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Residents Ask Board of Ed About Fate of Mt. Hebron Assistant Principal

Some argued at Monday's Board of Education meeting that demoting Samantha Morra wasn't enough after she allegedly lied about her children's address to get them into Montclair schools.

The only thing on the Board of Education meeting’s agenda may have been the appointment of the new superintendent – but that didn’t stop residents from inquiring about the demotion of the Mt. Hebron assistant principal.

A week ago, Assistant Principal Samantha Morra, was demoted from her position where she earned $115,000 a year after she was accused of illegally enrolling her children in Montclair schools while residing in neighboring Little Falls.

"I am outraged that which appears to be theft and I am outraged that which appears to be conduct unbecoming," said Montclair Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville.

 Morra was  when it was revealed by an investigation she was sending her children to Montclair schools using a Montclair mailing address that is actually part of the Little Falls school district and paying taxes to Little Falls.

“Here we are talking about someone in a middle school where it is definitely the most impressionable age group for our children. This is a critical time in what actions take place," Baskerville said. "I think whatever the maximum consequences are under the law, we should uphold those maximum penalties."

Morra was responsible as an administrator to not allow students from other districts to attend Montclair schools, Baskerville said. “That compounds this matter in my mind."

Board President Robin Kulwin said it’s not simple because as a teacher she is part of a union and has rights, "It's very important to us to do this properly," Kulwin said. “I don't want to spend a lot of time unwinding things because we were in a hurry. So we've done this the way we’re supposed to."

Kulwin continued saying Morra requested the Aug. 6 meeting be a public hearing instead in executive session, which is usually would be in, so the public was informed about the issue.

"Nothing has been swept under the rug is being swept under a rug or will be swept under a rug," said Kulwin. "We have not operated that way on any level and I assure you we will not."

Morra told board members previously that the former superintendent had given her verbal authorization to send her children to Montclair schools starting three years ago, which he denied.

The board only had four members present when the decision for a demotion was made as a recommendation from the interim superintendent. Any another action was not discussed because the board felt all seven members should be present said Kulwin. 

Kulwin also said termination of Morra was brought up in that meeting, instead of a demotion, the board's attorney advised that the board would not win.

Morra held an $115,000-a-year assistant principal position for two years but she'll a her tenured teaching job in the district. 

