A recent traffic incident in which New Rochelle High School swim coach Edward "Kip" Fierro caused a three car collision landing a local elementary school teacher in the hospital and him into police custody has brought to light a lucrative deal Fierro and his family have enjoyed for many years at the expense of New Rochelle taxpayers.
The staggering amounts of money involved raises serious questions as to the motivation of school officials involved.
Talk of the Sound spoke with a number of current and former employees of the New Rochelle Board of Education, parents, students and others familiar with the New Rochelle swimming pool and swim programs. They tell us that Kip Fierro has worked for the New Rochelle Board of Education as a Teaching Assistant and Swim Coach as far back as 1997, and possibly longer. He is paid a salary, benefits and accrues a pension. His school day responsibilities largely entail serving as a life guard at the pool. He coaches the boys and girls swim team. His pay and benefits are a pittance to what he makes running the Badger Swim Club out of New Rochelle High School.
As reported previously on Talk of the Sound, Fierro suffers from a long-standing medical condition known as Arteriovenous Malformations or AVM. He has an ocular prosthesis in one eye. He has a history of blackouts, seizures and a major stroke which he attempts to manage with daily intake of prescription drugs. All of which makes him an unlikely choice to work as a life guard or manage an indoor pool facility for children, many of whom come to the high school unable to swim.
Fierro blamed his recent traffic collision on a seizure in which Fierro seriously injured another driver who was hospitalized. Fierro was issued a 511-1a violation, a misdemeanor, for driving on a suspended license. He was initially taken into custody by police because he left the scene of a motor vehicle accident after plowing into another car sending it crashing through three lanes of rush hour traffic.
For well over a decade, the New Rochelle Board of Education provided Fierro's company, the Badger Swim Club, the use of the New Rochelle High School's indoor swimming pool at no charge. After complaints surfaced several years ago, the Board of Education began charging Fierro a token amount of $20,000 a year. The cost of operating the pool is more than three times that amount.
Badger Swim Club is a swimming program designed to develop elite athletes. It draws swimmers from all over the Tri-State area, few of whom reside in New Rochelle. Yet, Fierro and his company have, for years, been given exclusive control of the pool 6 days a week including weekday evenings and all day Saturday. Almost the entire cost of operating the pool has been borne by New Rochelle taxpayers while Badger has raked in millions.
Calls to other indoor pool facilities in Westchester County reveal that few will lease out their pool at all. For those that do, price quotes for an hour of pool time in Westchester County range from $150 an hour to $325 an hour depending on the number of hours per session, number of sessions per season and the purpose and nature of the organization.
"The going rate in the area is between $150 and $250 an hour" Chris Bisignano, Associate Athletic Director at SUNY-Purchase which makes pool time available to a wide range of organizations including the Red Cross, Rye Brook Recreation Department and the Badger Swim Club.
Bisignano said that a non-profit community organization would be charged less than a for-profit entity.
The YMCA in White Plains offers a package for pool parties that includes an hour of pool time in their much smaller pool for $325 an hour for non-members. The YMCA in New Rochelle offers a similar package for $320.
While few public school systems have indoor swimming pools, a number of private colleges in the area do have then but do not offer their pools for lease by outsiders except in special circumstances. Iona College, College of New Rochelle and Sarah Lawrence all have indoor pools.
The going rate at these pools is anywhere from $175 to "the low hundreds", sources say.
New Rochelle school officials are well aware of these costs, having rented the pool at College of New Rochelle for $350 per session when the New Rochelle High School pool was closed by the Westchester County Health Department in 2009. The pool was also closed for repairs to the roof.
According to schedules and registration forms on the Badger web site, Junior and Development teams use the NRHS pool 2 hours a day during weekdays and 4 hours a day on weekends or 14 hours a week. The programs are year-round with short breaks between the seasonal programs. At 14 hours a week for the recent Fall 2011 Season for Juniors that amounts to 224 hours. There is also a Senior Team and Swim Meets. The program runs year-round with a Spring Season, Fall Season and Summer Season. A conservative estimate is that the Badger Swim Club is using the NRHS pool well over 750 hours a year.
750 hours a year at a rate of $200, the middle of the "going rate" range, is $150,000 a year. New Rochelle is paid $20,000 a year, after more than a decade of being paid zero.
$20,000 a year for 750 hours amounts to about $26 an hour. The Badger Swim Club paid nothing for 12 years and has paid $20,000 for the last three years, according to one source familiar with the deal. The average hourly cost of the life of the deal, $60,000 for 15 years for 750 hours, is about $5.35 an hour
$26 an hour does not come close to covering the costs of making the pool available to the Badger Swim Club.
