SPARTA – Superintendent Michael Rossi is so confident he will win his appeal of the district’s failing grade he did not have a District Improvement Plan or DIP prepared for approval at the board of education meeting on Monday night. 

The district failed one of five sections of a state evaluation called Quality Single Accountability Continuum or QSAC. Normally the DIP would be required, but Patrick McQueeney, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, said he discovered other districts were given an extension. By way of an appeal, he set up a meeting with Stephen Goldman, the Sussex County Education Specialist, and Alma Morel, the Passaic County Education Specialist. Rossi will also attend the meeting. 

McQueeney said the state Department of Education chose the Passaic County Executive Superintendent to participate. He does not know why.

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Should the county officials uphold Sparta’s QSAC failure and the DIP requirement, McQueeney can prepare the DIP. He said he has all the information necessary for the DIP, he just has to fill out the forms.  The deadline for the DIP is August 12.

“I anticipate they will change their minds on Friday,” Rossi said when pressed by board member Kim Bragg about the DIP. 

“This is the first time I’m hearing of a meeting on Friday,” Bragg said. “That’s great, but I’m not clear on why we are not doing the DIP tonight.” 

Rossi said it was his “belief that while we are appealing we don’t have to.”

“Do we have permission from the state to allow us not to get it done by August 12.  Our next meeting is August 26 and we will be out of compliance again,” Bragg said.

Rossi said he was not prepared to accept that the district deserved to fail Instruction and Program.

She said she was disappointed they have had the QSAC placement letter from the state since June 27 and the DIP has not yet been prepared. “Why aren’t we passing one tonight to remain compliant with [the state’s] requirement,” Bragg said.

Board member Kate Matteson said the board should have been told of Rossi’s plan. “It should be our decision.  We should have voted on what you are doing.”

When McQueeney said it was a simple piece of paper, Bragg asked to have a short recess to write the DIP so it could be approved.

Rossi said the DIP would say "writing curriculum."

“If it’s one sentence, I agree with Kim,” board member Michael McGovern said.  “It’s silly not to do it.”

McQueeney said he “did not have it at his fingertips” and he would want to make sure he “knows what’s involved.” Bragg said she had looked into it and found it was a spread sheet.

The New Jersey Department of Education provides a template to be completed by the district's QSAC committee that must include:

  • each missed District Performance Review item that needs to be corrected,
  • SMART goal for each missed DPR,
  • the person responsible to ensure it is corrected,
  • the method the district will use to measure the correction complete,
  • a timeline for the process and
  • the source of funds if needed.

In addition to losing points for curriculum in all nine subject areas, Sparta also lost points for student achievement and growth as measured on standardized tests.

Several residents expressed anger that the board did not release the numbers from the failed QSAC at the beginning of the meeting. 

“Why did we have to ask you,” resident Tina Rowan questioned. 

When at the second public comment period resident Jennifer Hamilton pressed the board about why they were not going to comply with the state requirement of announcing the QSAC results, Board President Kelly McEvoy said she wanted to hear from the residents first.

“We’ve been deemed out of compliance and now, the next time we have a chance to be compliant we are not doing it,” board member Kate Matteson said.

“The letters are very clear that the reporting requirement is the next board meeting,” Hamilton said. “The letter is very, very clear.”

 “I intended to announce it,” McEvoy said. She read the letter the board received from Robert Bumpus, assistant Department of Education Commission from the Division of Field Services on June 27.

Resident Jennifer Hamilton said she would have hoped the board would clarify the matter promptly “instead of waiting for public outrage.” 

The state creates a continuum for all school districts, according to the letter. Each district received a percentage grade in five areas. Sparta’s percentages were: Instruction and Program, 59%; Fiscal Management, 96%; Governance, 95%; Operations, 84%, and Personnel, 100%. Because instruction and program came in below 80%, the DIP was required.

Rossi said the district failed because he did not have enough time to update the curriculum to meet the new changes to QSAC, though it has been shown that is not the case.

McQueeney said the problem was with documentation of the curriculum. He said the curriculum is updated properly when required which is every three years.

Documentation presented in Sparta’s 2017 Statement of Assurance showed the curriculum had not been compliant since 2011 or 2012 depending on the subject area.

The documentation for math, English language arts, social studies and world language will be ready September 1, McQueeney said. The other three categories will be ready by the end of the school year.  They are visual and performing arts, science and technology and health and physical education. 

The assistant superintendent said he did not want to sacrifice teaching and learning by pulling instructors out of class. He said teachers would have to be given full days to work on some of the documents. Yet he said several times the curriculum was “top notch,” “second to none” and “up to date.”

QSAC does not require new reports to be created, according to Mike Yaple, Spokesman for New Jersey Department of Education. It is a review to ensure districts are up to date and compliant with all requirements.

“It sounds like we [the district] were aware we were not going to pass QSAC in advance,” Matteson said. “The first time I found out was when I learned we failed.” She said the issue was not brought up in with the board members or discussed in committee meetings.

At the June meeting they approved CIS 93-19 Summer 2019 Curriculum Writing for “certified staff members for summer curriculum writing to be compensated $30 per hour…” as they do every year.

Residents had a number of other concerns.

Steve Murray asked if a failed QSAC could have a negative impact on the township. He asked if the school’s ranking in certain surveys such as USNews would be affected. He also asked if property values could decline. 

McQueenie said QSAC figures are not reported to rankings. 

Board member Karen Scott said Milburn failed about five years ago and property values are still very high. 

Rowan put the blame on Rossi. 

“We have had a number of issues over the past years. This is directly related to Dr. Rossi,” she said.

Resident Sumbul Aslam said she deals with audits in her finance job and “If I fail an audit I will be out the door.” 

She complained about misinformation on social media and called upon the board to be accountable.

Aslam said, “The hallmark of being a leader is you are held accountable for what you say and do.” 

Other residents also asked for transparency from the board.