Politics is local and we can have the most impact on our school boards

Your superintendent is the highest paid, most powerful public official in the municipality. Do you know his name?

Elected board members, although well intentioned are easily led by their paid employees; teachers & administrators.

Do you know what they're all doing? Well here in New Jersey they represent at least 60% of your property tax bill and budgets grow at an astounding compound rate each year.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Circling the wagons

After adjournment of the January 19 RTBOE meeting, a member of the public remarked.; “that was  quick, I wonder why”.  I responded. “It’s called circling the wagons.

District costs are escalating and  revenue is shrinking .  Also the the board has been caught misappropriating  $218,461.27  and likely another $238,177.17.  Critical negotiations are underway with the teacher’s union and our lead negotiator, Joe Jackson has attended only 4 of the last 14 board meetings. The rest have conflicts of interest. The RTBOE is drawing close hoping to fend off attacks.

But last night’s meeting did have a few interesting moments:

From the Agenda:

Item 4, Section, D Finance : The district Business Administrator, James Verbist.was “authorized to purchase goods and services without bidding in amounts not to exceed $36,000 in the aggregate” as well as to “ purchase goods and service without quoting in amounts not to exceed $5,400 in the aggregate.”

Analysis:I reviewed all open purchase orders as of 6/30/2010 to put the above referenced resolution in context. There were $749,825.37 open purchase orders of which Verbist misappropriated $456,638.44 without financial oversight.  Of the remaining $293,186.93, Verbist would be subject to accounting controls for only $174,723.84.  Given the terms of the approved resolution, Verbist would have complete authority over $575,101.53 of $749,825.37  in purchase orders (or 77%).

Conclusion: The resolution places overwhelming control of purchasing in the hands of a district employee who also has control over cash disbursement and the district’s receiving function.  The situation requires increased oversight not less. 

Why does the RTBOE rely on so little accounting control while hundreds of thousands in district assets are at risk?     

Regarding unsolicited email:

Apparently, a member of the public asked Business Administrator, James Verbist how he/she might stop  “unsolicited” email.  Since it was  directed to Verbist, I can only assume the questioner’s email address has been published as a contact on district matters.  Therefore I doubt that any email sent to the address can be deemed “unsolicited”.

However, Verbist took it upon himself to provide legal advice.  He suggested that a request for removal from the distribution list be sent, followed by filing an harassment complaint with the police. 

I’m no lawyer but I would think the content of the unwanted email has to meet some standard for harassment.  Further, I understand that a police complaint does not guarantee an investigation and the complainant would be required to file formal charges with the court for legal action. Shame on you James, you have enough difficulty handling your official duties without taking on legal issues.

Regarding Board correspondence:

At the January 5th meeting, a resident asked why correspondence listed on the agenda is not read or available online.  It took two weeks but Vice President Sue Salny gathered the nerve to respond.  Sue commented that the correspondence in question is addressed to board members and not the public.  President Mike Friedberger agreed and added that he doesn’t favor “killing more trees” With further distribution. Killing tress with digital communication? Really?

Until recently, there were two email addresses for board contact.  One to contact board members directly and the other to officially contact the board through the administration office.  The later contact method disappeared.  Public comment is now limited to a brief 3 minutes at the beginning of board meetings..  A fortress of solitude is being built by the board that clearly isn’t of benefit to the community. But I don’t think it will stand too long.  Last night, an ardent supporter of the board expressed frustration that she is unable to comment after or during discussion of an agenda item.

Like I said, “circling the wagons”.    


  1. I took the time to review and follow up on your allegations. Unfortunately, after spending some time with the school administrator I found out you have totally missed the boat. My wife and I try to make up our own minds on things so I dismissed the other parent's comments that you are a nut case as inappropriate and not in the best interest in the community we moved to.
    Well,I may have dismissed them too soon. Your ill conceived comments of mismanagement/misappropriation in my world suggests someone took the money for their own personal use. This is not the case the money is in the school accounts. The orders you refer to based on my call to the state were handled in accordance with the state guidelines. The same guidelines you misinterpretated and mangled.
    I need to compliment the school administrator for taking the highest of high roads in discussing your comments. If I was publicly accused of misappropriating public funds I would not have been so professional. One common thread in his comments was that you are entitled to an opinion under the constitution and that you are excercising that right.
    Your mangled and malacious comments are going to tear this community apart. We have children in school and we can't afford another budget defeat because someone read your misinformation and voted no on the budget.
    I'm not a political person but I saw what happened at the council level when they dealt with last year's budget defeat. They tried to balance their budget on the school's defeat by cutting the schools.I moved to this community for the schools not the 25,000 in property taxes.The schools are why we are here. The good schools with services this community needs.
    Ted, in the begining I thought you were an honorable man. It appears you are not. The people in the audience said your distain for the board is based on your ethics convictions. They may be right.
    Buy a mirror and see if you can look yourself in that mirror. Don't continue to spread false truths. Remember the story of the boy that cried wolf. When the wolf really came nobody listened.
    You are at that cross road now. Straighten up and be a positive member of the community or lose whatever support you have left in the community.
    I respect your devotion to making sure that board is acting in the best interst of the community. But your methodology is insane. I'm sorry your ethic convictions ruined your life. Don't ruin someone else's life with ill conceived allegations of public theft.

