Ponds: No conflict with ‘whistleblower’ investigator becoming Montclair business administrator (UPDATED)
By TALIA WIENER
The person described publicly by Montclair schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds only as an “outside entity” contracted to investigate a self-described whistleblower’s complaints is slated to be hired as the district’s business administrator Monday night.
Nicholas Cipriano would succeed Emidio D’Andrea if the board approves his expected appointment as business administrator and board secretary Monday. D’Andrea, who retired at the end of the 2020-21 school year, had been one of four current or former school officials Montclair Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Robert H. Kelley IV targeted in a 32-page April letter. Kelley had said the officials created a toxic work environment and caused school facilities to be neglected to the point they endangered students’ and staff members’ safety.
UPDATE: 6 p.m.: Ponds, in a message to Montclair Local late Monday afternoon, said Cipriano's investigation into Kelly's letter is complete — the first public update the district has given on the progress of the investigation in months. But Ponds said he wouldn't be publicly reporting on recommendations from the investigation until later in September, as he remains focused on the fall reopening of schools.
"There is no conflict of interest as he completed the investigation before he was recommended and approved by the board as our business administrator/board secretary," Ponds wrote by email "Additionally, we checked with our legal counsel to make sure that we did not violate any rules or regulations.
"As there is a dearth of business administrators available, we are excited to have Mr. Cipriano join our team. He is highly qualified to support our district in this role."
Ponds, in a May 7 community message, said the allegations would be investigated, and because of the nature of the complaint “an outside entity will lead this work.” He’d resisted calls from the Montclair Education Association in May to publicly name the investigator, saying at a school board 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.”
But the district provided Montclair Local with a copy of the investigator’s June 22 contract in response to a public record request. Cipriano’s compensation was set at $150 per hour, and the contract says he agrees "he will be acting as an independent contractor and not as an employee of the Board."
Ponds, at the May meeting, said he was declining to identify the investigator at the time “not to hide anyone’s name or anything, but to make sure people feel safe doing the investigation.”
D’Andrea last attended a public Board of Education meeting May 17.
Cipriano resigned as superintendent of the Wood-Ridge school district in February, 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.
Montclair Board of Education president Latifah Jannah said in a brief message Monday she could respond to questions about the appointment the following day. Montclair Local has not yet been able to reach Cipriano.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when a message was received from schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds.