Newark Superintendent: No Alcohol at ‘Fun Day’ For Central Office Staff

June 18, 2024

NEWARK — Schools Superintendent Roger León on Monday said no alcohol was served at a “Superintendent’s Staff Fun Day” – an event for the district’s top administrators and their staff – held June 1 at an elegant venue in Warren.

“Taxpayer funds” did not pay for alcoholic beverages because “no alcohol was served,” León said in a brief phone conversation with TAPinto Newark.

When TAPinto Newark asked León why the cost of alcoholic beverages was shown as “included” on a menu with the invoice attached to the school board-approved resolution, his phone connection was lost.

A May 23 school board-approved resolution authorizing funding for the event states that the total cost is, “not to exceed $44,000 as outlined on the attached contract that has passed legal review.” The contract states that the number of guests has been adjusted to 275 adults and 140 children.

Marc Pfeiffer, senior policy fellow at Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said such events are uncommon among government entities.

“The type of outing they do is often found in the private sector,” Pfeiffer said. “But doing that in the public environment creates perception issues and can be abused. That’s why there is a state law on how public funds can and cannot be used in these circumstances.”

The state Department of Education’s code concerning “Entertainment, Meals, and Refreshments,” prohibits, “Receptions, dinners, or other social functions held for or honoring any school district employee(s) (for example, breakfast, luncheon, dinner, or reception for retirees or award recipients).”

It’s unclear how a “Fun Day” event, which is not specifically described as honoring employees, is viewed under the law. A spokesperson for the state Education Department referred TAPinto Newark to the statute but declined to comment further.

Pfeiffer said that boards of education have another option that might fit the bill for such an activity.

“One thing schools can do that local governments cannot is have independent foundations that can supplement public costs,” he said. “ An alternative to what the district did would have been to work with a foundation that exists to support the district’s work to help fund an outing or other event to thank staff.”

It’s a challenging issue, Pfeiffer said.

“Practices that are often shown to improve employee morale and performance and common in the private or non-profit sector have been determined to be inappropriate in the public sector,” he said. “NPS made a choice.”

If the Forest Lodge sounds familiar to families with children in the Newark public schools, it is because the district has a history of sending students to the venue for “Senior Day,” a class trip for high school seniors, which a contract between the venue and school district shows was held June 7.

TapIntoNewark, June 18, 2024


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