PLEASANTVILLE — A former school secretary has filed a tort claim alleging she was wrongfully terminated for making inquiries to the state, including a letter to the governor, about a potential deficit in the school district’s budget.
Lisa Brown, who was secretary to two vice principals in the district, was initially terminated after a meeting Jan. 7 in Superintendent Garnell Bailey’s office. After the meeting, Brown’s termination was changed to a suspension for the remainder of the week, but she no longer worked for the district as of Jan. 11, when her position was eliminated.
Brown had received a notice saying her positon was up for discussion due to restructuring “because the district was broke,” Brown said. The notice came soon after inquiries she made to the Office of Budget Review and Fiscal Monitors, as well as a letter to Gov. Chris Christie’s office.
Brown said she filled out paperwork for a whistle-blower complaint and submitted them to her union representative and to human resources.
“I was called in to go over it, we had a disagreement, she terminated me on the spot,” Brown said. “It was an ugly meeting.”
At a December meeting, the Board of Education heard from an auditor that $1.2 million spent on mold remediation at the beginning of the school year, along with a large amount of litigation the district faced, were going to significantly affect the budget. Robert Swartz, with Ford-Scott and Associates, told the board the lawsuits could increase the likelihood of a deficit.
Brown said she was concerned and upset by the actions during and following the December meeting and the threat of the disctrict’s deficit after “being only five months into the school year.”
In a move intended to save the district money, five supervisor positions were proposed to be eliminated at the December meeting. Other new hires and positions were included in the same motion, which initially failed because too many board members abstained on the vote.
However, the district’s state-appointed monitor, James Riehman, ordered the board to make the cuts the following week.
Brown attended the school board’s Jan. 8 reorganization meeting and brought up the issue of her termination.
She said she asked for accountability on the issue of the mold in the schools and questioned how the district’s financial situation has progressed toward a deficit while there is a state-appointed monitor assigned to assist it.
The tort claim filed Feb. 5 said Brown was retaliated against for “what she reasonably believed to be misappropriation of public funds, official misconduct of various members of the (board).”
Brown is seeking $1 million in damages from Bailey, Human Resources Director Mark Delcher and Riehman.
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