Education

West Orange School District Retains Third-Party Law Firm for Special Investigations

8c3fa0953e21f20762cf_P1220666.JPG
Credits: Cynthia Cumming
6b265591b932df73edc4_Screen_Shot_2018-06-08_at_4.36.16_PM.jpg
Millburn Township Council adopts resolution to return funds to West Orange Board of Education on April 19, 2016
357b1207af4f8f4cd0e0_Screen_Shot_2018-06-08_at_3.36.00_PM.jpg
Portion of the Corrective Action Plan adopted by the West Orange Board of Education in December 2016
ad17c20797120b292b8d_Screen_Shot_2018-06-08_at_3.34.28_PM.jpg
The Gregory Elementary financial transaction in question was specifically documented by the board of education's Independent Auditor in the November 2016 Auditor’s Management Report
8c3fa0953e21f20762cf_P1220666.JPG

WEST ORANGE, NJ  — Accusations of improper use of student funds by a school employee in 2016 is now the center of an official investigation by a third-party law firm hired by the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) to look into the matter.

In order to ensure a “complete, thorough and impartial review” of an incident involving a Gregory Elementary School employee who is accused of using school funds to pay her personal property taxes in Millburn, the WOBOE approved a resolution Monday to hire special legal counsel to conduct an investigation into this and other issues brought forth by the public.

At a recent WOBOE meeting, West Orange resident Micaela Bennett brought up the incident she and others uncovered during an open-records request and she accused the employee of embezzlement. Bennett also alleges that Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky covered up the incident by not informing the board, stating that she and others uncovered records showing that Rutzky penned a request to Millburn requesting the money be returned because of the “tax payment made in error.”

Sign Up for E-News

The chief financial officer for Millburn Township confirmed earlier this week that he did receive an electronic payment (ACH) of $2,764.40 from the employee in question in 2016 as well as a letter from the superintendent requesting a refund in the same amount. He also confirmed that the Millburn Tax Collector refunded this amount to the WOBOE at the time, and reiterated that the payment did not come from a checkbook owned by Gregory Elementary School.

In response to inquiries on Thursday regarding the school’s financial transactions and the improper use of funds, the board declined to say whether the employee had been disciplined, stating that it would be unlawful to comment on any personnel matters. However, her name remains listed on the school’s website. It should be noted that TAPinto West Orange is not disclosing the name of the employee because she has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

On behalf of the WOBOE, Vice-President Mark Robertson shed light on the situation in question in a written statement.

“The public should be aware that the Gregory Elementary financial transaction in question was specifically documented by the board’s independent auditor in the 2016 Auditor’s Management Report, which was completed on Nov. 21, 2016 and presented in public session at the board meeting on Dec. 12, 2016,” said Robertson.

Robertson provided the auditor’s management report as well as the agenda for the December 2016 meeting, during which the board adopted a “Corrective Action Plan” that the independent auditor presented. This is public information and can also be seen on the district website.

He did not address whether the board had knowledge about the incident prior to the audit, which occurred and was published several months after the event. It remains unclear at what point the WOBOE was made aware of these actions.

The WOBOE has retained Chiesa, Shahinian & Giantomasi (CSG), which is headed by former New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, whose firm has extensive expertise in conducting special investigations, according to Robertson.

“The board’s purpose of engaging an independent third-party law firm is to ensure that the special investigations are impartial and devoid of the possibility and/or appearance of any possible conflicts,” Robertson said. “The board looks forward to receiving the special counsel’s investigations and recommendations in order to resolve fully these matters. The board of education takes all allegations and/or concerns by the public very seriously.”

Robertson added that the members of the WOBOE have investigated and will continue to investigate all such concerns brought before them.

Concerned citizens bring issue to light

Bennett, who alerted the public about the incident via a private Facebook group for West Orange residents, said she is part of a small group of concerned citizens who have been looking into Rutzky’s past and keeping tabs on school board actions.

“Shouldn't we all be passionate about our children?” said Bennett, who has lived in West Orange since 2005 and whose son is a graduating fifth-grader at St. Cloud Elementary. “Our children being well-educated and supported through their school years should be a common denominator.”

Her concerns about the superintendent go beyond what she categorized as a “cover up” regarding the Gregory school funds.