Skibum August 15, 2012 at 12:44 PM
I hope the BOE goes a step further by 1 reassessing the current policy and controls (as well as if there are other kids of non-resident teachers/administrators enrolled and have they been approved) and 2 figuring out HOW exactly this could have happened. I assume they have this policy in place to recruit teachers and administrators, however if it is utilized shouldn't it be a board vote as opposed to just the superintendent? Given the cost and precedent setting nature of it the board should be involved. I don't understand how she could enroll the kids without someone catching it and seeing if it's authorized. Unless a fake address was used (is that the case?) then they should know by checking the address when enrolling there is an issue. At that point checking to see if the approvals with the superintendent to see if it was authorized should have occurred. The fact that it happened is troubling and makes me wonder if others have done and are currently doing this as well. I really hope the BOE does a full audit and discloses how many other kids are enrolled in this manner and if the approvals were granted. Moreover, they need to change the approval process and figure out how it was allowed to happen.
H Fallon August 15, 2012 at 01:08 PM
She has a Montclair, NJ mailing address. It's a weird Bermuda-Triangle-post-office-thing, whereby a few houses on the border that are actually in Little Falls have a Montclair street address. I am hopeful that the BOE will create measures so that these border addresses are flagged, immediately, in the future. The "I got permission" stance, obviously, is what complicates this case.
Elem School Parent August 15, 2012 at 01:22 PM
HFallon - I dont see how that "permission" thing complicates anything? She has NO PROOF of evidence, the Superintendent denied giving permission and offered to testify UNDER OATH that he never gave permission. How is the world can the Board accept this? Dr. Baskerville was probably grandstanding a little bit on Monday night but, still, she made some very good points. Last week a poster mentioned that Mrs Morras salary was reduced by 15k but her workload was also reduced by two months. There was clearly not much of a punishment nor does it satisfy the general public. I hope the new Supt is reading the Patch. And when Mrs. Morra opened up her $5k annual tax bill each year, I'm sure she was relieved to not be living in Mtc.
tryintosurvive August 15, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Good point H Fallon. Montclair borders 6 towns I think (Little Falls, Clifton, Glen Ridge, Verona, Cedar Grove, Bloomfield). There must be over 20 streets that go between Montclair and these towns. It sure seems possible that others may have slipped through that are on these borders, especially considering that it is not clear how these addresses are being checked.
jim August 15, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Fire her and move on.
Cher August 15, 2012 at 02:23 PM
I agree Jim, srry I have a child going into MT hebron and she's NOT teaching him......I will be rearranging my kids schedule if I see her on It!!!!
Crafty Spiker August 15, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Will someone tell me why this isn't a matter for law enforcement? We have theft - pure and simple.
Nancy M. Glover August 15, 2012 at 03:57 PM
What really burns me up is that had she found out that a student were in this very situation she would have done her, removed the child from class, contacted the patent immediately, and notified the Board of Ed IMMEDIATELY!..With her qualifying credentials, clearly this woman knew that sending her children to the Montclair school system was illegal and because she had taught here for approximately 18 yrs she should have that right of passage?...I think not!...My child will be attending Mt Hebron next year, I hope she wont be there!
Mt Hebron - MHS August 15, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Lets see about this "punishment" As a VP, Mrs. Morra made $115k for 12 months = <$10k per month. As a teacher, she will me making $100k for 10 months work = $10k per month Her monthly/daily rate went up as a result of this.
Cher August 15, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Well she'll be there as a technology teacher!!! I'm srry I pray the community has the last say, she needs to repay, this lady has gotten no consequences fr this! Wow a demotion, HOW CAN U STEAL AND THEN GT CAUGHT AND THEN GT PAID FR IT WITH A DEMOTION, REALLY? wake up montclairians we're constantly being ripped off.
emiliac August 15, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Somebody is having a poor recollection of what transpired and who exactly registers children into our district? I would like to think that that person confirms the required documentation prior to registering any child in the Montclair Public Schools. I am a Dr. Alvarez supporter who happens NOT to know Ms. Morra, as my one child who attended MHS was graduated in 1993. Why these children were registered without confirmation that they had some exception of residency from any administrator will always be a question in my mind. It seems possible that without malice someone has forgotten the details of a conversation surrounding this issue! In 1992 or 1993), a student who had been suspended from Rockaway, NJ for serious inappropriateness conduct allegations was registered in MHS because his grandparent NOT HIS PARENT was either a VP or Principal here. He was eventually discharged but my point is faculty has registered their children in district. Is termination warranted for this transgression; denying someone a living or loss of accrued benefits? An array of possibilities exit. Termination should be reserved for cases of inappropriate contact with a student, endangering the safety of a child. Possibly denying Ms. Morra’s next increment or having her pay part of the tuition through payroll deductions. Aren't forgiveness, retribution, making amends values we want to teach our children?
Cecile Williams August 15, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I've had it up to my eyeballs with Renee Baskerville. I regret having voted for her 5 yrs. ago. EVERYTHING she stands for boils down to race and "her people". Nrewflash: The 4th ward is not just for black people anymore!
jim August 15, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Defending Morra is admirable, but as a tax payer, she stole from me. No different from the rash of burglaries happening in town. Same sht. Different wrapper.
emiliac August 15, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Huh, Former Superintendent of Schools, Mary Lee Fitzgerald, no relation to Ella, but a Caucasian woman, lived in the fourth ward until she became State Commissioner of Education. When was the fourth ward just for "her" or Black People? I not a Montclair native, my question is sincere.
profwilliams August 15, 2012 at 07:55 PM
I still believe that had Ms. Morra offered a truthful reason for her "choice" of district ("I have a Montclair address and believed that entitled me to enroll my kid in the Montclair public school...") and immediately apologized and offered to pay something, she could have been done with this. Oh well. For me though, I tend to believe that she "informed" Alvarez, and saw his acceptance (or non-committal response) as "permission"-- in her eye. Still, this is a very different case than someone who CLEARLY lives out of district. As H Fallon rightly points out, with all our boarders in town, she can't be the only one who thought of herself as a Montclair resident. With that, I think the BOE did the right thing.
