How many scoreboards would $ 110,000 buy? Would $110,000 buy us a new gym for the middle school or get our high school gym completed on time? Exactly how far does $ 110,000 go in 2013 in the Fort Lee School system?
It is difficult to gauge what $ 110,000 can buy. But in my opinion, based on the following facts, it is relatively simple to calculate what it does buy: INCOMPETENCE! Please judge for yourselves.
In 2010, the Fort Lee Community finally passed a $ 30 million referendum to upgrade our schools. Funds included in the referendum were allocated to replace the Fort Lee High School gymnasium, which may in our lifetime actually be completed. The original target date for the completion of this project was September, the beginning of the 2013 school year. The next promise made by the BOE was for completion in mid- October, over a month after school had begun. As of this week, THE NEW TARGET DATE IS DECEMBER 17, 2013, three days before our first varsity home basketball game!
So who has engineered this fiasco? Information brought to my attention dictates that this project was supposed to be monitored by Jack DeNichilo, Superintendent of Buildings & Grounds.
So let’s highlight the impact these delays are causing to the children of Fort Lee!
(1) When the students at Fort Lee High School had gym class in September and October, it was possible to hold classes outside, no major problem with the exception of inclement weather. But in November, as temperatures dropped, students were packed like “sardines” into the small gym for lack of alternatives.
(2) The Fort Lee High School Girls Volleyball Team had no home courts, so it appears that all games had to be played on the road. I was told by some of the players that the team also had no place to practice, so they were relegated to the middle school gym. Question: What was the extra cost to the BOE for additional busing to other schools for the cancelled home games that were now played on other courts?
(3) Rumor has it that Head Fort Lee High School Varsity Basketball Coach John Ziemba, aka Coach Z, is ripping right now over the new target date. No place for team tryouts; no place for practices; no place for scrimmages; no guarantees the gym will even be ready for the first game of the season, a basketball coaches worst nightmare!
(3) All the town recreation leagues that traditionally have been allowed to use the middle school gym are now being forced to find other venues, basically impossible. So with the limited availability of the Fort Lee Community Center, junior boys and girls travel and in-town basketball teams have no other place to practice or schedule games.
Perhaps we should track how a debacle like this can even occur! The project was supposed to commence after the school year ended in June. But in the month of July, virtually no work was done on the gym. Who was in touch with the contractors? Who was overseeing the project? Apparently no one or we would not be in such dire straits with this project. Were the contractors even being paid at the time? With a dysfunctional BOE, in addition to Mr. DeNichilo’s apparent lack of oversight, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.
We know the floor was ripped out in late June 2013, but then the workmen seemed to vanish. As time passed and citizens became concerned about the lack of progress, chains and locks appear to have been installed to prevent anyone from viewing the lack of progress.
First we are informed at a Board meeting that the problem is that the floors aren’t done, so the bleachers cannot be installed. Then the bleachers are installed before the floors are done. Then in November, we find out the paint job on the gym floor was not being done correctly, so there is another delay to correct that problem. Does administration really want to try to convince anyone that Jack DeNichilo has the ability to oversee this project?
Even when the gym is finally ready and Fort Lee finally has a refurbished gym of which we can finally be proud, there is another Jack DeNichilo inspired problem!
For this incredible spanking new gym, Mr. DeNichilo apparently ordered what can only be termed a “postage stamp” scoreboard. (I apologize for the poor photograph, best I could do, needed a better “zoom” lens. We may have to hand out binoculars to all the fans so that they can read the score during our basketball games. Or maybe the cheerleaders can hold up cards to let the fans know the score during every time out. Or maybe we can take the brand new scoreboard and move it to the middle school field where no one can see this embarrassment.
It is difficult to ascertain the chain of events that led to this poor decision. But it gets better! Not only is this scoreboard “microscopic” in size, to coin a term, a “nano-scoreboard”, but the same individual who ordered this scoreboard managed to have it labeled in an “interesting fashion”. Instead of “Fort Lee” / Visitors , the scoreboard says “Ft Lee/ Visitors. However, considering this “postage stamp scoreboard”, Fort Lee probably would not have fit!
Sorry, not done. All black bleachers were ordered. Now wouldn’t it have been exceptional if the bleachers were orange and black with "Fort Lee" on one side and "Bridgemen" on the other? Wouldn’t it have been nice if one thing in this construction was done properly so the coaches and players could really be proud of our new gym?
Now what options were available to prevent this travesty:
(1) The Athletic Director could have been consulted by the individual
assigned to purchase the scoreboard. A scoreboard with the proper size and title
could then have been ordered. Maybe the bleachers could have been customized!
(2) Numerous team coaches were available for consultation, in particular the high school basketball coaches.
(3) Other high schools could have been visited to obtain a frame of reference. Even the old scoreboard could have been measured to gauge the proper size.
(4) Internet research might have assisted in preventing this type of misjudgment.
