SPARTA, NJ – Controversy about the Sparta superintendent’s contract surfaced again at the February board of education meeting on Monday night. It became apparent there was something more than the approval of a custodian when the item was pulled from the Personnel consent agenda.
Board vice president Jen Grana said she had a question about approving Matthew Scott for a full time position though she hesitated to discuss it in public. The meeting was paused while she had a discussion with Superintendent Michael Rossi and President Kim Bragg.
Later the public asked how the son of a sitting board member Karen Scott, could be hired. Scott was not present at the meeting. Matthew Scott was approved with Grana abstaining. Kate Matteson was not at the meeting either.
Rossi and Bragg said Matthew Scott had been hired as a substitute during the time when Karen Scott had resigned her seat on the board.
Karen Scott resigned in February 2018. Matthew Scott was hired as a substitute at the March 26, 2018 meeting. While he does not appear in the March personnel committee minutes, he is on the agenda; PP 188-18 New Substitutes for the 2017-2018 School Year.
That entire Personnel agenda was approved by board members Bragg, Joanne Hoover, Michael McGovern, Jack Surdoval, Jason Ventresca, Kylen Anderson and Kelly McEvoy. Linda Curcio was absent and Jen Hamilton abstained.
Karen Scott was reappointed to the board of education in June 2018 when her friend and former running mate Linda Curcio resigned. At the time Curcio said she was moving so she had to resign.
At the August 27, 2018 regular board of education Matthew Scott was again on the agenda; PP 35-19 list of Renewed Substitutes. Karen Scott, then Personnel Committee Chair, voted to renew her son, according to the meeting minutes.
Mandated board of education policy 0142.1-Nepotism states:
“The Superintendent of Schools shall not recommend to the Board of Education pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:27-4.1 any relative of a Board member or the Superintendent.”
In this case Matthew Scott was initially hired while Karen Scott had resigned from the board of education. The policy addresses this scenario:
“No relative of a Board member or the Superintendent of Schools shall be employed in an office or position in this school district except that a person employed by the school district on the effective date of the Policy or the date a relative becomes a Board member or Superintendent shall not be prohibited from continuing to be employed or promoted in the district.”
Another wrinkle is that there is an exception for a substitute:
“In accordance with N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-6.2(a)6.(b), per diem substitutes and student employees who are relatives of a Board member or the Superintendent of Schools shall be excluded from the provisions of this Policy and N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-6.2.”
Mandated board of education policy 4125 -Employment of Support Staff Members is also relevant:
“The Board of Education prohibits any relative of a Board member or the Superintendent of Schools from being employed in an office or position in the school district in accordance with the provisions of N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-6.2 and Board Policy 0142.1 Nepotism.”
Board members who have family members that are district employees when they are elected, recuse themselves from a vote that potentially impacts their family member. For example, former board member McGovern recused himself from voting on the superintendent contract and did not evaluate the superintendent because his wife is a Sparta school district teacher.
The larger question then becomes if Matthew Scott is considered an existing employee since 2018, how was Karen Scott allowed to be part of the process that negotiated and approved the superintendent’s contract. She also voted on his merit goals and his merit bonus pay, all while her son was an employee of the district.
The process of negotiating and approving the superintendent’s contract is the subject of two separate Ethics Complaints. Karen Scott is named in both sets of charges. Karen Scott was one of the three people who Rossi wrote to requesting to negotiate his contract early. She was one of the five who decided via text message, to negotiate Rossi’s contract, intentionally keeping it a secret from the public and the other board members, according to email records obtained through an OPRA request.
Bragg read a statement from the new board attorney Mark Zitomer on the question of Matthew Scott’s status as an employee, affirming he could be approved for the job.
The statement did not address the other question of the impact on Rossi’s contract. This question was raised by a member of the public and parent Sumbul Aslam. She began by asking if Matthew Scott was Karen Scott’s son and the questions went from there.
Rossi affirmed Matthew Scott was her son and that he was employed as a substitute but did not comment on the appropriateness or legality of Karen Scott’s action on the board.
Parent and former board member Jennifer Hamilton asked for clarification about Karen Scott’s role in the negotiation and approval process of Rossi’s contract. Rossi did not offer a response.
Bragg said she had reached out to Zitomer to get further advice on the new information.