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Paterson Public Schools Fires Its Assistant Business Administrator

Paterson Public Schools' headquarters


PATERSON, NJ – Paterson Public Schools has terminated its assistant business administrator five weeks after she started on the job.

The district had given the assistant administrator, Barbara Murphy, a $120,000 salary, which was $55,000 more than what she made in her previous job. At the time she was hired on October 3, Murphy had less than two years experience in public education finance work. The district’s advertisement for the position said it preferred to hire someone with three years minimum experience.

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Also, her resume says she had no full-time, permanent employment for eight of the previous 10 years, although Murphy says her resume omitted three years of work as a realtor during that time period.

School board members say Murphy’s termination also raises questions about the district’s new $160,000 business administrator, Carol Fredericks, who officials say played a key role in Murphy’s selection.

“She had a significant role in that process,’’ said Paterson Schools Commissioner Christopher Irving.

Murphy previously had worked as Fredericks’ subordinate at Bogota Public Schools. Initially, they applied to Paterson as “a team,” according to Murphy and Fredericks. They left their jobs in Bogota at roughly the same time.

“If Murphy’s employment was off-handed, then obviously there should be some other questions,’’ said Paterson Schools Commissioner Errol Kerr.

Board members also said Murphy’s hiring called into question the state’s oversight of the district’s personnel decisions.

“If we were being monitored so well, why would this happen to us?’’ said Board President Willa Mae Taylor. “Somebody was not doing they should have been doing.’’

Murphy said her termination notice did not say why she was losing her job. She received notice of her termination on November 8, according to school officials. That was the same day published a story that raised questions about her appointment and outlined apparent inconsistencies between her resume and employment documents from previous jobs.

“The article is filled with misinformation and I would like an apology and a retraction,’’ said Murphy. “I think it shows reckless disregard for the truth.’’

In reporting the initial story, sought comment from Murphy and Fredericks, but neither of them returned a phone message. 

One of Murphy’s criticisms of the article involved its description of her first job in public education in East Rutherford.

Murphy’s resume says she was assistant business administrator there between January 2010 and November 2010. The article questioned the accuracy of that listing. The article cited a March 1, 2010 employment agreement between Murphy and East Rutherford naming her as the district’s “Interim Bookkeeper” for $45,000. It also cited a subsequent July 1, 2010 agreement that named her “Interim Bookkeeper/Assistant Business Administrator” for $45,001.

To prove that her resume was accurate and that she started work in East Rutherford in January 2010, Murphy last week sent a copy of a February 1, 2010 letter from the superintendent of schools in East Rutherfold, Kenneth Rota.

“At the regular public meeting of the East Rutherford Board of Education held on Thursday, January 28, 2010, the Board approved my recommendation to appoint you as Assistant Business Administrator with no salary,’’ the letter reads. The letter does not say exactly when Murphy began the assistant business administrator duties.

Murphy said she started working for no pay in East Rutherford because she was doing the work as part of a “mentorship” in her training in school business administration.

“That doesn’t diminish the fact that I had the time,’’ she said.

Murphy also took exception to the article’s discussion of her role in Bogota. Murphy’s resume says she was assistant business administrator there from November 2010 until July 2010. The article cited Bogota Board of Education minutes describing Murphy’s $55,000 job in the district as three-fold – payroll clerk, bookkeeper and assistant business administrator.

Murphy said she thought the article’s listing of the job titles was unfair because the Bogota meeting minutes had them in the opposite order, with assistant business administrator listed first.

Murphy also said her resume was accurate in listing only the assistant business administrator position because she said that was her primary job in Bogota. As proof of that, Murphy sent a copy of an October 12, 2010 letter from Fredericks, who was Bogota’s school business administrator and interim superintendent at the time, telling her she was being appointed as “Assistant School Business Administrator.’’

After Murphy was hired in Paterson in October, requested a copy of her resume from Paterson Public Schools under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act. That resume, however, had six entries listed under experience that officials blacked out. District officials said those entries were blacked out because they were not relevant to Murphy’s job in Paterson.

That left just three work entries on Murphy’s resume – the jobs in Rutherford and Bogota as well as a two-month stint as supervisor of accounts for Westfield’s Board of Education. Documents indicate Murphy was paid $65,000 in Westfield, a figure she says is accurate.

The school district’s advertisement for the assistant business administrator’s position said the person would “preferably have a minimum of three years of experience in public school business operations or public school accounting, including at least one year of experience in a supervisory capacity.”

At the time she originally applied, Murphy had 19 months experience in public school business operations. By the time she started, she had 21 months experience, leaving her 15 months short of the preferred qualifications Paterson had advertised.

It was not clear what qualifications the other applicants for the assistant business administrator’s job had. State law does not require public entities to disclose the resumes of applicants who are not hired.

