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Despite Denials, Attorney’s Bills Show School Board President Was Consulted On Agreement Mandating Withdrawal Of Ethics Charges Against Her And VP

School board will spend at least $14,000 on separation agreement.

1-31-14 special meeting09

Left to right: School district business administrator John Calavano, school board attorney Robert M. Tosti, school board president Julia Presley at the Jan. 31, 2014 special meeting.

Board of Education president Julia Presley on at least eight occasions consulted with the board attorney on the former schools Superintendent’s separation agreement that is predicated on the withdrawal of ethics complaints against her, according to the attorney’s invoices.

The conversations are delineated in invoices submitted for November and December, 2013, by board attorney Robert M. Tosti.

Presley as recently as the Jan. 31 special board meeting – when the agreement was approved – has denied having any input on the separation agreement with former schools Superintendent Edward Seto. The agreement also requires Seto to withdraw ethics complaints filed with the state Department of Education’s School Ethics Board against board vice president Eva Nagy.

The state “School Ethics Act” prohibits a school board member from acting “in his official capacity in any matter where he or a member of his immediate family has a personal involvement that is or creates some benefit to the school official or member of his immediate family …”

Whether Presley’s participation in talks about the agreement violated that act is a matter that could only be decided by the state Department of Education’s School Ethics Board, said New Jersey School Boards Association spokeswoman Jeanette Rundquist.

That position was reiterated by education department spokesman Mike Yaple, who said in an email that whether an ethics violation occurs “is a decision that is made after a complaint is filed with the School Ethics Commission, followed by a hearing where both sides have the ability to present their case and all facts are considered.”

Tosti’s invoices show that he spoke with Presley about the agreement on Nov. 12, 13 and 14 and Dec. 3, 16, 17 and 19, 2013. The invoices also show that Tosti reviewed emails about the agreement from Presley on Dec, 17 and 21, 2013, and held a conference with the school board on the subject on Oct. 23, 2013.

The Franklin Reporter & Advocate obtained the invoices through an Open Public Records Act request.

“I’m not involved in the negotiations of the agreement at all,” Presley said at the Jan. 31 meeting, in response to a question from Township Councilman Phil Kramer (D-Ward 3). Presley said negotiations were handled by the board’s personnel committee, comprised of Nagy and board members Richard Arline and Keisha Smith-Carrington. Presley, as board president,  is an ex-officio member of the committee.

She said the three members “just reviewed what was done by the two attorneys.”

But board business administrator John Calavano, who, the attorney’s records show, participated in two of the eight conversations Presley had with the attorney, said those conversations were about Seto’s separation agreement.

“Looking at the bill, that’s what he clocked in at, that’s all we would have been talking about,” Calavano said. “We’re not talking about his existing contract, we’re not talking about the interim superintendent’s contract, so that’s what we talked about, the separation agreement.”

Tosti’s December 2013 invoice includes this Dec. 6 entry, under the “Superintendent’s Contract” category: “… begin preparation of separation agreement.” The term “separation agreement” is used elsewhere in the invoices under the “Superintendent’s Contract” heading.

“I have no comment,” Calavano said, when asked for his reaction to Presley’s Jan. 31 denial of having any involvement in the creation of the separation agreement.

The school board at that Jan. 31 special meeting approved the separation agreement with Seto, four months after it voted not to offer him a new contract when his expired at the end of June. Both Presley and Nagy voted to approve the agreement, through which Seto will be paid about $55,000.

There is no direct indication in the bills submitted by Tosti that Nagy participated in the discussions, other than his bill for the Oct. 23, 2013 “conference with BOE regarding Superintendent contract.”

The ethics complaints Seto filed against Presley and Nagy are currently before the state education department’s School Ethics Commission. The commission held a hearing on the complaints earlier this month – the results of which have not been released – and will address the matter again at its Feb. 18 meeting, said department spokesman Mike Yaple.

According to Tosti’s bills, the superintendent’s agreement was discussed on:

  • Oct. 23, 2013 with the “BOE”;
  • Nov. 12, 2013 in two telephone conferences with Presley;
  • Nov. 13, 2013 in a telephone conference with Presley;
  • Nov. 14, 2013 in a telephone conference with Calavano and Presley;
  • Dec. 3, 2013 in two telephone conferences with Calavano and “board president;”
  • Dec. 16, 2013 in a telephone conference with “board president;”
  • Dec. 17, 2013 in a telephone conference with “board president” and in a review from an email from “board president;”
  • Dec. 19, 2013 in two telephone conferences with “board president,” and
  • Dec. 23, 2013 in emails to “board president.”

The documents also show that Tosti billed the district $13,892 for the time spent in 2013 on the agreement: $2,145 in October, $5,478 in November and $6,269 in December.

Calavano said those costs will probably increase once the district receives Tosti’s January, 2014 invoice.

Editor’s note: Dr. Presley did not respond to two emails seeking comment; if/when she responds the story will be updated.

 

 

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