The city’s school district awarded an almost $20,000 contract to an education consulting company a month after the firm’s principal donated to school board president Christopher Irving’s re-election campaign, according to government records.
Joseph Fulmore, owner of Ultimate Education Solutions, was awarded the $19,950 contract on November 30th, 2016 for “mentoring services.” He contributed $1,125 to Irving’s re-election campaign on October 9th, 2016, according to state election records.
Fulmore said the contribution did not entirely come from him. He said he collected cash from family members and friends who attended a recognition ceremony in which Irving was honoring the retired educator.
“They gave me money for their tickets,” said Fulmore. He said he made out a check from his company’s account to Irving for three tables rather than fumbling with cash bills. Irving charged $75 per ticket to the event in which he honored a number of “legacy” families.
Irving did not respond to a call for comment on Friday morning. He told the Paterson Press, which first reported the story, that it was an “honest mistake.” Irving, who won his third term on the school board, should have known better, said some of his critics.
“No school board will vote upon or award any contract in the amount of $17,500 or greater to any business entity which has made a [reportable] contribution,” reads state law discouraging pay-to-play, “to a member of the district board of education during the preceding one-year period.”
Irving voted on the contract when it was approved by the Board of Education late last month.
“This guy has been making too many mistakes,” remarked Errol Kerr, school board member, who lost his seat after a decade on the school board, speaking of Irving. He said Fulmore contributed $100 to his campaign in the recent election.
Irving has been in hot waters over a number of election issues. For example, he has failed to timely file his campaign finance reports and he failed to label his campaign mailers with “paid for by” labels. His pre-election campaign finance report shows he spent three times as much in this election compared with three years ago. The deadline for his final 20-day post-election report has come and passed, but the state has not received a filing.
Irving may have also played foul of yet another basic campaign rule by taking contribution from Fulmore’s company: “A partnership, a limited liability partnership (LLP), or a limited liability company (LLC) may not make contributions as an entity.” His campaign filing lists only the company name without listing an individual.
“I’m troubled that we’re even having this discussion,” said Jonathan Hodges, the longest serving member on the Paterson school board. He said the alleged pay-to-play issue is shedding negative light on Fulmore who he described as a “legend” in the city for his work in the district. He said Irving’s moves also place the school district in an “unfortunate light.”
“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to damage the reputation of the school district. I hope it doesn’t interfere with the return of local control,” said Hodges. “We’re in a very fragile, tenuous period.’
Former school board member Corey Teague, who ran an abortive campaign for a seat, has sent a second letter to the New Jersey education commissioner Kimberley Harrington urging the state to hold off returning local control. He cited Fulmore’s contract as an example of what’s in store for the district when it regains local control.
The change of the city’s school elections from April to November is being blamed for the campaign related controversies that have emerged in last month’s election.
“I’ve been very concerned about the way people raised money in the past election and this underscores what I was trying to explain to people,” said Hodges. He said now it is no longer about ideas to improve schools and provide a high quality education to students, but who can raise the most money to hold onto power.
“These outside people, you don’t know where they are coming from, are dumping a lot of money into candidates,” said Kerr. He too said the discourse about education that occurred prior to an April election has disappeared as a result of the switch.
Kerr, who also praised Fulmore for his work, said: “I honestly don’t believe it was intended to be a pay-to-play thing.” Fulmore has donated to the campaigns of former mayor Jeffery Jones, council president William McKoy, assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, former council candidate Mark Fischer.
Fulmore said he provides mentoring to principals at Yes Academy and the Young Men’s Leadership Academy as part of the contract. He also provides counseling to students.
Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools, said there is “nothing to correct” when asked what the district is doing to rectify the alleged violation and that the “appropriate” form has been submitted. When asked whether Fulmore’s firm completed the campaign contribution disclosure statement, Corallo said: “Such forms are completed prior to Purchase Orders which had not yet been finalized for this contract yet.”