Murphy said she took the Westfield job in August when she did not hear back from Paterson after her initial interview, which she said happened in the spring. Murphy said she was called in for a second interview in Paterson after she already started work in Westfield. Fredericks began serving as Paterson’s new business administrator on August 1.

In response to questions about Murphy’s termination and her role in hiring Murphy, Fredericks sent an email criticizing the original article.

“Finally I find it troubling that you have chosen to attack a brilliant, hard working, and talented professional,’’ wrote Fredericks. “You are single-handedly ruining a fine career without provocation, and you should contact her for her proofs and print a retraction.”

Fredercks, in her email, cited the appointment letters from Rota in East Rutherford and from herself in Bogota – the same letters Murphy later provided to – as substantiation of Murphy’s resume.

As for her role in helping Murphy get the job, Fredericks wrote: “First, let us be clear: the district advertised for a TEAM and Ms. Murphy and I openly applied as a team, the only team application. How transparent and clear is that fact?”

The district’s advertisement listed the qualifications required for the two jobs separately. But it also said, “The district will entertain the concept of a team approach providing an opportunity for a school business administrator and an assistant or mentee to join the district together.’’

Murphy last week sent a copy of her resume without any of her prior employment blacked out. The resume showed that during the eight years prior to her starting the non-paid mentorship in East Rutherford in January 2010 that Murphy had no permanent, full-time employment.

During the 2009 tax season, the resume said, Murphy worked as an administrative assistant for Weber, Shapiro & Co. in Ramsey. From 2002 to 2009, the resume says she was “Chairperson-Volunteer” at St. Elizabeth’s School in Wyckoff, where she lives.

When asked about the apparent lack of permanent, full-time work during those eight years, Murphy said her resume was incomplete. She said it does not include her full-time employment as a realtor for Coldwell Banker, where she said she worked from 2007 until she got the East Rutherford position. When asked why she didn’t include that on her resume, Murphy said, “The experience didn’t apply.’’

As for the years from 2002 to 2007, Murphy explained her lack of employment by saying, “I had young children.’’

But Murphy said the resume proved she had the credentials for the $120,000 Paterson job. She cited her listings of a 1994 Masters in Business Administration from Fordham University and her completion in 2011 of the New Jersey School Business Officials certification classes for school business administrator and other training through that group.

Murphy also pointed out her resume says she worked from 1987 until 1995 as a special assistant at the New York Stock Exchange for three different companies. From 1995 to 2001, the resume says, she was a bookkeeper for John G. Murphy-LePercq, de Neuflize & Co in New York City.

In her email, Fredericks defended Murphy’s credentials and praised her work in Paterson.

“Clearly stated her service to the district in one month created value and improvement that will raise the district’s performance standards to new levels of excellence, which is precisely what Paterson needs,’’ Fredericks wrote. “It is a sad day indeed when this value is not appreciated.” 

Murphy said she is trying to get her Paterson job back. “I hope that’s going to change,’’ she said of her termination. But she said she’s “in limbo” about the cause of her termination and has not yet received a copy of a report of a district investigation of her.

Under her contract, either Murphy or the district can terminate her employment with 60 days notice without cause. Officials said Murphy will continue to be paid for 60 days after the November 8 notice.

In addition to the $120,000 salary, Murphy’s contract provided her with 22 vacation days, five personal days and the district’s 19 holidays. It also provided $1,500 worth of tuition reimbursement for professional development, $2,500 for membership and mentoring fees, up to $1,500 in reimbursement for out-of-pocket travel expenses and a $45 per month allowance.

When asked about Murphy’s employment status, Paterson Public Schools spokeswoman Terry Corallo issued the following statement: “The district has taken steps but this is still a personnel matter and I am unable to comment further at this time.”

Paterson Public Schools has not had an assistant business administrator for more than two years. For the first half of this year, the district’s finances were overseen by two interim business administrators, David Rinderknecht and Joseph Amatuzzi, until Fredericks was appointed in August.

Rinderknecht had been interim business administrator in East Rutherford in 2009 when Murphy was hired there in her first public education position, according to their resumes.

School board members said the Murphy the situation underscored what they consider the problem with having the New Jersey Department of Education and its state-appointed superintendent, Donnie Evans, solely in charge of hiring decisions without board input.

“The superintendent is responsible for his staff and I have to hold the superintendent accountable for the actions of his staff,’’ said Paterson Schools Commissioner Jonathan Hodges.

“I have constantly called for the superintendent to supply us with his rational for filling a particular position with someone,’’ Hodges added. “I want to understand what they able to deliver for our children.’’

Kerr said the investigation into Murphy’s hiring – as well as any questions about Frederick’s role in it - was out of the board’s hands.

“That is totally up to the superintendent,’’ Kerr said. “If the was board was running it, it would be a different story.’’

Irving said he was “absolutely disappointed in the whole process” that resulted in Murphy’s appointment. “It’s as bad as it looks on paper,’’ he said.

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