SPARTA, NJ – Additional ethics complaints have been filed against Sparta Board of Education members. Twenty four Sparta residents signed the newest complaint against five board members for their role in the early contract renewal of Superintendent Michael Rossi.
Former board of education member and retired teacher and former president of the Sparta Education Association Melva Cummings is the lead complainant naming Board President Kelly McEvoy, Vice President Kylen Anderson and members Joanne Hoover, Karen Scott and Jason Vantresca.
It should not be a surprise. At the October board of education meeting Cummings asked the board members to postpone the vote on Rossi’s contract renewal until March 11, 2020, the date in his contract for renewal notification.
Cummings told the board members she would file ethics complaints against anyone who supported Rossi’s contract renewal “under such suspicious circumstances.”
While she said “it was not something she wanted to do,” Cummings joins current board member Jen Grana in raising objections about the contract renewal. Grana filed a set of ethics complaints in November against McEvoy, Anderson and Scott.
McEvoy, representing all five respondents, said, “With regard to the second ethics complaint, those board members listed in the complaint are disappointed, but not surprised, that the complainants in this matter are intent on litigating their case in the news media. We have no intention of doing so and will present our response to the School Ethics Commission at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner.”
Both complaints allege the respondents violated the code of ethics sections:
E “I will recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that would compromise the board.
A “I will uphold and enforce all laws, rules and regulations of the State Board of Education and court orders pertaining to schools. Desired changes shall be brought about only through legal and ethical procedures.
D “I will carry out my responsibility not to administer the schools but together with my fellow board members see that they are well run.”
Generally, they both say the superintendent’s contract renewal process was begun and negotiations carried out without the knowledge of all nine members and purposefully excluding four board members.
Among documentation they use to support their case, they point to a text message sent by McEvoy to Anderson, Hoover, Scott and Ventresca asking them to let her know if they support renewing Rossi’s contract. Shortly after that text message, McEvoy tells the board secretary Pam Hinman she has support from the majority of the board for the renewal.
This, both complaints allege, violates Open Public Meetings Act for having a majority of the board members doing board business out of sight from the public.
Cummings' complaint also asserts the required hearing for a superintendent’s contract was not adequate with McEvoy restricting residents from speaking by closing the hearing before everyone had a chance to be heard.
Cummings' complaint includes the assertion that statements made by Scott and Ventresca were improper and violate the spirit of the ruling Gonzalez v. Elizabeth Board of Education. They said the superintendent’s contract had to be completed before the election because they did not think the decision about renewing the superintendent should be left to new board members.
The respondents have 20 days to respond to the complaint. The respondents’ attorney, David B. Rubin of Metuchen, has asked for an extension until January 10, citing “trial, travel and holiday schedule.” Cummings said the complainants agreed to the extension.