School Superintendent Anthony Serio said he didn’t know.
The Board of Education collectively said it didn’t know.
And school finance director Jason Lathrop was mute about the board paying -- and not knowing it was paying -- the salary and benefits for someone to clean the school rental at 290 Dodge Ave., while the lease states the landlord will take care of all custodial and grounds work.
Instead, taxpayers have been unwittingly footing the bill -- roughly $205,000, with a ticking clock -- for the mystery employee’s keep since 2004. They're also footing the same custodial bill that's tucked into the rent check paid to the landlord, Giuseppe Piscitelli. Taxpayers have been paying twice for the same thing for over six years.
“I’m not very happy,” said Board of Ed Chair Nick Palladino. “I don’t mind paying for something with the taxpayers’ money, but not twice.” He demanded reimbursement.
Tuesday night, the school board with its attorney Mike Luzzi, who negotiated the Dodge Avenue leases, held a special meeting to discuss the reportedly newfound information. It was revealed that “John Doe,” as the mystery custodian is being called, is nowhere to be found on Lathrop’s 2010 payroll, according to a printout he gave to board members.
Still, Lathrop has been cutting Mr. Doe a paycheck every two weeks.
Board member Christine Maisano, an accountant, called for an immediate payroll audit. Board member Ray Pompano seconded her motion but upped it to a "forensic audit." The motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Doe’s salary has apparently been coming out of the teacher aides’ account though he’s a janitor, said Maisano. And though Doe is a janitor, he’s not a member of that union. And though he is paid as a teacher’s aide, he’s been getting full benefits while aides get none.
John Doe was unearthed last week as board members pored through the Dodge Avenue leases for Adult Ed and Pathways, a special ed program, to decide whether to sign a new contract. The Adult Ed lease expires Aug. 31, 2011; Pathways' on Sept. 11, 2012. The board spoke favorably over the last few months about bringing Pathways to the now-closed Hays Elementary School in a money-saving effort, and for Adult Ed to finish out the Pathways lease.
Board members had asked Serio several times this year if Piscitelli would lower the rent should Adult Ed take over the Pathways lease. The monthly rent for Pathways is $15,834; Adult Ed's is $21,629. According to the leases, those amounts include everything, including John Doe's job. Lathrop had said in an earlier meeting that housing Pathways at Hays would save taxpayers $13,334 a month. Lathrop said the only additional monthly expense at Hays would be $2,500 for custodial work.
(Last October, Serio sent Piscitelli two letters informing him that neither lease would be renewed. Piscitelli told Patch at that time that he was angry and would try to get Serio to change his mind. This past January, Serio asked the Board to reconsider renewing the leases.)
Maisano and board member Tia DePalma told Patch that all school jobs need board approval. They said according to their research, the board in 2004 when John Doe was hired was not asked for its approval. (Mr Doe had reportedly worked for Piscitelli in the same capacity from 2000-2004.) Asked who then would have hired John Doe, the women said it "had to have been" the then-superintendent, the late Martin DeFelice. Republican mayoral candidate John Finkle chaired the board at the time.
At its March 22 meeting, the school board conditionally approved a new lease giving Adult Ed Pathways' contract "pending some stipulations," said Palladino, such as "minor language changes."
And then John Doe fell into their laps.
"It's absolutely shocking," said member Kristin Vineyard.
"Based on tonight's findings, as finance chairwoman, I am more than ever convinced that there is a serious financial problem within the Board of Education," said Maisano, who has been wrestling with Lathrop for months to get the accounting books in order.
"I'm just stunned," said DePalma. "I'm totally stunned. My question is, if we have a person we did not know we were paying salary and benefits, are there any others?"
"Taxpayers of East Haven work very hard for their money and we as elected officials have an obligation to manage the finances with the utmost scrutiny," said Maisano. "These findings tonight are disturbing. The taxpayers deserve an answer."
"I think it's so sad because here we are talking finances again," said DePalma. "And if this prevents all-day kindergarten, that will be very said."
"This is another prime example of financial information being misrepresented to the board," said Maisano.
Attorney Luzzi said he would confer with Piscitelli's lawyer and get back to the board.