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Ritacco Scandal Creates 'A Year of Challenges' for Toms River School District

State's fourth largest school district outlines changes, challenges that came after Ritacco

As guilty pleas were made this week by and former insurance broker , 50 miles away in Toms River, the state's fourth largest school district has for the last year and a half been living in the wake of scandal.

A Year of Challenge

School officials said previously that over the last year the district has put in place competitive bidding, close oversight and more transparency.

"We know it will continue to be a challenge, but we will continue to do what we believe is in the best interests of our students and our district, while being cognizant of the financial impact on our taxpayers," said a joint statement of Superintendent Frank Roselli and Business Administrator Bill Doering on the year anniversary of Ritacco's arrest.

The shocking arrest of the leader of the school district, who in his 18 years as superintendent also for a time held the position of business administrator, came in October 2010.

However, Roselli and Doering said district pride survived in spite of the scandal.

"The last year has been a year of challenges for the district, and yet the stakeholders that comprise our regional school district continue to take great pride in our schools, and that hasn’t changed," the two administrators said jointly in October.

District Spokesperson Tammi Millar, as well as Roselli and Doering, today did not immediately respond to calls at this time.

'Closure'

On the board for a year now, Ben Giovine said that today's plea was a step toward healing and closure, and hopefully more transparency.

"I think when I first read the news, my first thought was that this certainly gives the district some closure," Giovine said by phone this afternoon. "It's time for the board to move on and move forward, to increase transparency of the board."

He praised the district's move to put meeting minutes online but has been pushing for citizen's oversight and televised meetings as options to increase transparency.

"Hopefully as a result, we'll see how those who oversee the budgets, oversee different policies make sure they've provided enough sunlight into the process," Giovine said, adding that the district cannot operate in the dark.

There was wrongdoing, and making sure it doesn't happen again means the process needs much greater transparency, Giovine said.

"You have to blame those who plead guilty. Mike (Ritacco) and Gartland were doing the wrong things. The healing process will be to make sure we increase the transparency," Giovine said.

School Election Impact

In the time since Ritacco's arrest, the district has had one election for three board seats and approved two school budgets — one that narrowly passed voter muster.

Running in the 2011 election as a "Clean Slate" ticket, board members Alex Pavliv, Loreen Torrone and Ben Giovine said they were all motivated to run by lack of transparency in the district, specifically saying how they hoped to impact the district and create greater public oversight.

"The results of the April 2011 budget vote, where the community made a strong statement that, despite the negativity and the challenging times, they believe in their schools," said Roselli and Doering in their joint October statement.

Nels Luthman, who ran in previous years for the school board and battled Ritacco during his years as a teacher, said that he was surprised at the longtime board members who did not resign after Ritacco's home was raided, or after Ritacco's arrest.

"I'm not saying they were involved, but it is still a disgrace," Luthman said.

"The board, after the raid, allowed Ritacco to stay on, allowed him to push the agreement with Seaside Park," Luthman said. Ritacco, who lived in Seaside Park, oversaw an agreement where Seaside Park students could attend tuition-free Toms River high schools instead of Central Regional.

Luthman, who is president of the Toms River Democratic Club, said that the last thing he wants to see is the school board election becoming political, but expects that the November election of the school board will be dramatically impacted by the Ritacco charges.

Administrative Changes After Ritacco

The corruption was centered between the former superintendent and the former insurance broker for the district. Gartland admitted setting up contracts for the district with intermediaries that were inflated, with excess fees being kick backed to pay Ritacco, himself and the intermediaries.

Doering and Roselli said in their joint statement that "great strides" were made to the oversight of insurance since Ritacco's arrest.

"We have insurance contracts in place, and they are carefully administered with close oversight. We have board policy requiring that insurances are competitively shopped. We have appointed new auditors, through a competitive public proposal process, as well as appointing new construction related professionals," said the October statement. "The district has made great strides in a variety of areas where we needed to focus our attention, most notably insurances."

However, when annual contracts for professional services were on the agenda, the board voted to maintain professionals such as Thomas Monohan as board attorney, who worked as board attorney under Ritacco previous. 

Low Impact on Students?

On the year anniversary of the arrest, the district officials said the impact on classroom activities was negligible. The message on October 2010, when the district held an emergency meeting to address Ritacco's retirement, was similar, saying buses would still run, classrooms would fill with students for the day's lessons.

"It seems that most people fully realize that the quality of the Toms River Regional school system comes from the diligent day-to-day efforts of the entire staff of this large and complex school system, and that, fortunately, has not changed," said Roselli and Doering in October 2011.

When asked in October how she thought the previous year had went, District Spokesperson Tammi Millar said that student life saw less of an impact.

"For almost all students, the most important administrator is their principal. The principals have worked closely with Mr. Roselli to continue a safe, calm atmosphere where students feel comfortable learning and strive to achieve in academics, clubs, sports, and social activities," Millar said. "Toms River Regional is a strong district proud to educate 17,300 plus students from K-12."

