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Assessment Investigation Cost Montclair School Board as Much as $130K

District may pick up legal costs of subpoenaed member.

Montclair Board of Education President Robin Kulwin Photo credit: Teresa Akersten
Montclair Board of Education President Robin Kulwin Photo credit: Teresa Akersten

The Montclair Board of Education may have racked up $130,000 in legal fees for an investigation into an unauthorized release of student assessments in October, The Montclair Times reported.

The school board announced Monday it has been billed $60,000 by Parsippany-based Weiner, Lesniak LLP, the district’s legal counsel, for a portion of the 10-week investigation which was suspended in mid-January after coming up empty handed.

Another $69,000 may go toward covering legal costs of school board member David Cummings, the Times reported. Cummings was the only board member issued a subpoena in the course of the investigation. The board has not determined whether to cover his fees.

With a 4-3 vote, the board ended the probe earlier this month after the New Jersey Department of Education announced plans to conduct its own investigation into the possible security breach.

The goal of the board's controversial investigation was to determine how 14 of 60 student assessments stored on a password-protected teacher portal ended up on a public website days before they were to be administered. The tests designed to comply with new Common Core State Standards were developed by teams of teachers over the summer at a cost of nearly $500,000 to the district. 

Board President Robin Kulwin said Monday the board expected the investigation to be shorter and more productive.

But the investigation met with challenges from the start, when a network administrator employed jointly by the district and the township did not cooperate with the board's requests to check for possible foul play.

The board also ran into trouble with the ACLU-NJ, which represented a blogger using the pseudonym Assessmentgate. The court sided with the ACLU-NJ and temporarily blocked a subpoena issued to Google to identify Assessmentgate, who uses a gmail account. 

An agreement was ultimately reached in which the online poster would answer the board’s questions while remaining anonymous. 

A memo dated Dec. 29 from the township manager to the mayor and township council suggested there was no security breach after all. 

Montclair’s IT director, the memo said, found no attempt to cross a firewall on servers shared by the township and the school district. The tests were saved with the wrong permissions, the township employee said.

The school board was unable to come up with this determination on their own since they were denied access to the servers by the township council in December. 

esther January 30, 2014 at 11:09 PM
This was a total waste of money-the township manager told the board there was not a breech but again they DO NOT LISTEN. Where'd they get all this money? They are NOT using money for computers, security, teacher salaries, smaller classes/more staff, building improvements, and the list goes on and on. But they did have money for lawyers and adding more and more layers of administrative staff, and surveys.

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