  2. Bertram, yes the money is in school accounts. Perhaps I wasn't clear. The mismanagement is that last year's loss was overstated by $213k (considering that single transaction).

    Cash was transfered to 2011 in violation of very specific DOE regulation (not to mention standard accounting practice). The referenced DOE letter explains that several districts violated the regulation in 2003.

    Now canceling the purchase order disassociates the cash with the expense for which it was encumbered. I doubt whether Verbist mentioned that the process of canceling the PO began on day one of the 2010-2011 school year. So the improper transfer was planned.

    Now the reason for the illegal transfer (yes illegal)was to ensure funds for salary increases, which increases cost. After 2 straight years of $2.0 million losses, the last thing most organizations will do is increase costs.

    The increased cost puts pressure on current year
    operations. Unfortunately, you allowed James to twist words and imply that I accused him of personal benefit. The damage done is to the to RT residents.

    Bertram, if you are going to make up your own mind you need to wade through the BS Verbist will feed you and look to the facts.

  3. Ted:
    Thanks for responding to my comments. A dialogue is a healthy way of dealing with things.
    I follwoed up on your comments of this morning responding to my comments with the county school offices and Verbist. The county schools office reviewed their perceptioon of the 2003 memo and was able to specificly address RT's application of the memo. It appears the county provides oversight for the whole old school year PO thing.
    Verbist showed me the memo you refered to. The source was your scanned copy to him so I know I saw the entire memo. Based on what he and the county shared with me it would appear that the district did nothing inappropriate. Nowhere could I or the county see where cash was transferred illegally. Actually, I couldn't find any transfer of funds out of the accounts they were originally designated to. If you have a paper trail of the transfers let me know what they look like and I will visit the school offices again to look at them.
    I tried to get some information on your comment "Now the reason for the illegal transfer (yes illegal)was to ensure funds for salary increases, which increases cost. After 2 straight years of $2.0 million losses, the last thing most organizations will do is increase costs".From the records I looked at no monies were used in the 20+ salary accounts he has. There is a good question why do they have so many salary accounts?
    Ted, I like to believe I know a BS'r when I see one. As of now I have not felt Verbist is a BS'r in his dealings with me. He is confident in his comments and has proof to back up his comments. That may be a function of you targeting him. Good thing/bad thing, I'm not sure.
    As of now my mind is leaning toward believing you may not be correct in your assumptions about misuse of school funds. But, I'm not an accountant. But the school accountant appears to be supporting Varbist's records over your ascertions. Have a great weekend. More shoveling of snow. Can't wait until golf season.

  4. Bertram,

    I now nothing about you and have no way to verify what you claim or who you contacted.

    However, The PO #10001E reversal process began the first day of fy 10-11 (7/1). A clear indication that a valid order did not exist on 6/30/2010.

    You also claim to have read the 9/16/2003 HOTLINE memo but fail to provide a rationale as to why it doesn't apply.

    I, on the other hand provide a direct link to the memo and will again assert that valid and blanket orders are specifically addressed on page 1 and improper encumbrance on page 2.

    Further, I doubt whether the county office would discuss the issue with you prior to responding to my formal inquiry of 1/11.

    If you recall, Verbist told town council about $1.5 million would be needed to satisfy a contractual 4% salary increase this year. Further, Kathi Mantell, CPA indicated total district surplus is a mere $1.5 million. A quick look at the current budget shows $944k in surplus "supports" current year student programs. It's called a cash shortfall.

    Clearly Verbist needs cash today and he would also like to rebuild surplus.

    To see the attempt to rebuild surplus, look at the Employee Benefits line of the current budget, it reads $8.9 million. Now compare that with the actual expenditure for the past 4 years...hint Verbist won't show you but it's presented on this blog. Last year's actual was $6.9 million and $7.7 in 08-09. That's between a $1 an $2 million jump after Vitta supposedly cut staff. Bertram, Verbist is creating a slush fund in employee benefits. The purpose of which is to increase (primarily) teachers salaries.

    Verbist only provides selected documentation. And the fact that he bypassed you "BS'r" radar shows he's an adept con man. He even has you fighting his battles.