Chief Wahoo April 05, 2012 at 06:06 PM
spin, spin, spin.......
cindy April 05, 2012 at 06:29 PM
These positions should be changed every 4-yrs. or so. They get a little too comfy and of course people want favors and so on. Stop the Madness! A gentleman wrote in and said Is NJ really this corrupt? Please....It is as crooked as the day is long. Politics is the new Mob! Depending on your status the money goes up!
Lori April 05, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Chief, what is your problem with the district spokesperson?
Don Lombardi April 05, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I'm pleased that Mike Ritacco finally pled GUILTY; but why did it take him so long? No one in Toms River, perhaps in all of Ocean County, ever thought him innocent of the charges, allegations or federal findings. So, for more than a year, this common felon has continued to enjoy a life of leisure, not in shackles or behind bars like other criminals, waiting for trial. What a miserable "role model" he presented for the youth of Toms River Regional Schools! How could his students hold their heads high for the schools and townships ex-superintendent Ritacco represented? He should walk our streets in sack-cloth and ashes and go begging for forgiveness but, sadly, that's not the pompous, egotistical, greedy and shameless loser we now know as Mike Ritacco. As the Bible teaches: "The love of money is the root of all evil." Don Lombardi
Darlene Motto April 05, 2012 at 06:56 PM
The schools wonder why they are being questioned on all the decisions that are being made? The worse thing that any public employee can do is abuse their power and public trust. He should lose his pension. I would be surprised if that happens. I am sure the lawyers and politicians will leave that wide open for loop holes in case they need it for themselves someday. You wonder why the public is so skeptical of today's society when you have leaders getting caught doing the unthinkable. Transparency Now? Sure? Pride? What other choice does the community have. The problem is , so many have the attitude. This is happening everywhere. So why shouldn't I be entitled too? If they can get away with so can I. Doesn't anyone question anymore. Does it make it right because everyone is doing it. What is it showing the students? To say it had little affect on the kids is a ridiculous thing to say. At High School Level most know what is going on and when something is not be done right from their leaders. I worked in a school and in my opinion, I can say first hand that not all principals, teachers are doing right by the students along with the Superintendents. It is a shame because it outweighs all those educators who are doing what is right. When something that is going on in the schools that is blatantly wrong should be stopped this is what you have leaders and a BOE for. I am quite sure most new what was going on and chose not to go along instead of reporting it all.
DennyD April 05, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Why aren't the BOE members questioned? They are supposed to oversee the Super and all contracts. Of course if you look closer almost all of them have relatives that have gotten a job or three while they rubber stamped anything Ritacco proposed. They were complacent in this crime. They gained by looking the other way.
Chief Wahoo April 05, 2012 at 07:26 PM
she is over paid, her position is not needed and she isnt truthful to the people who pay her salary
Mickey April 05, 2012 at 08:01 PM
there is no honor among criminals....he probably rolled on quite a few. people will be running to the court, hoping to make deals very quickly. to be a fly on the wall of the MUA & Housing Authority now !
Jerzieboy89 April 05, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Did any of you actually read what happened? Or are all of you making comments on the title of the article? He was told if he does not plead guilty to at least 2 charges he will go to jail for 30 years and have his kids houses seized. What would all of you do? Oh and by the way, the Feds stated that he did not take one penny from the school system. Mabye you should all know the whole story before you make comments.
Mike L April 05, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Yes we did, where does it say what you infir!
Mike L April 05, 2012 at 11:03 PM
Here Here!
Rick Ricky April 06, 2012 at 03:38 AM
BOE members are puppets to the superintendents, they look away on issues in exchange for their own agendas and needs. They are deceitful and a bunch of lying cheats.
1stcav April 06, 2012 at 11:36 AM
He put in a" No bid" contract that cost $ 6,000 dollars to run and cost the SCHOOL SYSTEM $ 500, 000.00 thousand dollars to pay for, how is THAT not stealing from the school system in your twisted mind , jerzieboy89..He's a low life cockroach , his parents , children & grandchildren are soooo proud NOW ! The 6 BOE members never did there job . NO BID contracts and rubber stamped the " kings law " ( MJR ) as he oversaw his" Kingdom " He ruled with an " Iron Fist " within his domain of the TRS district...the was the "GOD " figure...No more Mikey , time to do YOUR time , 65 & 15 yrs. is a life sentence... Ah yes your " Golden Years "
JD April 06, 2012 at 02:04 PM
The board members who voted for the insurance while Ritacco in charge should resign immediately. That would be the right thing to do. They are clueless.... they vote yes to everything... just a bunch of rubber stampers.
DennyD April 08, 2012 at 10:57 AM
I do not think they were as "clueless" as you imply. I'm sure they look for the best deal at the lowest price on their own personal insurances(auto, homeowners, etc.). Why wouldn't they do the same for the school insurances? I have to believe they were in cahoots with Mr. Ritacco. Some of these people were on the BOE for 20 years! They didn't know the ropes? That's a stretch.

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