East Newark mayor says emails show misunderstanding caused BOE conflict, supt. disagrees

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East Newark Mayor Dina Grilo says emails from May show that a simple misunderstanding is what caused the now ongoing conflict between Borough Hall and the board of education, but Superintendent of Schools Richard Corbett still isn’t convinced that’s the case.

East Newark Mayor Dina Grilo and Superintendent of Schools Richard Corbett. Facebook photos.

By John Heinis/Hudson Count View

“It was a misunderstanding. We thought Rob Knapp was resigning and we thought, therefore, we’d be able to appoint the board of education treasurer. However, once he explained what was going on, we moved forward and he was reappointed,” Grilo said over the phone.

“However, the superintendent is just continuing with this narrative that we’re trying to place undue political influence on the schools.”

Emails from May obtained by HCV showed that Knapp’s position as BOE treasurer led to some tensions, however, it appeared that cooler heads prevailed based on a May 18th email from Borough Administrator Kevin Catrambone to Corbett.

” … Your assistance and guidance was extremely helpful. Please accept my apologies for any confusion in the communications regarding the appointment of the school board treasurer,” he began.

“The mayor’s office was under the impression that Robert Knapp had resigned from his position as the board treasurer and that we were in need of a candidate. We have learned that Robert Knapp is being considered for reappointment. At this time, Donna O’Donnell is no longer recommended for the position.”

Still, Corbett expressed that he felt it was inappropriate for those emails to be shared with the press, questioning if the full scope of communication was presented, and said he still intends to await the results of an investigation by state Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance.

“If I thought it was a ‘misunderstanding’ I would not be asking OFAC to investigate. Ultimately, OFAC will determine if it was a ‘misunderstanding’ or whether she intended to influence the board,” he said in an email

“In the future, I hope there will be a spirit of cooperation between the board of education and the mayor.”

Knapp declined to comment on the situation.

On September 9th, Grilo submitted a letter to the editor to HCV where she shared her perspective on the rec center, as well as on her relationship with the BOE.

In comments to the borough council that evening, Corbett pushed back on some of those points.

“The only alternate location offered by the mayor was the former St. Anthony’s school. The Hudson County Department of Education has determined that this is not a suitable location. The Board has not been offered ‘multiple options’ by the mayor or her administration,” he said.

“Nearby child learning centers were never formally presented as an option to the board. Trailers are not viable options since they typically require 12 months to plan, and a suitable location. We have been told to vacate by December 2020. Therefore, we have neither the time nor a location to plant trailers. Until Mayor Grilo’s editorial, I have heard nothing about the Kennedy School in Harrison.”

Despite the escalating public feud between Grilo and Corbett, Borough Hall and the BOE theoretically already have a mechanism in place to work together on the rec center.

Over the summer, an ad hoc education committee was formed, which includes two council members, Jessica Diaz and Rose Evaristo, and two BOE members – Mark Bolsom and Valeria Slattery.

Corbett has also previously questioned why the council opted not to renew the borough’s shared services agreement with the BOE.

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