Schools chief’s diploma fair game at meeting

Questions to the school board, and to Wasser himself if he chooses to answer them, are fair game.

By ALAN GUENTHER • STAFF WRITER • APP . September 5, 2008

ENGLISHTOWN — Taxpayers will be free to ask questions Monday night about what the school board intends to do about thousands of tax dollars spent on school superintendent H. James Wasser’s discredited doctoral degree from a so-called diploma mill.

On Aug. 25, school board members were told they couldn’t publicly discuss Wasser’s degree because he had not formally been notified that the issue would arise at the meeting.

Now, Wasser has been legally notified, said school board attorney Lawrence Schwartz. Questions to the school board, and to Wasser himself if he chooses to answer them, are fair game during the public portion of Monday’s special meeting, Schwartz said.

On Thursday, the Asbury Park Press reported that the state Commission on Higher Education had ordered Wasser to stop using “Dr.” and “Ed.D.” with his name because his degree came from Breyer State University — an unaccredited school that has been kicked out of Alabama, Idaho and the African nation of Liberia.

Although the state commission ordered Wasser to stop using the advanced title by Sept. 21, the school’s official Web site still referred to him as “Dr. James Wasser” on Thursday evening.

Wasser and Board of Education President Patricia Horvath could not be reached for comment.

Wasser has the right to have the diploma-mill issue discussed in public, but he has chosen to meet privately with the school board two hours prior to the public meeting, in a closed executive session, Schwartz said.

After investigating the diploma matter, the state education department issued a report that suggested, but did not require, that high school administrators earn college degrees from reputable, accredited schools.

The education department investigated three Freehold Regional administrators — Wasser, Assistant Superintendent Donna Evangelista and recently retired Assistant Superintendent Frank Tanzini. The school district paid $10,750 in taxpayer money to Breyer State for the three discredited doctoral degrees.

The school board also gave raises — $2,500 each per year — to the administrators as rewards for their new degrees.

State Senate President Richard J. Codey has said the school board should ask for the money back.

Lucille Davy: Who is she protecting, the school districts, or the taxpayers?

Great quote: It is wrong for people to use those diploma mill degrees to increase their salaries,” Education Commissioner Lucille Davy told the Asbury Park Press. “But I don’t have the authority to stop them.”

Huh??

From our friends at Inthelobby:

If this story weren’t so sad, and so emblematic of what is wrong with New Jersey, this would actually be quite funny.

The case involves Breyer State University, an unaccredited, online school that used to be based in Alabama until that state investigated, called it a diploma-mill and then kicked the school out of their state.

At Breyer State, you could literally buy your degree for a minimal amount of work.

Now why should we care about this in New Jersey, you ask?

Because some of our enterprising school administrators got advanced degrees at Breyer State, according to the Asbury Park Press.  And those advanced degrees usually translated into big raises for school administrators.

And those big raises meant bigger pensions.

Pensions that we ultimately pay for.

And what does our state plan to do about this?

Nothing.

“It is wrong for people to use those diploma mill degrees to increase their salaries,” Education Commissioner Lucille Davy told the Asbury Park Press. “But I don’t have the authority to stop them.”

She doesn’t have the authority to stop them?

Oh please.

With the 19 gazillion regulations that our state pumps out on a daily basis, we never created a regulation that says school administrators must get degrees from accredited universities in order to have that degree recognized by the state, or to have it result in salary boosts from boards of education?

That’s like saying the state would have no choice but to accept teaching degrees from matchbook cover schools.

But, if amazingly, the state of New Jersey somehow never required that administrators gets degrees from accredited universities, what’s to stop Davy from requiring it now?

She can seek an executive order.  She can issue an administrative edict. Or, if need be, she can champion legislation.

But not our education commissioner. She apparently believes in talk, rather than action.

The issue arose in recent weeks from the case of Freehold Regional School District Superintendent H. James Wasser, and two other administrators at the school district, who got advanced degrees from Breyer State University.  When the Asbury Park Press reported that Alabama found Breyer State was a “diploma mill,” the state investigated.

And instead of issuing strict new guidelines, or tough standards, Davy and company punted, and offered “suggestions” to the school district. And, even more outrageously, let Wasser’s bonus – and tuition reimbursement — from his dubious degree stand.
If the school district was competent enough to act on suggestions alone, it wouldn’t’ have granted Wasser a $2,500 raise for his degree from his make-believe school. Or reimbursed him for the tuition.
But it did. Because, as we too often learn, this is New Jersey, where common sense – and good government — goes to die.

