The first meeting since school began, and since the former disgraced superintendent was sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison for corruption, saw the Toms River Regional school board and administration address heated public questions and pour out official responses to two years of scandal.
Addressing the scandal of former superintendent Michael Ritacco was often a topic of the school board meeting Tuesday night at Toms River North. Here is a synopsis of the meeting.
District Issues Official Statement on Ritacco Sentencing
An amended statement, similar to the one the district issued after Ritacco's guilty plea in April, was read publicly by board president Ed Gearity.
In addition to addressing the betrayal the school board felt from the scheming of the district's top administrator, the statement emphasized it was the actions of individuals that warranted punishment. The system of the district was still one of pride, said Gearity, and as this "painful chapter" in the district was closing it was time to move forward and maintain the educational success.
The statement also emphasized that the district would be going after the money lost due to inflated contracts Ritacco and former insurance broker Francis Gartland admitted to illegally producing via a system of kickbacks and bribes. A letter to federal judge Joel Pisano was also made public, itemizing the district's findings and requesting specific dollar amounts of restitution.
Public Demands Answers
Multiple members of the public came to the microphone during the public portions of the meeting to demand answers of the administration and school board as to how the scandal could have unfolded while they served.
Several board members responded to heated questions. Board member Jamie Jubert said the last two years were "hell" where she often asked herself how she and the board could have been so mislead by the superintendent. Board member Ed Gearity said that while the board was regularly assured by Ritacco that everything was fine, all the while the board was kept in the dark while the superintendent and insurance broker negotiated illegal "backroom deals" out of the board and public eye.
Business Administrator Bill Doering was called on by the board to speak to some of the new policies in place since 2010, such as formal bidding and other transparencies to improve the process.
Meanwhile board members Ben Giovine and Loreen Torrone called for more oversight from the board and community into administration decisions, hoping to create a committee where citizens could have more opportunity to comment on the school budget, or a personnel committee to help learn more about applicants and vacancies available in the district.
Comments from the public ranged from requests for any board member with a conflict of interest — that is, who has a relative working in the school district — to immediately resign from their position, to calls to move forward from the scandal and use the lessons of the debacle to create a stronger district.
Wrestling Coach Honored
The meeting also swelled with pride for longtime Toms River High School East Wrestling Coach Warren Reid, who was recently inducted into a wrestling hall of fame.
Reid, surrounded by generations of family and former students, received multiple standing ovations amid heartfelt speeches from his son and former student, as well as comments from the board and superintendent Frank Roselli.
The longtime coach was praised for this athletic coaching successes as he was surrounded by former students such as MMA champion Frank Edgar, but also heavily praised for his mentorship and dedication to education and his commitment to leading a principled life of hard work and service to the community.
Personnel Committee Discussed
Superintendent Roselli also shared his thoughts on the possible creation of a personnel committee for the school district.
At the suggestion of school board member Giovine previously, a possible personnel committee would provide some insight into the process of hiring at Toms River Regional.
Roselli said he was confident in the current process, in which job candidates were vetted and suggested by administration and then submitted to the board for approval as part of the personnel agenda every month.
Roselli said he had faith that the assistant superintendents and administrators in the district were picking the best and brightest, and was concerned a personnel committee would alter the chain of command.
Later, Giovine explained that his vision for a personnel committee was not to usurp the administration and put intense oversight of hirings into a new committee, but that a personnel committee would instead help keep better track of what the district vacancies were, and what the list of employment opportunities were.
Roselli thanked Giovine for explaining his vision for the committee and said it could be considered.
High School South Left without Police Presence
One resident encouraged the district to replace a retiring police officer staffed at High School South, instead of leaving the position vacant.
The vacancy means High School South is the only high school in Toms River Regional without an onsite police officer during school hours.
The resident hoped the district would continue to work with the police department in hopes of hiring an officer for South.
Roselli said the district would continue to discuss the matter with police, and that the matter was one of finding the funding to hire an officer. Roselli said the funds to hire a police officer were just not readily available, but that the district was working well in cooperation with the police department to try and find solutions in hopes of staffing High School South.
New Student Representatives to the Board Begin Terms
The three high schools in the district each have the senior class president serving as non-voting members of the Toms River Regional school district. The three new representatives began their terms at Tuesday's meeting, introducing themselves and sharing news from their school as well as hopes for the year ahead.
The three representatives received applause from the audience as well as words of support from the school board.
A host of student awards for atheltic, scholastic and civic achievement were also handed out at the school board meeting.