The Montclair School District has hired a new business administrator and board secretary, filling the position previously held by Nicholas Cipriano, who disappeared from district affairs in March without an explanation from administrators.
The Montclair Board of Education approved the appointment of Christina Hunt with a salary set at $185,000 during its July 13 meeting, subject to a criminal background review, proper NJ certification and personnel clearance. according to the agenda of the meeting. The hunt began in position on Thursday, July 14, according to the agenda.
The board did not disclose Hunt’s background, but a “Christina Hunt” served as business administrator and board secretary of the East Orange School District until June 30, according to East Orange Board of Education meeting minutes.
Messages left with the Montclair and East Orange school district business offices Wednesday were not returned.
At the July 13 meeting, board member Eric Scherzer made a motion to discuss personnel matters, including Hunt’s appointment. He wanted the board to return to executive session to “discuss more fully” the issues. Board member Kathryn Weller-Demming seconded the motion. The other seven board members voted against the motion.
Questions Scherzer submitted in writing to district administrators after the board’s July 7 meeting — how many applicants were considered for the position, who the personnel committee reviewed for the position, what the applicants’ qualifications were — had not yet been answered, he said at the meeting. July 13.
“[The questions] I believe answers are required for us to do our due diligence,” he said. The answers are “absolutely necessary” for the board to “make an intelligent decision,” he added.
Plus, the district must provide personnel files and applicant information for those being considered for the position, Scherzer said, citing a 1990 decision by the commissioner of education regarding board members’ access to applicant information.
Horner v. Kingsway Regional High School found that Board of Education members should be given access to resumes and applications of candidates being considered for employment by the district.
The ruling ruled that administrations must make available for review “complete personnel files and applicant information of all persons considered for positions … during regular business hours within a reasonable time before the board’s proposed action.”
At the meeting, Scherzer asked school board legal counsel Isabel Machado if the district should provide the documents. She did not directly answer the question, saying she was not aware of what documents were or were not provided to board members.
Scherzer declined to answer Montclair Local’s questions about his remarks, citing confidential personnel matters. Machado did not respond to an email sent to her office last week asking if the district had to provide the documents.
According to the Kingsway decision and a subsequent decision, Beatty v. Board of Education of the Township of Chester, “a member of the board may have access, upon request, to the files of job applicants, subject to reasonable restrictions established by policy of the board or by the superintendent,” said Janet Bamford, chief public affairs officer for the New Jersey School Boards Association.
If board members don’t have access to the documents, they can file a contested case with the education commissioner, she said.
But while they have the right to review application materials, board members have a limited role in hiring, according to a New Jersey School Boards Association article published in the organization’s quarterly magazine. Much of the hiring process takes place with the administration, including the interview process, the article states.
“The school superintendent is the educational leader of your district and has the education, certification and experience to make these important hiring recommendations,” the article states. “Board members should not rubber stamp employment; however, they should consider the administrator’s recommendations.”
Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds did not respond to an email sent last week to his district address asking about the number of applicants for the position and if and when he provided the board with applicant materials.
Cipriano was was hired as business administrator and secretary of the Montclair district board last summerat the same time he was hired to conduct an investigation on a 32-page letter from self-described “whistleblower” by Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Robert H. Kelley IV alleging an abusive work environment in Montclair schools. Cipriano replaced Emidio D’Andrea, one of the county employees he investigated.
Ponds previously said he and Cipriano “had a relationship for over five years,” knowing each other from Cipriano’s time as a superintendent at Wood-Ridge. Ponds is a former superintendent of schools for Moonachie, a neighbor of Wood-Ridge in Bergen County.
The full findings of Cipriano’s investigation remain confidential, but she found a disrespectful work environment that fostered negativity and cultural insensitivity, Ponds said at a Nov. 22 school board meeting. Cipriano was paid $28,930 for the investigation, according to an August 2021 bill report from the district.
Cipriano was present at the March 2 Board of Education meeting, but he has not been to a board meeting since then. He last responded to an email from Montclair Local on March 3, regarding school board election results.
When Ponds announced in May that the district would issue 83 non-renewal letters to compensate a $3 million deficit in its 2022-2023 budgethe said previous assurances that the county would not face budget problems had come from “former administrator” of the business Cipriano – perhaps the first public recognition, Cipriano and the district had parted ways.
When asked about Cipriano’s absence in May, Ponds said he was unable to comment on personnel matters.
In Aprill, the district hired an acting business administrator and board secretary, Paul Roth.
A former business administrator for the South Orange-Maplewood school district, Roth served from April to June at a rate of $835 a day. or the list for the permanent post of district business administrator and board secretary was posted on June 2 on the employment district website.