Jersey City schools: Another Jersey district with a lot of wealthy administrators and little financial transparency

Oct 25, 2013 by

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – You can add Jersey City to the list of New Jersey school districts with an absurdly expensive administrative staff and a noticeable contempt for financial transparency.

EAGnews recently obtained and inspected spending records for the Jersey City school district, as part of our national initiative to promote financial transparency in public education.

District officials were initially cooperative in sending us bare-bones dollar figures for various types of spending in the 2011-12 academic year. But they went completely silent when asked about details.

The same thing happened when we recently asked Newark and Paterson school officials for detailed spending information.

But we still received enough data from Jersey City to be disturbed, particularly about the staggering amounts of money spent on salaries and benefits for dozens of top level administrators.

There were at least 29 administrators in the Jersey City district making more than $100,000 per year in 2012. Collectively they made slightly more than $4 million that year.

That list included one superintendent, six assistant superintendents, 10 special assistants and four executive assistants.

We were also curious about the large amounts of money the district spent on entertainment ($336,572), legal costs ($702,589), police and probation costs ($488,113), a limousine/charter bus tab ($391,639); and rehabilitation treatment costs ($132,894).

And we couldn’t help but wonder about travel costs. Just about every other school district in the nation we’ve inspected spends six figures per year on travel, mostly for professional development conferences at swanky hotels. We asked Jersey City officials where their airline costs were listed, but of course received no response.

Top-heavy administration

Here’s a list of top Jersey City school administrators and what they were paid in 2012:

There’s Charles Epps Jr., superintendent, $204,125; Joseph Belasco, special assistant, $134,114; John Chester, executive assistant, $114,100; Robert Eveland, assistant general counsel, $117,875; Thomas Horan, special assistant, $103,780; Emery Konick Jr., executive assistant, $128,513; Kevin O’Reilly, special assistant, $100,794; Jenaro Rivas, associate superintendent, $166,055; Flavio Rubano, deputy superintendent, $172,845; Aldo Sanchez-Abreu, $135,466; Lawrence Small Jr., risk manager, $106,575; Franklin Walker, associate superintendent, $156,687; Micheal Winds, special assistant, $151,826; Patricia Bryant, associate superintendent, $157,263 and Nancy Cadenilla, budget officer, $107,113.

And then there’s Paula Christen, special assistant, $130,209; Norma Fernandez, special assistant, $142,012; Paula Hak, general counsel, $152,520; Maryann Hammer, associate superintendent, $156,208; Cynthia Jones, affirmative action officer/special assistant, $105,996; Adele Macula, associate superintendent, $162,090; Hermione McNeil, executive assistant, $145,952; Diana Petolino, education planner, $131,570; Constance Piatkowski, executive assistant, $136,223; Milfred Rivera-Castro, special assistant, $107,697; Ellen Ruane, associate superintendent, $155,754; Melissa Simmons, business administrator, $158,875; Noemi Velazquez, special assistant, $135,568; and Mirna Weglarz, special assistant, $138,679.

Collectively these folks took home $4,016,484 in salary in 2012. They all had 250 contracted work days, but were given between 44 and 47 paid days off per year. That included up to 25 vacation days, 15 sick days, 2 personal days and 5 “other contracted non-working days,” whatever that means.

How can this top-heavy administration – assuming it hasn’t shrunk significantly in two years – justify the fact that 16 of the 39 schools in the district are struggling to meet state academic standards? The district had a total operation budget of $565.9 million in 2011-12. Total spending per student was nearly $22,000 – way above the national average – while the average student-to-teacher ratio was less than 11-to-1 – well below the national average.

Lots of highly paid administrators, lots of money to spend on students and relatively small class sizes. Yet somehow the taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth.

Lots of costly entertainment

The district’s entertainment tab – $336,572 – included $29,319 spent at movie theaters, $20,740 at bowling establishments, $36,175 on Broadway tickets, $20,140 on kid’s theater, $142,742 on performing arts and other theater, $48,432 on aquariums and zoos and $21,843 on movie rentals.

Some of the more pricey charges were $32,000 at the Mile Square Theatre on Nov. 29, 2011, $25,000 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center a few months earlier and $22,700 at the same place on May 30, 2012.

There was also a charge for $14,774 with “Theatre Direct International” on March 23, 2012.

We can’t explain these expenses to you, because school officials wouldn’t explain them to us. But for that kind of money we certainly hope the students – and that means all the students – were invited and provided free tickets.

Transportation charges totaled $10,663,114.

That includes some expenditures that are most likely tied to student transportation, like the $2.5 million for Hudson County Transport, the $3 million for JR Transportation Company or the nearly $2 million for Jersey City Public Schools Transportation.

But we have no good guesses about the $391,639 that went to A-1 Elegant Tour for limousines or charter buses. Hmmm.

The district’s hotel tab came to $25,448. The most interesting charges were $8,602 at the “Crowne Plaza” (city not listed) on April 4, 2012; $3,488 at Harrah’s Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City on Sept. 22, 2011; and $3,369 at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel on Jan. 19, 2012.

The restaurant bill came to $195,857, most of which went to Vinnie’s Pizzeria ($189,228), which we’re guessing was for school lunches. Other significant charges were $1,540 at the Rainforest Café on May 3, 2012; $1,523 at the same place several months earlier, $1,120 at Wonder Bagels and $1,100 at Medieval Times.

We suppose the $488,113 spent on police and probation involved security and working with students who had been in trouble. What a depressing sign of the times. We have no guess about the $132,894 spent on rehab treatment. We certainly hope that much money was not required for youngsters or school employees with various addictions.

The district’s cell phone tab came to $21,644 and the floral bill was $20,051.

Jersey City schools: Another Jersey district with a lot of wealthy administrators and little financial transparency – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Jim H

    What the heck is a SPECIAL ASSISTANT anyway and what exactly is it that they do for those exorbitant salaries in a school system that consistently fails to perform? If ever I’ve heard a title contrary to transparency, that’s the one! And then there are ten …

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