The Asbury Park Press had two experts from Boston College and Harvard Law School review Wasser’s doctoral thesis. Their conclusion: It didn’t meet their minimum standards for academic work, and would not pass at an accredited, doctorate-granting institution.

And here’s the thing.  You know this isn’t isolated with just Wasser and the Freehold Regional School District. You know that there are more cases of this throughout the state of New Jersey – and that it’s costing taxpayers money that they shouldn’t have to spend.
The irony, of course, is that the state of New Jersey has one of the highest per pupil spending ratios in the country.  We spend billions of dollars a year on education, and Gov. Corzine just pushed a bill through the Legislature authorizing us to spend hundreds of millions more.
Yet, with all this money, somehow our state has no problem with the fact that school districts are spending part of their tax dollars on raises and salary reimbursements for advanced degrees at unaccredited schools.  It’s perfectly fine with the fact that we the overtaxed citizens of New Jersey are paying for tuition reimbursements and salary increases based on dubious degrees from unaccredited schools.
And yet we wonder where the money goes.
How many other school administrators and/or teachers have received advanced degrees from unaccredited schools? How much money is that costing the state – and taxpayers — annually in salary increases and tuition reimbursements? Where is the statewide review of all school districts?  Where are the standards? Where is the outrage?

And how does any of this help the children?

We don’t know, because all Davy is willing to do is cluck that it’s wrong, but take no action.
Who is she protecting, the school districts, or the taxpayers?
As if we had to ask.
“I feel sorry for New Jersey. Here they had an opportunity to step up to the plate, and they opted not to,” former FBI agent Allen Ezell, who investigated diploma mill fraud for 11 years, told the Asbury Park Press. “I would have thought New Jersey would have had a little more brass than that.”

Yes, Agent Ezell, New Jersey has tons of brass. As long as they using it against the taxpayer.  When it comes to upsetting the bureaucracy, not so much.

Manalapan – Englishtown: School district worried about next year

Budget restraints may eliminate 9 jobs

n anticipated budget shortfall in the 2009-10 school year could force the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional Schools district to restructure its schools and eliminate nine teaching positions, according to the schools superintendent.

Superintendent of Schools John Marciante said three teaching positions could be cut in 2009-10 from Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School due to a decrease in enrollment there. He said those positions, in addition to another six district teaching positions, could be eliminated as teachers retire.

Marciante said the district would require fewer teachers if it uses a flexible block schedule for some of its students. The scheduling allows faculty to teach subjects to several shifts of students, as opposed to one teacher instructing the same group throughout the day.

In a letter to parents issued Wednesday, Marciante said the largest single component of the district’s budget — roughly $43.4 million in a $69 million spending plan — is salaries and benefits.

“It is only through cuts in this area that significant budget reductions can be addressed,” Marciante said in the letter.

“People retiring . . . at the top of the guide make somewhere between $80,000 and $85,000 plus benefits of up to $15,000,” Marciante said in an interview Thursday. “That rounds out to $90,000-plus per person. Multiply that by 9 and that’s more than $800,000 (in savings) right there.”

Marciante said the proposal also would restructure the Clark Mills, Lafayette Mills, Milford Brook, Taylor Mills and Wemrock Brook schools as first- through fifth-grade schools. Pine Brook School would house sixth-graders.

Clark Mills, Milford Brook and Taylor Mills are currently first- through third-grade schools. Lafayette Mills, Pine Brook and Wemrock Brook house grades four to six.

Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School would continue to house grades seven and eight.

He said the district would save funds with shorter bus routes, as students would no longer have to travel across town to get to what will be their respective neighborhood schools.

Business Administrator Joseph Passiment said the proposal was driven by the new state funding formula and the recently passed legislation that restricts the amount of taxes to be raised. He said the district is anticipating a budget reduction of more than $1 million for 2009-10, and another substantial reduction in 2010-11.

Passiment said district state aid will remain flat for three years, and state law restricts tax-levy increases to 4 percent. The district projects enrollment will stay flat at roughly 5,500 students, he said.

“(A $2.7 million increase in state aid in 2007) was a one-shot deal,” Passiment said. “Health benefits, gas, heat, electricity, telephones, supplies and materials, everything is going up.

“If I can only raise my revenue stream from taxes 4 percent and my state aid remains the same, the current costs I have escalating for next year will result in a shortfall. That’s a given,” Passiment said.

Parents had mixed feelings about the proposal.

“I think it would be great to have everything more localized so that you aren’t driving all the way across town,” said Meryl D’Amato, whose 9-year-old son Nicholas attends Clark Mills School. “Nicholas is on the bus for an hour, and that would cut the bus drive by probably a half-hour.”