A security guard in New Rochelle earns about $25 an hour. There is always at least one guard for the locker room and others at the doors including during swim meets. In addition to security services, there are various premises costs including janitorial services, life guards, electrical, HVAC services and more.
The costs to taxpayers to operate the pool ranges from $75 to $100 an hour, at least three times more than paid by the Badger Swim Club.
SUNY-Purchase's Bisignano expressed surprise when informed how little the Badger Swim Club paid to use the New Rochelle High School pool.
"That wouldn't even cover the cost of operating the pool", said Bisignano who confirmed the $75 to $100 an hour cost to operate an indoor pool was about right.
While the New Rochelle Board of Education is losing money hand-over-fist, subsidizing with taxpayer money a private, for-profit business, the Badger Swim Club, one of the most expensive programs in the area, is literally swimming in money.
At a typical Badger Swim Club session at the New Rochelle High School pool there are about 50 swimmers in the pool, sources say. The prices charged for a session are age and skill level dependent but averages about $28.00
For instance, Kip’s 2009-2010 “11 and over” Program charged Fee for Year Program Fees ranging from $1,450 to $2,000 a year for practicing 3 to 6 times a week. The Program met Monday, Wednesday and Friday at New Rochelle High School from 5.30 pm - 7.30 pm and Saturday at New Rochelle High School from 8.00 am – 10.00 am.
50 students at an average price of $28 per hour comes out to $1,400 an hour. On an annualized basis, 750 hours for 50 students at $28 per hour is $1,050,000 in revenue. The Badger Swim Club is a private company so precise figures are not available These figures are meant to be conservative estimates. Knowledgeable sources suggest the actual figure is likely far higher.
To put this in context, students at New Rochelle high school have swimming sessions during Physical Education classes. Talk of the Sound is reliably informed there are typically three sessions in the pool per day for one 50-minute period each for 40 weeks a year: (15 x 50)/60 x 40 = 500. The New Rochelle Board of Education is using the NRHS pool for its own students, its intended purpose, just 500 hours a year and all but giving away the pool to a private, for-profit business for 750 hours a year.
The New Rochelle Board of Education and its administrators have allowed Kip Fierro and his company to generate millions of dollars in revenue using a taxpayer-funded facility to operate a private, for-profit business for going on 15 years. In return, Fierro has paid the district $60,000 for use of the pool for 750 hours a year, an amount less than Fierro has been paid to serve as lifeguard and swim coach.
It is not just about money.
New Rochelle has miles of coastline, numerous waterfront parks on Long Island Sound and large lakes at other parks. New Rochelle has a large minority population which is at significantly greater risk of drowning than the population at large.
A national study by USA Swimming, the National Governing Body for the sport of swimming in the United States, found that 70% of African-American children and 58% of Hispanic children have low or no swim ability, compared to 40% of Caucasians. According to the Center for Disease Control, the fatal drowning rate of African-American children ages 5 to 14 is 3.1 times that of white children in the same age range.
Children in the public school system do not get access to the pool at New Rochelle High School until 9th grade when the children at greatest risk are in the K-8 level.
The entire matter raises a number of questions.
- Why would New Rochelle school officials agree to provide the use of a taxpayer-funded facility to a for-profit business catering to affluent non-residents for nothing, or close to it, when the cost of operating the facility for that business is $75,000 a year.
- How much did the New Rochelle Board of Education pay over the past two years to rent a pool during the times the New Rochelle High School pool was closed due to the need for repairs; was any of the time rented from another facility used by the Badger Swim Club?
- Why is the Badger Swim Club using the New Rochelle High School pool more than New Rochelle high school students?
- Why not, on weekends, turn control of this taxpayer-funded facility over to the New Rochelle Parks & Recreation Department. They already manage the Lincoln Park pool and employ lifeguards at Lincoln Park and for the swimming areas at Hudson Park. This would provide New Rochelle residents with year round access to a swimming facility for which they have already paid.
- Why not invite the Red Cross to offer swimming lessons, life guard training and other programs?
- How do the demographics of the Badger Swim Club compare to the City of New Rochelle generally and the school-age population specifically?
- Why not use the pool to offer after school programs and weekend programs to teach children to swim at the youngest possible age?
- The most important questions revolved around who made this deal in the first place, who benefited and why has it been allowed to continue though changes in leadership over the past 15 years. Did it not occur to anyone at the New Rochelle Board of Education that "buying" a pool at $100 an hour and "selling" it to a private company for $26 an hour so that company can "resell" the pool for $1,500 an hour was a bad deal for New Rochelle taxpayers?