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Concerns Surface about New Hopatcong School Superintendent

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Recent reporting by the New Jersey Herald surfaces issues about Arthur DiBenedetto’s past performance at the Vernon School District that may have led to the Superintendent’s early retirement while only three years into a five-year contract.

Allegations against DiBenedetto at the Vernon School District included abusive and profanity-laced tirades, crony hiring, and unlawfully interfering in the state-mandated drug testing of students suspected of substance abuse.

Most damaging was the public release of a leaked letter dated March 22, 2017, from a Law Firm that detailed each of these allegations against DiBenedetto. The source of the leaked letter that was written on behalf of the Vernon Administrators to the media still remains a mystery.

DiBenedetto directly addressed the alleged failure to follow drug and alcohol testing requirements at a Vernon School Board Meeting, stating.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I think it's only fair that you understand my reasoning," DiBenedetto said. "I believe the drug testing law is a difficult one and that many kids get drug-tested needlessly. That is my humble opinion, but in spite of that opinion, in the three cases that were brought up, two of those students were, in fact, tested."

As for the third student, who was not tested, DiBenedetto acknowledged it was "totally due to my discretion, which I must explain to you, but I can't give you the full details because of (medical privacy) and special education laws.

Additionally, DiBenedetto overall accepted some of the charges against him stating in 2017. “Some of the allegations are true, and it’s something I’m working on.”

DiBenedetto also publicly acknowledged in Vernon that he had become a "divisive force" in Vernon and that he was getting help for what was described as an anger management problem.

Hopatcong BOE Actions:

Anthony Fasano, president of the Hopatcong Board of Education, stated to the NJ Herald “The full board was aware of DiBenedetto's background in Vernon and other districts where he previously worked, and that the board considered this prior to making him a tentative offer.”

"Every board member has been involved to some extent in vetting our candidates and their references and looking at their backgrounds, and we're aware of all the stories, not only in terms of what's been said negatively but also what's been said positively."

Social Media Reactions:

Social Media sounded off regarding the hiring of DiBenedetto as Hopatcong’s new Superintendent.

Derek Giering – “Vernon has 3000+ students and salary was $167,500 annually. Hopatcong has about half approx. 1600 and will be paid $174,689 annually. Can this BOE justify his salary? He got paid less for DOUBLE the students. Not to mention $17,000 MORE than previous full-time superintendent (Randina) of Hopatcong. Thought there was a cap on what they could be paid based on student population.”

Sheri Ferreira RC – “I am disgusted. As a parent and taxpayer in Hopatcong, there was no community meeting, where we could give input about what we wanted in a superintendent and no opportunity to vet the candidates for ourselves. This board continues to disappoint. This particular candidate doesn't seem like an appropriate choice. When will this Board try harder and not settle?”

Positive Areas of Support:

DiBenedetto has also seen positive support from Vernon regarding the actions that he has taken during his role as Superintendent.

Throughout his superintendence, DiBenedetto has won praise as well from people who have credited him with making difficult but necessary decisions, not only with the grade-level reconfiguration that took effect in September but also through implementing new programs in career and technical education that they say have moved the district forward.

These CTE programs, as they are called, have resulted in Vernon receiving $500,000 in grants for programs that allow high school students to earn college credit while exploring careers in fields such as allied health, hospitality, cosmetology, graphic design, building construction technology, and music production, with more such programs being considered for next year and beyond.

In addition, he also has seen areas of public support:

Kristen Montanaro – “Thank you, Art DiBenedetto, for all the wonderful things that you have done for our children. I have heard stories from many parents of the kids that you have helped. I have personally seen your compassionate care for these students, including my own. You are not only an outstanding superintendent, you are a good person who truly cares for these kids.”

Janet Hodgson Schotter‎ - “I wish you all the best. Thank you for your dedication to our schools over the years. God bless you Art!”

More About Arthur DiBenedetto:

DiBenedetto has more than 40 years of experience in education, having begun his career as a history teacher at Newton High School and later moving to Vernon Township High School when the school opened its doors in 1975. He subsequently became an assistant superintendent in Vernon before leaving in 1989 to become superintendent in Sussex-Wantage, and later Union Township (Hunterdon County), Long Hill (Morris County), Netcong and Stanhope.

Portions of this article are based on reporting from the New Jersey Herald, NJ.com and Social Media.

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