Kim Waters said she wasn’t pleased with what she’s heard of the proposal so far. She has 10-year-old twins at Clark Mills School whom she expects to move to Wemrock Brook in fourth grade.

“In fifth grade I have no idea where they would go,” Waters said. “Then in sixth grade they would have to go to another school. That would be quite a lot of switching around for my kids. I don’t want to seem negative about it until I hear more of the facts, but that was my first reaction.”

Marciante said the plan has not been finalized, and public meetings will be held at 7:30 p.m. May 8, May 21 and June 5 at the middle school to get community input.

“The change in the state law allows us to really predict going forward,” Marciante said. “All we’re estimating here is the costs going up for utilities and insurance, and we’re making modest expectations for raises . . . What I think people need to understand with the budget change by the legislation is this is a real number.”

APP – By Alesha Williams Boyd

Taxpayers with little choice: Superintendent salaries hover around $ Quarter Mil a year

A perfect example why these school budgets keep going up. It’s not to educate our children – it’s to pay these guys..

Epps’ pay would climb to $275G in 3 years

Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Charles T. Epps Jr. is expected to ink a new three-year deal this week that will pay him $252,000 a year starting July 1, bump him up to $260,000 next year, and pay $275,000 the third year, according to persons familiar with the negotiations.

The agreement represents a roughly 4 percent hike for the 63-year-old schools chief who’s been hauling down nearly $242,000 a year, including his $1,000 a month housing allowance, for running the state’s second-largest school system.

“I think that’s kind of a lot of money, while teachers go underpaid,” School 11 parent Frank Ramos said about Epps’s anticipated pay raise. adding: “I didn’t even know he was the superintendent.”

No school official would confirm the new salary figures, and through his spokesman, Epps would only say, “There is no finalized contract as yet.”

A public hearing on the new pact is scheduled for Thursday, 5 p.m. at School 11, 886 Bergen Ave., when the attorney who negotiated the deal on behalf of the school board is expected to make a presentation.

Even before the anticipated raise, Epps was one of the highest-paid public officials in Hudson County, out-earning both Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy ($118,000) and Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise ($133,000).

But compared to other superintendents, Epps’s deal represents the going rate. For example, the superintendent of Newark – Marion A. Bolden – makes $270,000 a year.

And West New York’s schools chief Robert Van Zanten is paid $231,000 a year to run a 7,000-student district that is less than a quarter of the size of the Jersey City school district, which has 30,000 students. Union City’s schools boss Stanley Sanger is paid $202,000 a year in a district with 11,000 students. North Bergen Superintendent Robert Dandorph earns $198,000 a year for running a 8,000-student system.

“This is one position throughout the nation that has been able to command these kind of salaries,” said Mike Yaple, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, which is also a headhunter for school bosses.

“Around 1990, the typical support search yielded 100 applications,” Yaple said. “Now if we get one or two dozen, you are doing well.”

As teacher salaries rise, administrative and superintendent jobs become less attractive, he said.

Besides, Yaple added, superintendents don’t get summers off.

Monroe: A Councilman Wins One for the Taxpayers!

Councilman Frank Caligiuri has bravely and courageously managed to get a “victory” dinner cancelled by the inept and bumbling board of education that seems to believe they are entitled to some kind of special dispensation from us, the taxpayers.

Let me delve into this just a little bit… The school board which is unable to control spending, and thus taxes, hires a PR firm at thousands of our tax dollars expense, to educate us on raising our taxes and why that is a good idea. Then, the same inane school board wants to hold a “victory” dinner paid for by the company that they hired as the architectural consultant for this ludicrous and grandiose project, The Design Collaborative. To make matters even worse, the Superintendant and School Board president are attempting to cast Mr. Caligiuri as the bad guy. I just don’t see it that way!

Mr. Caligiuri appears to be the only elected official standing up for taxpayers, for all of us that fund this town, this school district, and these dinners they want. How many other dinners did the school board and others get before the vote? Mr. Caligiuri is a very courageous elected official during this time when it appears that our elected officials are openly mocking us with reckless abandon. Please let Mr. Caligiuri know you appreciate that he is looking out for you, the taxpayer in this instance. His e-mail address is ward4info@aol.com

It continues to appear that the taxpayers are not being served by the school board we elected… I can only imagine how mismanaged the schools are… afterall we rarely if ever get a glimpse of what goes on inside the buildings we entrust our children to everyday. I can say that I’m not encouraged by what we can see and by the decisions our elected school board makes that become public, even when they would rather we not know about them.

Please let me know your thoughts on the tax increase you received this Christmas season…

posted by Rob Eichmann at 11:11 PM