SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta school district has been charged with violating nepotism laws regarding the hiring of former board of education member Karen Scott’s son. The district is required to submit a Corrective Action Plan “identifying the procedures it will develop and implement to ensure compliance with N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-6.2.”
At the March board of education meeting board member Kate Matteson asked, during New Business, about the requirement to publicly review and discuss the OFAC findings “no later than 30 days after receipt of the report.”
The board of education’s attorney Marc Zittomer said Superintendent Michael Rossi had been “proactive” and had already contacted the Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance and secured an extension to that 30 day requirement.
Rossi said he had gotten a 90 day extension.
The letter also says it must be posted to the district website but it is not yet available on Sparta.org.
Two days after the February board of education meeting, the New Jersey Department of Education Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance began their investigation, writing to Business Administrator/Board Secretary Pam Hinman.
The investigation was triggered when the son of sitting board member Scott was hired into a fulltime position as a custodian at the February 24, 2020 board of education meeting. This agenda item raised concern with some board members. Vice President Jen Grana's questions caused the meeting to be suspended so Rossi could answer her without the public hearing the discussion. Rossi assured board members there was no issue with hiring Matthew Scott.
According to policy 4125 and N.J.S.A. 18A:27-4.1 the board can only hire someone if the superintendent has recommended it. Rossi had to have recommended hiring Matthew Scott, for his placement on the agenda.
At the February meeting, Sparta resident and parent Sumbal Aslam had asked about agenda item PP 149-20, the resolution to hire Matthew Scott as a full-time custodian. Rossi confirmed Matthew was Karen Scott’s son but said it was not an issue for him to be hired because he had previously been employed by the district as a substitute custodian.
According to documents obtained through an OPRA request, on March 26, 2020 Investigation Unit Manager Thomas Martin emailed Hinman asking her to call him. The next day he asked for the district’s most recent Nepotism Policy 0142.1, documentation of Matthew Scott’s employment history with the school district and dates of Karen Scott’s time as a board member.
Hinman forwarded meeting minutes from August and September 2019 when Matthew Scott was not listed as a renewed substitute. She forwarded the “substitute checklist,” listing his date of hire as a substitute custodian as March 26, 2018 and start dates of both April 1 and May 14, 2018.
Karen Scott, Matthew Scott’s mother, had resigned from the board of education in February 2018 citing personal reasons. She returned to the board of education June 2018 taking a seat vacated by her former running mate and friend Linda Curcio.
This pause in her membership as a board member opened a window of time, during which her son was hired. Scott had previously said she wanted her son to be eligible for a vacancy opening up in the buildings and grounds department.
Matthew Scott was renewed at the August 2018 meeting and did not appear again on any agenda until January 2020 when he was renewed as a substitute for the 2019-2020 school year.
Hinman sent Martin a copy of Matthew Scott’s substitute renewal form. The form indicates it is due back to the board office by Monday, August 19, 2019. Matthew Scott signed the letter on January 22, 2020, days before the January board meeting where he is hired again as a substitute.
There is no rationale given for Matthew Scott’s absence from the August 2019 agenda when most of the district’s substitutes were renewed. The renewal letter said “any substitute that renews and remains inactive for more than a year will be removed from the substitute list and no renewal letter will be issued for the following school year.”
The issue with OFAC Case #INV 06-20 was created when Karen Scott was sworn in on January 7, 2020 after being reelected and then in February when Rossi had Matthew Scott put on the agenda to be hired as a full-time custodian.
The next Sparta Board of Education meeting is a Special Meeting to interview and appoint a board member to take the position vacated by Karen Scott. It is scheduled for Monday, April 20.
The Budget Hearing and regular meeting will be on Monday, April 29. Both meetings will be conducted remotely. The links for the meetings have not yet been posted to the website. The public is invited to attend and participate.