Dan August 15, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Emilia, yes an immediate termination is warranted. She stole year after year my tax dollars. She knew what she did was wrong. She did it anyway. A clear message needs to be sent. When does it stop? Fraud and theft of services are serious transgressions that need serious consequences. The games need to end. Please save the "what are we teaching our kids". We are teaching them that cheating, stealing and fraud have no place in our society. I will say it again, if she were a private sector employee she would be looking for a new job, as it should be.
Dude August 15, 2012 at 08:52 PM
action was committed as a member of the administrators' union...the demotion puts her back in the teachers' union, where her tenure remains in effect...i don't imagine they will be holding a parade for her....i'll stop there and not respond to any other part of your statement, because my head will explode....
Dude August 15, 2012 at 08:56 PM
^ and THAT wins for most ignorant comment - congrats
Audrey Lynn Wanich August 15, 2012 at 09:36 PM
How does someone give a Montclair address that is actually in Little Falls? Did I miss something here?
frank rubacky August 15, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Do you think we can get Little Falls to pay us back the $5,000 in bus charges they owe us for this?
Whistleblower August 15, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Hey everyone, even worse than this situation is the fact that even more out of town folks send there kids to the district for schooling. It is really prevalent in the middle and elementary schools. My child tells me of kids in his class/school who have Facebook friends that no one knows, kids actually saying "I live in East Orange", kids getting off of NJ transit buses and walking to school or being dropped off at bus stops when their address are within walking distance of the school bus stops. The school board would see a large number of kids leave these schools if they required them to register each year just like they do now in the high school. ALL students in the district should be required to register each year. We would see our enrollment numbers drop and have smaller class sizes too. Come on citizens let get these out of towners out of here so that our children can get the quality education we pay for. Children who keep the secret of not living in the town bring stress, emotional, behavioral and other major problems to our schools/classrooms. I would be willing to pay a few people who have the job to actually investigate and do the registration process each year. Eliminating all the students who don't live here from the rolls would pay for these positions with change to spare. These kids often cost the district lots of money in educational services too. How angry does that make you Montclair tax payers and parents? Angry enough to force the board to take action?
H Fallon August 16, 2012 at 01:31 AM
I agree with prof about how this might've happened and that if Ms. Morra had handled the disclosure of her residency differently, apologized, and offered to sign up for a payment plan, perhaps we wouldn't still be talking about this and her reputation wouldn't have come under such attack. But to clarify, in my experience (I happen to live near the border with Little Falls and this topic has actually come up), residents in the houses such as Ms. Morra's location know full well that they actually LIVE in Little Falls even though the postal address says Montclair. And I understand that Ms. Morra never denied that she lived in Little Falls - she was hanging her hat on the "permission." (She wouldn't have asked for permission if she believed she lived in Montclair, right?)
Elizabeth Smith Witter August 16, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Can teachers and school staff employees actually afford to live in Montclair? Would it be possible to charge a fee for these students to be allowed to attend the system where their parent works? Wouldn't it make sense for them to have the same vacation schedules, and be located near to their parents' work for coordinating their transport to school? Just wondered. From a member of MHS class of '57 now living in North Carolina.
Elizabeth Smith Witter August 16, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Can teachers and school staff employees actually afford to live in Montclair? Would it be possible to charge a fee for these students to be allowed to attend the system where their parent works? Wouldn't it make sense for them to have the same vacation schedules, and be located near to their parents' work for coordinating their transport to school? Just wondered. From a member of MHS class of '57 now living in North Carolina.
Montclair's Own August 16, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Ms. Witter, As I understand it, teachers in Montclair can send their children to the schools, but it's not free. There is a tuition, but it's lower than someone who chooses to send their child here from out-of-district. Lastly, based on teachers' salaries in general, I'd hazard a guess that no, they cannot afford to buy here and send their kids to these schools.
tryintosurvive August 16, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Many teachers live in Montclair. There are hundreds of teachers that make over $90,000 and of course a good number make over $100,000. Prinicipals, assistant principals and some administrators make more than that. Of course some are from two income families making Montclair much more affordable for them.
MontclairPTAMom August 16, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Cher - ask your children what they think of the other technology teachers at Mt Hebron - they are uniformly TERRIBLE! Your children will lose out in their classrooms. Students should love tech class. At Mt Hebron, they are miserable, bored and learn diddly in the other tech classes. Samantha Morra is an amazing teacher. THIS is why she was given this benefit, by her boss, who was authorized to do so by Montclair BOE policy.
MontclairPTAMom August 16, 2012 at 03:17 AM
See the response above Nancy - any student who gets her as a teacher feels lucky - she works far harder than any of the others and does a great job teaching technology. The other teachers make little effort and the students know it. Her mistake was in trusting her boss.
MontclairPTAMom August 16, 2012 at 03:20 AM
She submitted a PSE&G bill with a Little Falls address when registering. She did not hide her out of town status from the registrar. The registrar then registered her children.
Whistleblower August 16, 2012 at 10:33 AM
Once again we are missing the point. The people who live here and subsequently pay Montclair taxes are the only ones who should have children in the school system, teachers or not. There are numerous students who are disrupting tax paying Montclair student educations. It is important to get anyone who doesn't belong out of the system. If you don't pay, you can't stay!

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