PLEASANTVILLE — Students in the district did not attend school for enough hours on 16 half days last year and the superintendent should have known, a state investigation found.
The Board of Education during a special meeting Tuesday voted to accept the findings of a report by the state Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance that revealed 16 half days during the 2018-19 school year did not meet the required four hours of instructional time, some by as much as 55 minutes.
“Given what I’ve learned and what’s in the OFAC report, we respect the findings of the OFAC report and we have developed early dismissal schedules for all school that conform with state statute and guidelines,” interim Superintendent Dennis Anderson said Wednesday.
School board members did not discuss the OFAC report or a corrective action plan during the four-hour meeting. Instead, much of the time was spent interviewing candidates, debating options and voting on appointments for a board attorney, health insurance broker and casualty insurance broker.
According to the OFAC report, former Superintendent Clarence Alston, who resigned in June, did not fulfill his administrative responsibility as the leader of the district, “ensuring that the half-day instructional schedule used by the district adhered to the statutory and regulatory standards, thereby placing the district’s financial well-being at risk.”
The half days were the subject of last-minute changes to the school schedule at a June meeting.
The report states the deficit was pointed out by the state-appointed monitor, Constance Bauer, who suggested the half-day sessions could be impacting revenue from the lunch program budget, which remains in a deficit.
According to the OFAC report, the instructional time issue has the potential to impact state aid because the commissioner of education is authorized to withhold aid for a district that fails to comply with state rules, standards or directives.
“No state aid shall be paid to any district which has not provided public school facilities for at least 180 days during the preceding school year, but the commissioner, for good cause shown, may remit the penalty,” the report states, quoting statute.
The report criticizes Alston’s leadership in the district, knowledge and honesty in communicating with investigators.
“Dr. Alston did not have sound operational knowledge of the district’s calendar insofar as he was unaware of the correct number of half days used by the district at the time of his interview,” the report concludes, “and apparently remained unaware 11 days later when he queried the investigator before confirming with district resources. Dr. Alston did not provide an accurate representation of the facts in this matter.”
The board adopted a corrective action plan during the meeting for the half-day findings that said each school’s principal had reviewed and revised full-day and early dismissal schedules to comply with state regulations. In addition, the upcoming year’s school calendar was revised to reflect significantly fewer half days.
The OFAC report will be referred to the state Board of Examiners for further review and to take whatever action it deems appropriate, according to the resolution on Pleasantville’s agenda for Tuesday.
Other actions taken during the meeting included a vote to accept a corrective action plan for the district lunch program after a review by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture found several issues related to the district’s food-service deficit, one of the reasons Pleasantville continues to have a state fiscal monitor. The report states the district must resolve its deficit by the end of this school year.
The board was also expected to vote on a new board attorney for the upcoming school year, a health insurance broker and a casualty insurance broker, but was only able to approve Atlantic Associates as its casualty insurance broker after hours of discussion and interviews with candidates.