office also conducts audits by the state Department of Education and performs criminal background checks on applicants to school jobs.
School board President Patricia Fabrizio said at two meetings in February that an outside auditing firm was conducting a forensic audit in the district after the former business administrator and his assistant were relieved of their duties. Fabrizio said at a Feb. 26 meeting that “misappropriations of funds” was being investigated.
It’s still not clear why Fabrizio announced the a firm’s hiring for the forensic audit at a Feb. 8 special meeting, when there was no item on the agenda to do so. A resolution to hire a firm to do a forensic audit wasn’t put on the agenda until Feb. 26, but school board attorney Allan Roth said it was never approved.
Roth previously said Feb. 9 that Donohue, Gironda, Doria & Tomkins, of Bayonne, would conduct forensic audit, before any vote had taken place to hire them. When asked if the firm was conducting work in the school district without board approval, Roth said “I cannot answer that question. I don’t know.”
Roth told LocalSource that he would send a letter to the state commissioner of education March 1 to ask for an OFAC investigation of the district. However, state DOE spokesman Michael Yaple said March 2 that he was unaware of the request.
“If the district has made a request for the DOE’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance to review its financial situation, we haven’t received it yet,” Yaple said in an email.
Roth said the board is asking the OFAC to look into “business practices” from last year to January of this year. He said if OFAC were to investigate, it would probably be “far more than the scope of the forensic audit.”
For example, it would not only look into whether specific checks were written, but why. Westfield-based accounting firm Suplee, Clooney & Co. presented its findings of a regular annual audit of the school district, which is separate from a forensic audit, at the Feb. 26 school board meeting. This regular audit showed, in part, that vendors had not received their 1099 tax forms; expenditures went hundreds of thousands of dollars over the board’s threshold; and the treasurer’s reports were not reconciled at the end of each month.
Meanwhile, the school board at its last meeting approved John D’Angelo as the interim business administrator and secretary, a combined role. Dorian Timmons, the former school board secretary, resigned in January.
D’Angelo warned the school board at that meeting of a potential state takeover of the district, especially if the board did not approve the bill list. All bill lists, which hadn’t been approved since about December, were approved Feb. 26, Roth said.
“You’re going to have a hundred lawsuits on your hands with all kinds of collection agencies, and our credit will go down too,” D’Angelo said at the Feb. 26 meeting. “The county — the state government — is going to step in. I can tell you right now, you’re triggering incentive and they don’t like to get involved in local districts.”
Yaple said that DOE staff members plan to meet with local school officials in the near future.
“The DOE’s goal is to assist school districts and provide technical support whenever possible,” Yaple said in an email. “In fact, staff from the DOE plan to meet with local school officials in the near future.”
A special meeting was scheduled for March 7 at Abraham Clark High School to consider approving a professional services contract for a forensic audit, according to a March 4 press release from the school district.