Middletown schools chief David L. Witmer should be docked six months pay instead of being fired for padding his expenses and misleading the school board, an administrative law judge ruled yesterday in a recommendation to the state Education Commissioner.

According to the Star-Ledger, both sides claimed the ruling by Administrative Law Judge Joseph Martone dealt them partial victories, but each will file objections to the decision.

From the Ledger:

The judge found that Witmer indeed attempted to obtain unauthorized benefits, violating the terms of his contract. Witmer lied to the board on one occasion, he ruled.

But that did not justify his removal as superintendent, the judge said.

“His conduct and actions do amount to an attempt to obtain something of value to which he was not entitled,” Martone wrote. “(But they) do not establish Dr. Witmer’s unfitness to discharge the duties and functions of his office.”

According to the Asbury Park Press, Witmer, 69, was suspended without pay Jan. 31, 2006, by the township Board of Education on charges of misappropriating nearly $23,000 in vacation and personal time. His $176,604-per-year salary was reinstated June 1, 2006, per state statute.

From the Press:

Martone wrote that Witmer violated his contract by failing to provide notice to the
board president of his absences on two dates in December 2005. However, Martone wrote that his failure to do so did not require that Witmer be removed from his post because he “obtained no benefit as a result of this violation of the agreement.”

Martone also found that Witmer attempted to confer unauthorized benefits upon himself by attempting to carry 20 more vacation days than authorized by his employment agreement. But that charge does not warrant his removal as superintendent, Martone wrote.

Witmer was replaced with an interim superintendent, Karen Bilbao, but continues to get paid under a contract that runs through June 2008, the Ledger says.

Also from the Ledger:

Witmer could not be reached. But his attorney, Frank Gaudio, said the judge merely found that Witmer had committed “technical violations” of his contract.

“The goal of the school board was to get rid of Dr. Witmer, and they have failed in that regard,” he said.

Christopher Parton, the lawyer representing the school board, said the ruling was a win because the judge upheld some of the board’s charges and effectively fined Witmer $83,000.

“It’s not a perfect outcome, but there’s been a finding of conduct unbecoming on three of five charges,” he said.

Email this story