Montclair schools hire acting administrator, mum on where Cipriano has gone
The Montclair school district hired an acting business administrator and board secretary earlier this month, at a rate of $825 per day — but district officials have not explained why the existing and recently hired administrator, Nicholas Cipriano, is unable to fill his role.
The Montclair Board of Education approved the appointment of Paul Roth as acting business administrator and board secretary at its April 13 meeting. Roth will serve in the position through June 30, pending background checks and county approval, the board resolution says.
The resolution, an addendum to the April 13 agenda, has not been posted on the district website as of Tuesday. The resolution’s language was shared with Montclair Local by Nina De Rosa, school superintendent Jonathan Ponds’ executive assistant.
Nicholas Cipriano was hired as the Montclair district’s business administrator and board secretary last summer, 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. He replaced Emidio D’Andrea, one of the district employees he investigated.
Cipriano was present at the March 2 Montclair Board of Education meeting, but he has not been at a board meeting since. He last responded to an email from Montclair Local on March 3, regarding school board election results. Phone messages left with the district business office over the past few weeks have not been returned.
Superintendent Jonathan Ponds and Montclair Board of Education President Latifah Jannah said this week they do not comment on matters involving personnel. Ponds and Jannah have not yet responded to questions about Roth’s compensation.
Also in March, the district hired an independent consultant to investigate a complaint alleging discriminatory statements made by a Montclair school district staff member. The contract with Charles Ford was approved by the board at its March 2 meeting, the last meeting at which Cipriano was present.
Ford was hired at a rate of $150 per hour, capped at $10,000 without additional board approval. The district replied to a public records request sent last month seeking a contract or description of services with a copy of the resolution authorizing his hire, but no details on the services he’d perform. The district also declined to provide any correspondence it might have involving a district employee about allegations of inappropriate behavior, citing an ongoing investigation; an attorney working with Montclair Local is seeking clarification on that response. The district said it didn’t have any documents reflecting any response by Ford to a request for proposal for the consultant position he’s filling.
There is a Paul Roth who served as the South Orange-Maplewood school district’s business administrator and board secretary until his retirement in January 2021, according to The Village Green. In January 2022, he was hired to serve as interim business administrator in the Hillsborough school district at a rate of $750 per day, according to meeting minutes from a Jan. 10 Hillsborough school board meeting. Roth held that position during a criminal investigation into the school district's finances by the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office and the Hillsborough Police, according to a Patch.com article. Gerald Eckert became Hillsborough’s business administrator and board secretary March 1.
The findings of Cipriano’s own investigation remain confidential, but the investigation found a disrespectful work environment that fostered negativity and cultural insensitivity, Ponds said at a Nov. 22 school board meeting. He was paid $28,930 for the investigation, according to an August bill report by the district.
Cipriano resigned as superintendent of the Wood-Ridge school district in February 2021, officials in that district said at the time. His resignation became effective June 30 but he was granted immediate leave in February under the Family and Medical Leave Act, officials said.
Board Vice President Priscilla Church and board member Eric Scherzer referred questions for this story to Jannah and Ponds. Board members Melanie Deysher, Phaedra Dunn, Crystal Hopkins, Monk Inyang, Allison Silverstein, Kathryn Weller-Demming have not yet responded to questions sent to their district emails Monday with questions about Cipriano’s absence.