Senator Ray Lesniak is doing a touchdown dance to celebrate a Superior Court ruling that school board members and administrators in Elizabeth engaged in corruption, both for violating the laws governing eligibility for free/reduced lunch and for coercing teachers and staff members to donate money to political candidates.
Elizabeth has a reputation as a political cesspool. The Star-Ledger’s Ted Sherman reported in May that Elizabeth Public Schools is essentially a “relentless political machine fueled by nepotism, patronage, money and favors, using its nearly 4,000 employees as a ready-made fundraising base."
For example, twenty relatives of school board members are employed by the district; the former Board president, Rafael Fajardo, has six relatives employed there, including a sister who is paid more than $50K a year as truant officer for preschoolers despite the fact that preschoolers are not obliged to attend school. In retaliation for Sen. Lesniak’s sponsorship of the Opportunity Scholarship Act (a bill that would award corporate-sponsored scholarships to private and parochial schools for needy kids in lousy districts), members of the Board and assorted administrators pressured employees to support a different Democrat, Jerome Dunn, in the primary. (He lost.)
The sordid history of Elizabeth’s political corruption is a character blot for NJEA, which campaigned hard and expensively for Dunn.
The Superior Court Judge also ordered Fajardo and School Superintendent Pablo Munoz to pay more than $60K in legal fees back to the district.
Board President Marie Munn is employed full-time as a human resources administrator for New Jersey Organ and Tissue Sharing Network and her husband works for the New York Times; he's also owner and head coach of a semi-pro football team. Ms. Munn successfully applied for her children to receive free lunch, despite the fact that the eligibility cut-off for a family of four is an annual income of $29,055.
Carlos Lucio makes $103,163 per year as a principal in Elizabeth and he successfully applied to the free/reduced lunch program for his 6-year old daughter.
The supervisor of custodians, Marlene Abitanto, makes $73,350 per year and she has been getting free lunch for her high school daughter.
President Marie Munn issued a statement yesterday that says that she “understood the [free lunch application] to be nothing more than administrative paperwork.” She assumed that her children were ineligible and she gave them money each week for lunch. “After the publishing of Mr. Sherman’s article, Ms. Munn inquired what her children did with the money and they informed her that they used the money to buy snacks during and/or after school.”
Glad that clears that up.