PATERSON, NJ - Business Administrator Frances Finkelstein, the top financial official in the troubled Paterson Public Schools district, has been terminated, members of the Board of Education said on January 3.

With the district under a state-imposed spending freeze that has dragged on for four months while New Jersey education department officials have reviewed its finances, state-appointed Paterson Schools Superintendent Donnie Evans decided to relieve Finkelstein of her duties, officials said.
Also fired was Mark Kramer, the district's Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, officials said.
 
Paterson Public Schools spokeswoman Terry Corallo, declined comment until "proper notifications" are made. "We follow procedures,'' she said. Corallo said the district would issue a statement about the situation at the Board of Education meeting on January 5.
 

School board members said they expected Evans to explain the firings to them during a closed session at the January 5 meeting.
 
"During my weekly meetings with Dr. Evans, he told me he was making some changes, but he didn't tell me who or to what extent,'' said Board of Education President Theodore Best.
 
"I'm as shocked as anyone,''said Commissioner Errol Kerr, chairman of the school board's finance committee. "The superintendent did not extend himself to me on this. He did not tell me he had any problems (with Finkelstein).''
 
Kerr said he had spoken with Finkelstein about her termination on January 3. "I've worked with her for some time now, and in my judgment, she's been an asset to the district,'' Kerr said. "I have yet to find a reason this is so. Every year, we've improved on our audit reports.''
 
Finkelstein, who was hired under Evans' predecessor, Michael Glascoe, could not be reached for comment.
 
Kerr said it was his understanding that two new employees began working in the district's financial offices on January 3. School board members said they believed the two new administrators had been part of the state education department team that has been conducting a review of the district's finances for the past several months. There's an irony to that because Kramer himself had been sent by the state to monitor Paterson's finances before he was given the assistant superintendent's job.
 
In addition to the hiring freeze, which left has many students without state-mandated services since September, Paterson Public Schools has struggled with its finances in other ways. Last spring brought a tumultuous budget crisis that resulted in hundreds of layoffs and auditors have found that the district already is in the hole for $10 million in the upcoming budget. Also, a  recently-completed state assessment of the district, which is part of the process for Paterson regaining local control of its schools, found Paterson Public Schools failing in fiscal management.
 
"Finances is one of the areas in which we're lacking,'' said Paterson Schools Commissioner Pedro Rodriguez. "That's one area we need a lot of help in, that we need major improvement in. I have no problem bringing in somebody new.''
 
The 2010-2011 budget for the district - which has 52 schools, about 24,000 students and 5,208 employees, including 3,722 full-timers - is $496 million. The next several months are a critical period for school finances - it's when local education budgets are
put together.
 
Rodriguez said he has not received official confirmation of Finkelstein's termination, but heard about it from "third parties" who told him they witnessed her departure. "The way she was allegedly let go, it was not done with the proper level of respect,'' Rodriguez said. "When I confirm what happened, I'll talk about it more.''
 
Other school board members were waiting to learn more about the decision from Evans. Under state control, the Paterson Board of Education pretty much serves in an advisory role and has no say over hirings and firings. 
 
"For now, I have to say no comment because I haven't been briefed on Fran's leaving yet,'' said Paterson Schools Commissioner Christopher Irving. "Once I know more, I'll have a comment for you.''
 
"I believe we should have been at least briefed on this decision before,'' said Kerr.
 
"I've always found Fran a pleasure to work with,'' said Paterson Schools Commissioner Jonathan Hodges.