A review of legal records by Shorebeat shows Brick school officials are keeping a near-constant watch on the criminal case against suspended Superintendent Walter Uszenski, which apparently resulted in the drafting of termination charges against him.
Uszenski is currently under indictment on charges of official misconduct and theft, related to an allegation that he authorized special education services for his grandchild to which the child was not entitled. Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, said on June 24 that there were no new developments in the criminal case, which is pending.
Shorebeat obtained the legal records by way of an Open Public Records Act request. The records show a slew of inquiries into the case, the first of which came just five days after a new school board majority took office and appointed Nicholas C. Montenegro as board attorney. A Jan. 11 billing item showed an 18 minute-long phone call between Montenegro and Business Administrator James Edwards on the case, followed the next day by a two hour-long conference between the two to obtain records and discuss the matter further.
Two days later, the records show, Montenegro conducted nearly three hours of legal research into the case and on the potential filing of termination charges. In the remaining weeks in January, Montenegro, Edwards and then-Interim Superintendent Richard Caldes spent more hours discussing the case, culminating in another legal bill Feb. 1, which states Montenegro “drafted statement of initial termination charges, 1-7.”
Later, Montenegro’s office billed the district for having “reviewed, revised and finalized draft of tenure charges” as well as having prepared a cover letter. The attorney also consulted with the prosecutor’s office. Further reviews of the charges were conducted later that month, including a review of board policy 5118, which covers illegal student admissions to the school district. On Feb. 11, the district’s law firm had a nearly three hour-long meeting with a representative from the prosecutor’s office.
After reviewing the legal records, Shorebeat submitted two subsequent Open Public Records Act requests, both phrased differently, to obtain a copy of the termination charge or the draft document. Both times the request was denied, with Edwards stating the records did not exist. Two calls to Interim Superintendent Thomas Gialanella seeking comment on the matter were not returned.
Though Uszesnski is suspended without pay, his contract with the district remains in force through July 31. In the case that the charges against Uszenski are dismissed, or in the case he is found not guilty of the charges, the school district could, conceivably, be obligated to provide him back pay. When Lacey Township was faced with a similar issue in 2014, a superintendent who was under indictment was reinstated since her contract was not yet expired, and she was provided back pay covering the time of the suspension.
In Uszenski’s case, sources have said, termination or tenure charges against him that result in a finding of wrongdoing could potentially alleviate the district from having to pay him in such a circumstance.
Since the dates where termination charges were discussed and, apparently, drafted, Montenegro’s office has reviewed other areas of the case against Uszenski, including a motion to set aside the indictment, and pleadings associated with it.
Gialanella’s contract as interim superintendent runs through June 30, meaning the Board of Education will have to either reappoint him or choose another schools chief at the June 30 board meeting.