In a July 14 press release, the Montclair Education Association broke their silence — calling out the Montclair school district’s business office for questionable decisions, asking employees to behave unethically and retaliating against whistleblowers.
The union also stated that Christina Hunt, the business administrator and board secretary, has replaced several open positions in the business office with former colleagues from her time spent in the East Orange school district. Hunt joined the district in 2022, after three years in the East Orange business office.
“Enough is enough,” union president Dan Marcketta told Montclair Local. “Many of the problems in the business office have indeed persisted for a long time but they are currently worse than they have ever been. Accountability rests with those that are in the position to make improvements. Sadly, that has not been the case here.”
David Cantor, the district’s executive director of communications and community engagement, declined to respond to questions about the union’s claims.
“We do not discuss personnel matters,” Cantor said Wednesday.
Within the last year, two business office employees have been the victims of retaliation — one even placed on administrative leave — after filing whistleblower claims, Marcketta said in the release.
In their claims, the whistleblowers “described multiple incidents where they allegedly were asked to behave unethically or misuse district funds, as well as how their refusal resulted in a hostile work environment,” the release says.
Marcketta declined to provide examples of the unethical situations or details of the hostile work environment, citing ongoing litigation.
For months, the union has inquired with the Central Office about decisions in the business office and been met with “little to no response,” the release says. The union requested documents regarding health insurance costs, insurance broker contracts and payments to vendors, Marcketta told Montclair Local. Only one of four document requests submitted starting in May has been returned, he said.
The Montclair district’s business has been “a revolving door” during Hunt’s time in the district, Marcketta said in the release. And as the district began to fill open positions, the union noticed a pattern.
“We are struggling to accept the coincidence that every single new employee Ms. Hunt hired to replace those who left were her colleagues from East Orange,” Marcketta said in the release.
Edwin Brown, assistant business administrator, joined the district in September 2022, with a salary of $100,000. Prior to joining, he served as the East Orange school district comptroller for two years, according to his LinkedIn.
Sheila Maurice, transportation supervisor, also joined the district in fall 2022, after a year-long stint as accounts payable supervisor in the East Orange school district, according to her LinkedIn. Her salary was set at $77,500.
Food service director Reddrick Robinson — approved at the Montclair Board of Education’s June 29 meeting with a salary of $110,000 — also hails from the East Orange school district, where he served as food service manager since 2021, according to his LinkedIn.
The district also extended a $90,000 offer, since rescinded, to Shaquana Brutus for the position of administrative confidential secretary to the school business administrator. Brutus worked as a secretary for the East Orange Board of Education from 2013 to 2022, according to her LinkedIn. The board has not yet approved another candidate for the position.
“The latest hires recently became public, clearly demonstrating a worrisome pattern,” Marcketta told Montclair Local. “This combined with the business office’s continued refusal to turn over documents led us to conclude that we could not in good conscience wait any longer.”
This is not the first time district employees have spoken out about hostility in the business office, the release says.
Hunt filled the vacancy left when former business administrator Nicholas Cipriano disappeared from district affairs in March 2022 without an explanation from administrators.
Cipriano was hired as the business administrator and board secretary in summer 2021, around the same time he was hired to conduct an investigation into a 32-page self-described “whistleblower” letter by Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Robert H. Kelley IV claiming an abusive work environment in Montclair schools. Cipriano replaced Emidio D’Andrea, one of the district employees he investigated.
The complete findings of Cipriano’s investigation remain confidential, but it found a disrespectful work environment that fostered negativity and cultural insensitivity. Cipriano was paid $28,930 for the investigation, according to an August 2021 bill report by the district.
“We are dismayed that this pattern of workplace hostility in Montclair — especially the business office — seems to continue,” Marcketta said in the release. “Our students look to all school employees — both in and out of the classroom — to lead with integrity and respect. Clearly, there’s still work to be done, and any hope that the cycle would end with Ms. Hunt is growing dim.”
The Montclair Education Association declined to make a public comment at the most recent school board meeting, on July 17. The next public board meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 6.
“I am sure everyone will agree: Montclair students, schools and staff deserve ethical, competent administrators,” Marcketta said in the release. “We urge the Board of Education to work to get to the bottom of these allegations and ongoing issues and take any means necessary to correct course. We simply cannot continue to go on this way.”