Sweeney Calls For Probe Of Keansburg School Contract

Senator Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem, listens to debate in the Senate Chambers.

TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Stephen M. Sweeney today called on the Department of Education to determine if it can block a then-secret 2003 contract authorized by the Keansburg Board of Education which granted a severance package of more than $740,000 for its retiring school superintendent, Barbara Trzeszkowski, when she steps down next month.

“I expect strong support for this probe of an outrageous breach of public trust which all taxpayers of New Jersey will be paying off for years,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “The Department needs to explain how this was allowed to happen even if the reforms we’ve made since will prevent its recurrence.”

Senator Sweeney said he will seek unanimous bipartisan support for a resolution to call on the Department to investigate the Keansburg contract and to report back on whether reforms adopted by the Legislature last year will ensure such payoffs will never be approved again.

“This taxpayer rip-off reminds those of us in the Legislature that what we don’t know can and will hurt taxpayers,” Senator Sweeney said. “Someone has to step forward and explain who recommended to that inept school board that such a contract was acceptable.”

Under reforms approved last year by the Legislature, Executive County School Superintendents will review and pre-approve all employment contracts, including original and renewal contracts and the renegotiation, extension, amendment or other alteration of contracts for school superintendents, their assistants and their deputies, Senator Sweeney noted.

In addition, all public school employees making more than $75,000 annually who are not part of a bargaining unit must now post their employment contracts on their local school district websites as well as on the website of the Department of Education, Senator Sweeney said.

“Up until we made these reforms, it was impossible to tell how bad these secret deals between school boards and retiring superintendents really were,” said Senator Sweeney. “At the very least, the Department of Education should report back to the Legislature to see if there are any remaining loopholes for further abuses.”

The Keansburg deal authorized a payout that included nearly $200,000 for unused sick days. Senator Sweeney noted that the Legislature last year approved reforms limiting payouts for unused sick leave to a cap of $15,000 for all elected and appointed officials in New Jersey.

Senator Sweeney said his resolution, which is currently being drafted, will be ready for legislative review when Senate committees return here on June 5.