Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hackensack school board wages bitter war against council

Before Tuesday night's City Council meeting, Board of Education Attorney Richard Salkin conferred with Lynne Hurwitz, back to camera, the grandmother who heads Hackensack's Democratic Party. Hurwitz has been identified in The Record as "the key strategist behind the Zisa family political machine, which ruled the city for three decades until its slate of candidates was defeated last year [2013]."

Jason Nunnermacker, an attorney, was a member of the losing Zisa-backed City Council slate in May 2013. Now, as president of the Board of Education, he appears at nearly every council meeting, along with Salkin and other board members, to berate officials. Salkin was stripped of his second job, municipal prosecutor, after his allies lost the election.


After their work session was canceled, four members of the nine-member Board of Education, led by their attorney, went on the attack at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

Board President Jason Nunnermacker, members Francis W. Albolino, Joseph Barreto and Daniel Carola; and school board lawyer Richard Salkin took turns at the lectern.

Another member, Mark Stein, was in the audience. 

What residents who attend the meetings witness is the losing side in the May 2013 municipal election, most, if not all, of whom are Democrats, attacking the winners, most of whom are Republicans.

This is the same type of partisan rancor that has paralyzed Congress.

From all the time school board officials spend at City Council meetings, you'd think their own house is in order, but that is far from the case.

The total 2015-16 school budget topped $107 million, exceeding the city's own budget of under $95 million, and council officials are not sure where all of that money is going.

Board members count on voter apathy to keep them in office and to approve their profligate budgets, as they did this year, when fewer than 1,000 of the city's 20,000 registered voters cast ballots in April's school election.

Legal fees

As a former City Council candidate in 2013, I read a statement on Tuesday night concerning Salkin's 2014 legal fees far exceeding the contracted amount; stolen iPads and Chromebooks, two of which were traced to a teacher's house; and rumors of sexual harassment complaints against a board member and others.

In 2013, as board attorney, Salkin turned down a request from Mayor John Labrosse for payment of $1 million the city was owed for supplying a police officer at Hackensack High School.

In 2014, according to documents, Salkin billed more than $153,000 for legal services, even though his contract limits those payments to $95,000.

This year, he billed the board more than $36,000 in the first three months alone.

Stolen tablets

Of 29 iPads and Chromebooks stolen from Hackensack Pubic Schools from April 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2014, only two were recovered.

Those two were traced to a teacher's house, but the teacher was not charged or disciplined.

They were among a larger number of devices, valued at more than $35,000, that went missing, but The Record has chosen not to publish a story reporting the thefts, a councilman said.


There also are disturbing rumors of sexual harassment complaints against a board member and school employees, and a rumor that one supervisor has falsified time cards for a secretary who went home early.

Complaints about low-quality food in the high school have fallen on deaf ears, even as many students race out to Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, pizzerias and fast-food restaurants for lunch.

And the board has shown no interest in making schools more efficient and saving money by installing solar panels.

Todd South, the reporter assigned to Hackensack, covered Tuesday night's meeting.

Salkin speaking during the public portion of the meeting. Documents show he billed the school board for more than $153,000 in legal services in 2014 (at $150 an hour), and was paid, even though his contract limits him to $95,000 annually. In the first three months of this year, his billings exceeded $36,000.

Another persistent City Council critic is school board member Daniel Carola, 30, who initially covered his face with papers when I tried to take his picture before he approached the lectern to speak.

Francis W. Albolino, a school board veteran, front; and fellow member Joseph Barreto waiting to speak to the council. Barreto was on the losing Zisa-backed council slate in 2013. Albolino wants the city to give the schools half of the taxes collected on new apartment buildings, claiming hundreds of children will be moving into Hackensack.

Also addressing the council on Tuesday night was Howard Hurwitz, executive director of the Northwest Bergen County Utilities Authority, which operates a wastewater treatment plant. He is the husband of Lynne Hurwitz.

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