Out-Of-District Tuition Investigative Report Released
By Saul Qersdyn
Published: October 31, 2016 @ 3:04 PM EDT
The 13-page document titled “Report on Independent Factual Investigation” was provided – with redactions – to Roselle Park News after the newspaper took the Roselle Park Board Of Education (BOE) to court to have the report released.
The litigation was necessitated when the BOE, on the advice of its counsel, refused to release the document in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request submitted by the newspaper in June of this year. On October 7th, the report was provided to Roselle Park News in a redacted format as discussed before Judge Robert Kirsch on September 30th.
After receiving the document, Roselle Park News performed an internal review and discovered instances where personal information was not redacted. The newspaper made the decision to black out those occurrences that it found. The BOE made 44 redactions with a majority of them removing names, personal information, and titles and the rest dealing with attorney/client privilege and information regarding Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations.
The report itself started with an overview of the investigation into “the attendance categorization status and tuition payments” for the out-of-district relative of Robert Gordon Elementary School principal Frances Kenny. As previously reported, even though a paid tuition agreement was signed and agreed to by the BOE and relatives of Frances Kenny, no payments were made for five months until Roselle Park News requested copies of payments that were supposed to be made in line with the agreement.
Below, in line with the findings of the report, is the timeline of events.
The matter of Principal Frances Kenny’s relative possibly attending Robert Gordon School is first raised with School Superintendent Pedro Garrido by Principal Kenny. She asked the superintendent if her relative could attend school in the 2015-16 school year. Mr. Garrido told Mrs. Kenny “that his prior district had a policy that allowed non-resident district staff members children to attend district schools without paying tuition.” Mr. Garrido intended to talk to the BOE to see if such a policy could be brought to Roselle Park. Mrs. Kenny understood and agreed that any decision would be up to the BOE, not the superintendent.
Superintendent Pedro Garrido told Principal Kenny that it would be okay for her to register her relative for the 2015-16 school year “but that it was still up in the air as to whether it would be on a tuition-free or tuitions-paid basis”. Principal Kenny was aware “that Roselle Park did not have a policy that allowed for tuition-free attendance of non-resident relatives of staff members”.
May 26, 2015
An e-mail between Principal Frances Kenny and Roselle Park School District (RPSD) Business Administrator Susan Guercio discuss categorizing Mrs. Kenny’s relative, who would be going to Robert Gordon School in the fall of 2015, as tuition-free. Mrs. Guercio understood that Superintendent Pedro Garrido was going to discuss with the BOE whether they might approve allowing Principal Kenny’s relative to attend tuition free. Principal Kenny understood that no decision was made at this time.
After being told by BOE President Christopher Miller that the board would not accept a tuition-free policy for relatives of staff members, Mr. Garrido notifies Mrs. Kenny that “it was not a good idea at that time to raise the issue of free tuition” for her relative.
August 18, 2015
The Board Of Education approves a resolution for Principal Kenny’s relative to attend Robert Gordon School on a paid tuition basis for a total amount of $13,847 for the 2015-16 school year.
August 20, 2015
BOE Business Administrator Sue Guercio prepares a Tuition (Non-Resident) Pupil’s Agreement that is signed by herself, the student’s parents, and BOE President Christopher Miller. Per the contract, payments are due the first of every month with multiple payments due before the school year starts.
Mr. Garrido and Mrs. Guercio are notified that a little time is needed to get the money together for the tuition. The responsible party “was hoping to make one payment halfway through the school year and a second by June at the end of the school year”. Mr. Garrido and Mrs. Guercio “did not object to or have a problem with the payment of tuition” by the end of the 2015-16 school year.
“The Tuition (Non-Resident) Pupils Agreement dated as of August 20, 2015, was never revised, amended or modified to reflect that monthly tuition payments were not going to be made on the schedule set further in the Contract.”
September 8, 2015
Frances Kenny’s relative starts to attend Robert Gordon School. No payments are made.
Jacob Magiera receives an anonymous letter asking him to inquire why Frances Kenny’s relative, who lives in another town, attending Robert Gordon School “for free”. The letter states that BOE members “probably do not know about this”. Mr. Magiera publicly asks the question during a BOE meeting and is told all out-of-district students are on a tuition paid basis.
October 23, 2015
Roselle Park News submits an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request on the contract.
October 27, 2015
The status of Principal Kenny’s relative is changed from “tuition-free” to “Paid by parents” in the Genesis system.
January 29, 2016
Roselle Park News submits an OPRA request asking for copies of canceled checks or documentation of payment for the contract of Principal Kenny’s relative.
February 1, 2016
A check is delivered and cashed by the school district in the amount of $6,937.00. At this point, BOE President Christopher Miller is notified, for the first time, that tuition was not being paid in accordance with the contract.
February 2, 2016
A second check is delivered and cashed by the school district in the amount of $1,384.70 The BOE is notified, for the first time, that tuition was not being paid in accordance with the contract.
