Good government group questions crooked candidate connections

Education Watchdogs wants Stephanie Falana to explain why she was fired from Essex County College, amid a federal criminal probe.

Stephanie Falana lost her job at Essex County College, during a federal Justice Department investigation of political corruption and financial irregularities, but she is running for a seat on the Roselle Board of Education.

Education Watchdogs said Stephanie Falana should explain why she lost her job as assistant to the Dean of STEM and Health Sciences at Essex County College, where the Justice Department is investigating reports of shredded materials, to be at the center of politically connected corruption and claims of financial irregularities.

“It is unusual to run for school board when one of your career highlights is being fired from a job at a scandal-plagued learning institution,” said Karissa Murray, a spokesperson for Education Watchdogs, a citizens network that works to promote ethics and integrity among learning institutions.

Despite the possible link to scandals at her former workplace, Falana is running for one of three seats on the Roselle Board of Education in the November election, as part of the ‘Building Our Future’ slate that also includes incumbent Board of Education Commissioner Delia Ware-Tibbs and Lester Neal, who was appointed to the school board at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ware-Tibbs is under investigation for allegedly collecting federal housing subsidies for a home at 220 Linden Road in Roselle, which she rented to her brother, Doryan Ware.

While Falana was responsible for budgetary oversight for academic six divisions at Essex County College, according to the candidate’s LinkedIn page, another Roselle resident was sentenced to three years in state prison for stealing about $150,000 from the school, while employed as the head track coach, by using a debit card for team expenses like his own personal account.

Michael Smart was sentenced by Superior Court Judge William A. Daniel after he pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree theft by unlawful taking and admitting that he stole at least $150,000 from 2012 through 2015.

The non-profit group said that if parents and taxpayers want corruption-free schools, they must demand that officials elected to the school board meet high standards for character and integrity instead of someone who appears to be at the center of claims of financial irregularities like Falana.

Falana’s departure was one of the dozens of firings at Essex County College.

After President Gale Gibson and the school’s general counsel, Vice President Rashidah Hasan, were dumped amid allegations of financial irregularities, officials showed the door to many vice presidents, administrators, faculty members, and others whose contracts were not renewed.

“Even if Falana was not embroiled in the corruption taking place at Essex County College, then neither did she speak out about ethics in government in an institution that could never be cited as a model for government integrity,” said Murray. “Education Watchdogs takes exception to her silence when Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. named a hall at Essex County College after former Republican Governor Chris Christie, who tried to extort support for re-election by illegally closing the George Washington Bridge and changed his position on North Jersey casino gaming after he accepted a million-dollar payoff from a millionaire developer.

According to longtime education reporter Bob Braun, Essex County College, “now faces the worst crisis in its 50-year history—the possible loss of its accreditation and, with it, its ability to operate as a public, degree-granting institution.”

Falana was employed at a place where the federal Justice Department has an open investigation, there’s a looming accreditation crisis, and which is in danger of closing according to both A. Zachary Yamba, who served more than 30 years as the school’s president, and Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, a former chairman of the college’s board of trustees.

“What’s going on now is just sad and disappointing,” said Yamba. “It puts the institution at risk of closing.”

“The college is in great jeopardy of closing,” says Jackson, who served 13 years on the trustee board and is now presiding bishop over more than 500 African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches in Georgia.

“Stephanie Falana cannot claim to be an advocate of good government worthy of public trust with responsibility for our children as long as she remains silent about the corruption and incompetence at Essex County College, where she was employed for almost nine years in a job responsible for budgetary oversight,” said Murray. “Education Watchdogs is demanding that Stephanie Falana explain why she lost her job and reveal what she knew about the political corruption and financial irregularities during her employment at Essex County College.”

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