“I hope the board recognizes that they have a responsibility to supervise the superintendent,” Bennett said.

She noted that Thomas Volscho, another member of the group, made several public records requests to find information about the incident involving the misuse of funds.

Bianca Prieto contributed to this article.

Don’t miss important news in your town. Click HERE to subscribe for free, or follow us on Facebook and on Twitter at @WestOrangeTAP.

To download the FREE TAPinto App, Click here for Android or Click here for iOS.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Millburn/Short Hills

Video: Scoutmaster Ken Fineran Street Dedication Ceremony

May 21, 2018

MILLBURN, NJ - Millburn Township and Boy Scout Troop 17 of St. Rose of Lima honored the life and accomplishments of late Scoutmaster Kenneth W. Fineran on Sunday, May 20. Troop 17 Scouts, in conjunction with Millburn Township and St. Rose of Lima Church.

Millburn Student's Bike Stolen, Millburn Police Investigating

June 12, 2018

On June 5, 2018 Millburn Police Officer Tavares responded to the Louis Vuitton store at The Mall at Short Hills on a theft report. Louis Vuitton personnel report a black male with dread locks wearing a black t-shirt, red shorts, black leggings, and white/red sneakers took two pairs of sunglasses valued at $870.00 and left the store without making payment. The incident is under investigation by ...

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 16

Summer is in the air, and the latest episode of AtlantiCast is ready to help you enjoy some fun outdoors while staying safe! This week’s episode opens with tips for sunscreen usage from Atlantic Health System’s Chief Medical and Academic Officer, Dr. Jan Schwarz-Miller. You’ll also learn about how Atlantic Health System is advancing the future of health care through ...

Get Empowered to Help Prevent Suicide

June 12, 2018

Over the past week social media and the news have been filled with stories and articles encouraging people to seek help if they’re in emotional distress. There have been countless articles about the need to break the silence around the topic of mental health and suicide, and I am encouraged by the support people are extending to others.

Often, the death by suicide by prominent ...

Upcoming Events

Mon, June 18, 9:00 AM

The Cora Hartshorn Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary, Short Hills

"Pre-summer" Camp at the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum ...

Education Green

Mon, June 18, 9:00 AM

The Cora Hartshorn Arboretum and Bird Sanctuary, Short Hills

June Mini-Camp at the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum - ...

Education Green

Carousel_image_aff4d28ad6aff582567a_1cc0b4547efb4bb2c9f0_download__3_

Tue, June 19, 7:30 PM

Town Hall - Committee Room, Millburn

Township Committee Meeting

Carousel_image_f26368aa9b02b695afce_3fc10d7c6037ec8915fb_0952ca79b18478625c5395f2431688f1

Tue, June 19, 7:45 PM

Education Center, Millburn

Millburn Board of Education Meeting

NCJW/Essex Hosts The Five Stages of Career Transition with Motivational Speaker Frederica Peterson

June 18, 2018

LIVINGSTON, NJ -- On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, Frederica Peterson, Motivational Speaker and Career Coach, MA, CPC, ELI-MP, engaged nearly 50 women at the Linda and Rudy Slucker NCJW/Essex Center for Women about moving forward in one’s career and in life. Peterson examined how many women feel stuck and trapped in negative thoughts, but how with the right mindset it’s possible to ...

Millburn-Short Hills Democratic Committee Looking to Fill District Leader Spots

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ - The Millburn-Short Hills Democratic Committee is stronger than ever and proudly represents itself along with Essex County Executive Joseph Di Vincenzo and newly re-elected Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones at the Essex County Democratic Reorganization meeting.

The local committee currently has a recorded 29 of 32 District Leader spots filled. We have a female ...

Canada Goose Retail Expansion Includes The Mall at Short Hills

CANADA GOOSE CONTINUES RETAIL EXPANSION, ANNOUNCES THREE NEW STORES IN NORTH AMERICA

From the Temperate West Coast to the Cool North East: Set to Open in Vancouver, Short Hills, and Montréal

 

TORONTO, ON – Canada Goose Holdings Inc. (NYSE: GOOS, TSX: GOOS), today announced the next phase of its global retail expansion, opening three stores this fall in Short ...