School district’s lease, renovation of church buildings violated state law

The Ridgefield Park Board of Education violated three state laws when it brokered a lease and loan agreement that opened the Thomas Jefferson Early Learning Center.

The New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance issued a report that detailed the violations Wednesday evening.

A state monitor was assigned to the district after a $2.5 million budget shortfall was discovered in 2015.

The state investigation found the 10-year lease for the school was signed without a public hearing, the board was issued a loan to renovate the properties without its knowledge and the two school buildings were being used before they were authorized for occupation by the Office of School Facilities.

The district leased the buildings for the Thomas Jefferson school from St. Francis of Assisi Parish on July 1, 2014 for more than $5.9 million.

Mary Ellen Murphy, incoming president of the local workers union, has been an elementary art teacher in Ridgefield Park for two decades. During the last two years, as a district and a community Ridgefield Park is simply not functioning, Murphy said.

She wasn’t surprised by the findings of the state investigation “because I’ve been here for 20 years, and I had enough experience in the roles that I’ve had in education to watch and be concerned.”

Read the entire NJ.com article here.

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