West New York board of education trustee Matthew Cheng is alleging that board president Steven Rodas overstepped his boundaries when he served Rice notices to the school business administrator and superintendent last month, according to a 55-page complaint filed with the NJ School Ethics Commission.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
In the complaint, filed on December 17, Cheng notes that the board hired School Business Administrator Kevin Franchetta through the 2014-2015 school year (June 30 of next year) at the June 25 meeting, only for Rodas to serve Franchetta with a Rice notice – a notice provided to an employee prior to discussion of their employment status – on November 10.
Cheng says that by serving Franchetta a Rice notice without the notification and/or recommendation of Superintendent of Schools John Fauta – or the other members of the board – he violated N.J.S.A. 18A:12-24.1(e).
A portion of this statute quoted in the complaint reads: “I recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will not take any private action that may compromise the board.”
An identical situation allegedly then took place on December 8, where Rodas again asked board attorney Stephen Edelstein to prepare a Rice notice for Franchetta, and Fauta was also allegedly served a Rice notice at this time as well, although his retirement was approved at the December 10 BOE meeting.
Franchetta later submitted his resignation at the same meeting, which, like Fauta’s retirement, is effective on June 30, 2015.
Furthermore, Cheng alleges that Rodas further violated state statutes by giving an interview on the board’s behalf to Cambio newspaper, as well as for discussing a teacher’s school transfer back in June.
According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, “a single board member is without authority to direct issuance of a Rice notice to the chief school administrator of a district.”
“Rather, that authority lies with the president of a district board of education or a majority of the full membership of a district board of education,” leaving it open to interpretation if other BOE employees can receive a Rice notice from the school board president.
Edelstein said at the December 10 meeting that he thought it was perfectly proper, in a legal sense, for Rodas to issue a Rice notice to Franchetta.
“It is a shameful that even after the FBI investigation and New Jersey Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance report detailing the hiring and firing practices of the West New York Board of Education, that once again, a highly qualified, non-tenured employee is targeted for termination for no cause,” Cheng told Hudson County View in an email.
“In my personal opinion, Mayor Roque is once again exerting influence on the School Board to the detriment of the children.”
In a phone interview with Hudson County View, Rodas succinctly shot down the complaint.
“These accusations in his complaint are baseless,” Rodas said. “I have a good relationship with the superintendent and it was his decision to retire. My goal is to continue to work hard and reach goals for the children of West New York and I hope that my fellow board members will do the same.”
Additionally, Fauta confirmed that he did receive a Rice notice, but he felt that the manner in which it was submitted by the board president was proper.
Franchetta declined to comment when reached by Hudson County View.
A full copy of the 55-page complaint can be read here.