When he beat the allies of the Elizabeth School Board in the Democratic Primary, state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) said he wasn’t done wailing on his rivals, and this week provided more evidence of that as Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy issued a court order requiring former Elizabeth Board of Education President Rafael Fajardo and schools superintendent Pablo Munoz to pay back more than $60,000 they used on legal fees.
“Whether it’s the abuse in the free school lunch program, shaking down employees for campaign donations, or treating the taxpayers’ funds like their own personal piggy bank, Fajardo and Munoz and their supporters at the Elizabeth Board of Education have acted with impudence with our children’s education and the taxpayers of Elizabeth and the State,” said Lesniak. “It’s time to expose the corruption, fraud and abuse of the taxpayers’ trust to the light of day, and to send corrupt school board members packing. We have to focus on making Elizabeth schools work for the students enrolled there, and not allow the board of education to become a launching pad for political campaigns.”
Lesniak said the court order to repay $60,000, coupled with new revelations this week about the investigation into corruption in the free school lunch program – current School Board President Marie Munn paid back more than $2,500 to reimburse for the cost of her children receiving free school lunches, despite the fact that the family did not qualify for the program – represent only a fraction of the questionable activities which have taken place under the umbrella of the Board of Education.
“What makes these actions even more egregious is that while board members wasted taxpayer dollars on personal legal fees, self-aggrandizing mailers, and free lunch for their family members, the state was pumping more money into its budget,” said Lesniak, “I’m glad that we’re now getting to the core of the problem – school board members more interested in looking out for their personal and political interests than they are interested in looking out for the students entrusted to their oversight. I look forward to the results of ongoing criminal probes into the operations at the Elizabeth Board of Education, so we can move beyond this dark chapter in our city’s history and begin to reclaim our schools for the students who deserve a decent education and our homeowners who should be confident their tax dollars are not being used for political or personal gain.”
In her decision, Cassidy ordered Munoz and Fajardo to reimburse the school district $63,622, to be evenly divided between the two men.
It must be paid within 90 days of the order, dated Sept. 13.