During the closed session of the February 2, 2016 BOE meeting, Mr. Garrido said that “he took full responsibility” for telling Mrs. Kenny that she and her relatives “could have until the end of the 2015-2016 school year to pay the tuition” and for informing the board as well as “for not causing the tuition contract to be amended or modified”.
February 21, 2016
Roselle Park News publishes “Principal’s Out-Of-Town Relative Enrolled At RG Despite Non-Payment Of Tuition”.
February 22, 2016
A third check for $1,384.70 is given to the school district in order to bring payments up-to-date with the contract. Roselle Park News submits an OPRA request asking for e-mail correspondences between Principal Frances Kenny and Business Administrator Sue Guercio between May 1, 2015 and May 7, 2015.
February 23, 2016
A fourth check for $4,162.20 is given to the school district in order to pay all payments for the 2015-16 school year.
March 7, 2016
Roselle Park News submits an OPRA request asking for e-mail correspondences between Principal Frances Kenny, Superintendent Pedro Garrido, and Business Administrator Sue Guercio between the dates of May 8, 2015 and May 29, 2015.
March 8, 2016
The BOE is advised of e-mails being requested in Roselle Park News OPRA request. After e-mails were disclosed to the BOE as a result of Roselle Park News’ OPRA request, “both the superintendent and the business administrator were asked why these matters had not been disclosed to the Board in February and the response from both of them was that they had forgotten these things”.
March 10, 2016
The school district formally requests an extension of time to satisfy Roselle Park News’ OPRA request. Roselle Park News rescinds its original OPRA request and submits a new one for the same e-mails among the same parties but narrows the date range to be between May 25, 2015 and May 29, 2015.
March 21, 2016
The school district provides copies of e-mails asked for in Roselle Park News’ OPRA request.
March 29, 2016
Roselle Park News publishes “E-Mail Reveals Principal & Business Administrator Knew Out-Of-Town Relative Was To Be Tuition-Free”.
April 5, 2016
The Board Of Education at that evening’s BOE meeting appoints Peter J. Fallon to conduct an independent investigation on the out-of-district tuition-free matter.
May 23, 2016
Peter J. Fallon submits his “Report on Independent Factual Investigation” to the Board Of Education.
June 14, 2016
The BOE formally concludes the incident and subsequent investigation. BOE President Christopher Miller reads the following statement:
In response to information brought to the Boards’ attention regarding an internal student matter on or about April 5th 2016, the Board appointed Peter B. Fallon Esq, an independent attorney, for the purpose of conducting a special district investigation. The investigation is now complete, and the Board has received Mr. Fallon’s findings and recommendations. The information in the report is privileged and confidential pursuant to the attorney-client relationship and is protected pursuant to personnel privacy requirements. For these reasons, the report will not be made public. However, in an effort to bring closure to this matter for the public, the Board notes the following.
The report found that mistakes in this matter were made. The report also found that those mistakes were addressed and rectified. The Board fully discussed Mr. Fallon’s findings and recommendations, internally addressed the matter as recommended by Mr. Fallon’s report, and appropriate action has been taken. From the moment this matter was brought to the Board’s attention, the Board took this matter very seriously, responded promptly, and has now completed its due diligence with respect to the matter. The Board now considers this matter closed. Thank you.
June 16, 2016
Roselle Park News submits and OPRA request for the report. It claims access not only under OPRA law but also by what is known as the common law right of access.
June 27, 2016
The school district denies access to the report under OPRA and common law right of access.
August 11, 2016
Roselle Park News submits court papers requesting a copy of the report.
October 7, 2016
Roselle Park News is provided with a redacted copy of the report.
The report is included at the end of this article to allow readers to review the document.
A copy of Mr. Fallon’s itemized invoice for $4,000 – as it was provided to the newspaper through an OPRA request – is also included below.
One additional document is also included – the response to the newspaper’s OPRA request of all invoices/bills/vouchers related to the Report on Independent Factual Investigation and subsequent litigation; that totaled $19,552.50 as of August 31st.
The amount of $24,552,50 – if the itemized summary is accurate – is what the school district paid to first investigate an issue on behalf of Roselle Park residents and then paid to try and prevent residents and taxpayers from reading. This does not inclde the attorney fees of $2,800 paid to Walter Luers to act on behalf of Roselle Park News’ editor to obtain the report.
To keep the details of the report in mind with what BOE Preisdent Chris Miller stated in April of this year, the last two paragraphs – which are completely redacted – are the recommendations. This section, which less less than the previos five-paragraph “Conclusions” section, leads to the question of exactly what recommendations Mr. Miller referred to when he state that the “Board fully discussed Mr. Fallon’s findings and recommendations, internally addressed the matter as recommended by Mr. Fallon’s report”.
Although it could be presumed that Mrs. Guercio’s annual contract with a $0 salary increase and Mr. Garrido’s absence of merit pay for the first year of his new three-year contract were “the actions taken”, it was hoped that the recommendation would have given information on what other action was taken. More importantly, there has been no mention by the Board of any corrective measures that have been taken to prevent such an incident from ever happening again. In the end, that is the issue that should be made transparent so that the public is kept aware and administrators are held accountable.
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