2012-02-29 / Front Page / Breaking News

FRHSD battle looms over filing of tenure charges

Manalapan High School Principal Jeff Simon now on unpaid administrative leave
BY Jack Murtha

A battle rarely seen in New Jersey education circles is now under way in the Freehold Regional High School District.

Tenure charges have been filed with the state commissioner of education against Manalapan High School Principal Jeff Simon by FRHSD Superintendent of Schools Charles Sampson.

Sampson filed the tenure charges against Simon on Feb. 6. Board of Education members certified the charges at a Feb. 27 meeting. The action now moves to the New Jersey Department of Education.

Previous articles concerning tenure charges have indicated that the process of seeing the charges through to completion and being successful is a long and costly initiative.

Simon, who has been the principal at Manalapan since the start of the 2007-08 school year, allegedly improperly handled district funds and jeopardized the health and safety of his students on several occasions, according to the charges.

The allegations leveled by Sampson are largely supported by affidavits that were provided by a number of district employees.

The district is being represented by the legal firm of Schwartz, Simon, Edelstein & Celso, LLC. The firm is not the district’s general counsel, but does represent the board in labor negotiation cases.

Simon is being represented by attorney Stuart Moskovitz.

In a 38-page response to the tenure charges and the affidavits, Simon said most of the information is untrue or impartial. His response makes various claims against several Manalapan High School employees.

Simon faces one charge of mishandling student activity funds/accounts, according to the charges signed by Sampson. The charges state that Simon’s handling of the activity funds/accounts may have occurred in a manner that is “perhaps, criminal in nature.”

In another charge, Simon is accused of engaging in wrongdoing that did imperil, or could have “imperiled the health, safety and well-being” of his students and staff members. The actions violated several district policies, procedures and regulations, according to the tenure charges. Five of the seven actions mentioned in connection with this charge concern Simon’s handling of or actions in connection with fire drills that were conducted at the high school.

The final charge alleges Simon took part in unbecoming conduct, insubordination and/or other misbehavior over an extended period of time, which justify his termination, according to the document.

According to count one of the first charge, Simon asked student council adviser (teacher) Charles Jannetti for “$300 or $400 in cash from the pre-sale money” of the May 2011 Mr. Manalapan High School contest, to pay $100 each to two security guards who worked the event. The charges state that the security guards never collected cash payments.

In accordance with district procedure, the security guards each received a $52 voucher as payment, which were both signed by Manalapan Supervisor of Extracurricular Activities Phillip Ricci and Simon.

The charge claims Jannetti questioned Simon about the request for the pre-sale cash and states that the principal said he would deny having received the money if asked about the matter.

“One would think that if I had asked for money improperly, Mr. Ricci would not have passed this on to Mr. Jannetti, he would have reported it immediately to appropriate authorities,” Simon wrote in his response to the charge.

Jannetti’s allegations are rooted in revenge, Simon wrote, due to previous disciplinary actions taken against Jannetti.

Another count involves what the tenure charges label as missing stage production proceeds. This count states that when Simon’s secretary, who is responsible for maintaining the school’s Student Activities Account, asked Simon for the play funds, he gave her $976 in cash and $1,493 in checks.

According to the charges, “Later, Simon’s secretary located the original envelopes in which the proceeds had been transmitted to Simon in a plastic bin drawer under his desk. The amounts collected were written on the envelopes, which the principal’s secretary photocopied. The amount turned over by Simon was nearly $2,000 less than the deposits recorded on the envelopes.”

The tenure charges do not say who, if anyone, directed Simon’s secretary to conduct a search for any type of envelope in any location, or why the secretary may have been asked to conduct such a search.

In his response to the charge regarding the funds from the school play, Simon said there may be reasons why his secretary’s recounting of the incident involving the funds might be called into question.

Sampson also charged Simon with violating district policy because in October 2011 the principal directed his secretary to transfer $6,000 from the school’s yearbook account to the building account. “The subject funds subsequently were used to purchase championship rings for the baseball team,” according to the charges.

In his response, Simon acknowledged authorizing the transfer of the $6,000, but he said it was “in the best interest of the students, the school and the baseball team members when I asked for the money to be transferred so as to maintain the wonderful relationship the school has with all of its vendors.”

He said the payment for the rings was overdue and the school was short on cash.

The second tenure charge filed against Simon consists of five counts that focus on his alleged mismanagement of several fire drills. Simon allegedly defied district policy and risked the safety of students and employees, according to the document.

According to Simon’s response, the district’s fire policies were not current with state law.

A November 2011 pep rally resulted in a “severely overcrowded, chaotic and dangerous situation,” according to the charges. Simon allegedly decided to hold the rally in the gymnasium, disregarding Ricci’s suggestion to move the event outside due to the gym’s inability to safely accommodate the student body.

Ricci was responsible for organizing the pep rally, Simon said, and the situation was not dangerous. Because of a secondary gym and nearby large hallways, no more than 720 students entered the gym, Simon said.

As part of Simon’s lengthy response to the tenure charges filed by Sampson, Simon made several statements about FRHSD personnel and indicated that in some way he may be entitled to protection under the terms of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (i.e., the whistleblower law).

FRHSD administrators placed Simon on paid administrative leave on Dec. 20. On Feb. 27, his leave was changed from paid to unpaid.

Jennifer Sharp is currently Manalapan High School’s acting principal.

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