Ponds: Inquiry into Montclair schools whistleblower letter has started
An investigation into a self-described whistleblower’s lengthy letter, making dozens of allegations against current and former school officials, has begun and is expected to be completed before October, Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said.
“The investigation has started, and it will be a thorough one, including paperwork and interviews,” Ponds said.
At a May 17 school board meeting, Ponds had announced an outside entity would investigate the 32-page April letter by Montclair Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Robert H. Kelley IV, which alleged years worth of abuse of custodial staffers and neglect of school buildings, with most allegations centered on four officials, two of whom were still district employees at the time Kelley’s letter was written. Ponds asked the public for patience.
“So I ask our public, let us do our work,” Ponds said at the May 17 meeting. “Let us do our work so we can do this thoughtfully and meaningfully, and let’s not put pressure on our investigators. That is not safe and that is not right.”
Ponds wouldn’t say who that outside entity is, after being asked to do so by representatives of the Montclair Education Association.
Montclair Local in May published a detailed account of the letter’s allegations, as well as interviews from several people described in it — some supporting elements of Kelley’s allegations, and some refuting elements of them.
The only one of the four officials to answer messages from Montclair Local — Kelley’s predecessor, former Buildings and Grounds Supervisor John Postas — acknowledged he was dismissed after being accused of using racial slurs and bullying employees, but denies the behavior. He also denies another key aspect of Kelley’s claims — that his superiors gave him a list of employees to target with reprimands.
Kelley also made accusations targeting district Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea; Director of Buildings and Grounds Anthony Bispo; and former Buildings and Grounds Director John Eschmann, now the facilities director for Madison public schools. D'Andrea was slated to retire at the end of this school year.
Kelley alleges students were put at unnecessary risk from asbestos, rodents, extreme cold and heat, and other hazards at buildings throughout the district. Many of the incidents he describes date to 2018 and 2019. Some are as recent as the days leading up to the April 12 reopening of elementary schools for hybrid learning. The letter omits discussion of a period from early 2020 through the start of March 2021, when Kelley was on military leave.
He describes a culture of abusive leadership, in which custodial staffers were “sabotaged,” by managers, racist comments were made to and about staff members, and managers lied to state health investigators about known health and safety hazards.
— Talia Wiener