When you review this debacle, the words that ring true are “lack of effort” on the part of the individual assigned to this “monumentally difficult task of purchasing a scoreboard”. What appears to have occurred here is that some sales rep from a company that sells scoreboards just gave some bad advice and now we are stuck with the result. What may be even worse is that it may be necessary to swallow this expense and order a new “properly sized” scoreboard, preferably one that spells out “Fort Lee” on it.
Now back to $ 120,000 that was mentioned earlier. Where does it fit into this picture?
Well, according to information given to me, the individual assigned to purchase the scoreboard was our Superintendent of Buildings & Grounds, Jack DeNichilo. This is the same Jack DeNichilo who obtained estimates of $ 7000 and $ 9000 for an ice machine for the middle school, (according to information presented at a BOE meeting), when the actual machine purchase price, with installation, was under $ 2000.
This is the same Jack DeNichilo who has allegedly been using janitorial personnel to assist at Jr. Bridgemen football games and authorizing overtime from the BOE budget (our tax dollars at work). Janitors have been witnessed during the school day and after hours (overtime anyone!), placing numbers and equipment on the middle school field for the Fort Lee Jr. Bridgemen Football games. Mr. DeNichilo has apparently used the excuse that his staff does the same for other recreational teams. However, as a coach in the Babe Ruth league and for many years in the Fort Lee Soccer League, janitorial personnel never once helped us set up the fields, helped us clean up after the games or assisted us with any equipment. One final point, information has been brought to my attention that Jack DeNichilo is treasurer of the Fort Lee Jr. Bridgemen, a clear conflict of interest!
But let’s continue to review Jack DeNichilo’s failures as Superintendent of Building & Grounds. It would appear that this type of position carries the responsibility to oversee everything that goes on with the school structures. At Fort Lee High School, there is a new form of security, an “early warning system”. Numbers have been placed on the windows of areas in the school for quick identification in an emergency. The numbers were put on the windows backwards. They read correctly if you are inside the building, but are reversed from the outside. While there is no evidence of exactly who made this error, it is on Jack’s watch. How is it that one of the community members pointed this out to me, whereupon I immediately notified one of the BOE members, while Jack DeNichilo apparently did nothing to correct the problem?
Taking a look at Mr. DeNichilo’s background, it might appear difficult to understand on what merits Jack was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Buildings & Grounds. At one time, Mr. DeNichilo was an elected member of the Fort Lee Board of Education. That is a recorded fact. And then, coincidentally, upon stepping down, Mr. DeNichilo, an accountant by trade, seemed to be conveniently appointed by sitting BOE members, his ex-peers, to a nice cushy sinecure. Jack DeNichilo was granted by the BOE a highly paid position for which he appears to have had absolutely no qualifications or prior experience. It is so rewarding to speculate that cronyism in Fort Lee may have raised its ugly head one more time. Now please understand that the interpretation of these facts are strictly my opinion as a concerned community member.
According to www.stateofnj..us/education/finance/fp/ufb/2012/reports, Jack’s salary is listed as a base salary of $ 92,100 which, when adding benefits, can be extrapolated to $ 110,000 per annum. So we have an individual with a background in accounting, yet years of experience as Superintendent of Buildings & Grounds for the Board of Education, who appears to be incapable of ordering a scoreboard for our high school gym. Well, that certainly inspires confidence in his abilities. Add that to his alleged misuse of the school janitorial staff that has probably cost thousands of dollars to our community and one has to wonder if Jack DeNichilo should ever have been selected for this position. One quick note to our Board of Education Members and to our Interim Superintendent: the website appears to state that Mr. DeNichilo’s position does not have tenure!
Note to the public: Our Board of Education members and the Interim Superintendent are well aware of Mr. DeNichilo’s misuse of janitorial personnel based on a formal complaint filed in September 2013, but absolutely no actions have been taken to curtail this behavior.
Jack’s close affiliation with Joseph Surace, BOE member, also a member of the Building & Grounds Committee and President of the Fort Lee Jr. Bridgemen, apparently protects him from any repercussions. Even after the complaint was filed, he continued his flagrant misuse of janitorial personnel, apparently believing that he is not subject to any punishment.
When are individuals who work for the BOE in our district going to be held accountable? When is our BOE and our Interim Superintendent going to take actions to hold people responsible when they are not performing their jobs up to minimum expectations? How are we supposed to respect administration when they turn a blind eye to Board members that commit misconduct and employees that do not perform? In my opinion, based on the poor management of his responsibilities as a Superinintendent of Buildings & Grounds, Jack DeNichilo should be held accountable! For an estimated $ 120,000 a year, the community has a right to expect a higher level of competence than has been demonstrated by Jack DeNichilo regarding these decisions.
Disclaimer: When writing about BOE employees, I am reporting facts that have been brought to my attention by individuals concerned about our schools and our children. Additional facts are compiled from Fort Lee BOE minutes and various websites and news reports. In some cases, as in that of Mr. DeNichilo, I have never even had personal contact with these individuals. Every effort is made to relay the facts accurately as they have been presented. There may be facts that the BOE members are withholding that are relevant to each situation, but they are apparently sworn to an “oath of confidentiality”.