NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- With the news Monday that Reggie Richardson rescinded his resignation as New Rochelle High School Principal many in New Rochelle are wondering whether Richardson is allowed to take-back his resignation and keep his job.
In a word: absolutely.
Further, as a tenured Principal Richardson can not only return but can remain as New Rochelle High School Principal indefinitely. He is 50 years old so within his rights to stay on as Principal until 2033.
There is ample precedent of education law case where a "certified" employee, one who holds a license as an educator in New York State, is allowed to rescind a resignation letter that has not been acted upon by the Board of Education.
This is not even a question, according to education lawyers contacted by Talk of the Sound and a review of case law. There are even cases where a resignation was deemed rescinded by the courts after a school board acted upon a resignation (mostly cases where the administration was found to have manipulated an employee into a resignation or some other unusual circumstance).
Richardson has an absolute right to take back a resignation that has not been acted upon by a school board. Having done so it is as if the resignation never happened.
In Richardson’s case, he submitted his resignation to the City School District of New Rochelle on July 19th with an effective date of August 20th. In a public statement published by the District on June 20th, Richardson said he was offered an opportunity by the New York City Department of Education to serve as “the Director of School Quality”. Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne said Richardson would be “responsible for reviewing and rating schools and for training principals.”
Osborne’s announcement on July 20 also stated the District would begin an “immediate search for his replacement”.
On July 21st, after Susan Edelman of The New York Post began nosing around the day before, the NYC Department of Education notified Richardson his job offer had been rescinded. According to Edelman, Richardson had agreed to a pay cut from $187,326 in New Rochelle to $160,000 in New York City.
$187,326 is the 2016-17 salary for a High School Principal on Step 6 or Step 7 under the Collective Bargaining Agreement of the Administrative and Supervisory Association of the City School District of New Rochelle (2015-2018). If Richardson were on Step 6 in 2016-17 his 2017-18 salary on Step 7 would have been $190,136; if he were on Step 7 in 2016-17 his 2017-18 salary on Step 8 would have been $199,108.
There are mixed messages on what job Richardson accepted and what he was to be paid. Richardson said he was hired as “the” Director of School Quality as if there were only one such position
New York City Department of Education. Deputy Communication Director Doug Cohen told Talk of the Sound that “Mr. Richardson received a part-time, conditional offer as a consultant with the title Director of School Quality,” said Cohen.
“There are currently 21 Directors of School Quality; they conduct Quality Reviews and provide training to school leaders about information captured in the Quality Review,” said Cohen.
Richardson overstated the significance of the role, which is one of many former Principals in a program where the Directors of School Quality visit schools and write reports. Sources tell Talk of the Sound it is a program where failed Principals are paid to not run a school.
Cohen said Richardson would have been paid $71.65 per hour.
A consultant paid $71.65 for a full school year of 180 days for a full 8 hour day would be paid a total of $103,176. A part-time job would be some fraction of that figure, well under the $160,000 reported by Edelman. And no medical or pension benefits.
A source who spoke to Richardson tells Talk of the Sound that Richardson disputed Cohen’s account, that the $71.65 was an hourly rate to attend four days of training at which point the $160,000 salary would kick in.
Cohen said “the offer was rescinded after we became aware of additional information.”
Having spoken to Edelman and one of her sources, a former New Rochelle resident, Talk of the Sound is aware that reporting by Talk of the Sound figured prominently in that “additional information” which was discovered after Edelman asked questions the DOE did not want to have to answer.
On July 23rd the School Clerk stamped Richardson’s resignation letter as “received”. At the time it was believed by some school officials that a “resignation letter” marked “received” would be sufficient to prevent Richardson from rescinding his resignation. This is not the case.
On July 26th, Richardson notified the District that he was rescinding his resignation submitted on July 19th. Between July 19th and July 26th there was no meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education and so the board took no action on Richardson’s resignation.
On July 29th, the City School District of New Rochelle ran an advertisement for the position of New Rochelle High School Principal in the Education Section of the Sunday New York Times.
Newspaper ads of 1/10 of a page in the Sunday Education section cost about $6,000 and require that the ad graphic be provided by a specific time. For a Help Wanted ad in the Sunday paper Black & White Display Advertising, the ad space must be reserved by the preceding Thursday 10 p.m. The materials are due at midnight of the preceding Thursday. For an ad to run on Sunday July 29th, the space must be reserved (and can thus be cancelled) on Thursday July 26th at 10 p.m.
Based on this timeline, Richardson rescinded his resignation letter during the day on July 26th when the District could have canceled the ad in the Sunday New York Times but the District went ahead, spending over $6,000 to advertise to fill a position that is currently filled.
The board is set to meet on August 7th to discuss the matter in executive session but there is nothing for the board to discuss. As the board failed to act on Richardson’s resignation letter, he was free to rescind his resignation and he did so.
Not only is Richardson free to return to the District (technically he never left because the resignation was effective on August 20th) but he has tenure and so within his rights to demand to remain as Principal of New Rochelle High School.
Richardson was hired with an effective start date of July 1, 2013. His tenure date was June 30, 2016.
At the New Rochelle Board of Education Regular Meeting on September 6, 2016, the board passed Resolution No. 17-102 accepting the recommendation of Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne that Richardson be tenured, having served one day beyond his probationary period. The resolution was a formality because once Richardson worked on July 1, 2016 he was tenured by estoppel.
As a tenured Principal, barring some overt criminal act or blatant incompetence, the only way the board can force Richardson out would be to file §3020-a charges against him which would then trigger the “due process” grievance section clause of the District’s Administrators and Supervisors contract.
There is no doubt that would become an ugly public spectacle as the charges would become a matter of public record and possibly result in litigation in the courts as well as within the arbitration process under the New York State Education Department. Several board member have told Talk of the Sound they would want to avoid a public spectacle as “not in the interest of the community”.
At this point, the best the board can hope for is that Richardson rescinded his resignation as a negotiating tactic to get money from the District whether it be in the form of a severance package or some temporary role.
There seems little doubt that Richardson will have a difficult time finding a job with all of the recent negative publicity on top of the negative press following the spate of violence in January so he may remain in New Rochelle for a long while.
"He is toxic right now," said one former New Rochelle school official.
One idea that has been floated around is moving Richardson over to replace Joel Fridovich at the Alternative Campus High School. Fridovich’s wife retired from the District not long ago and he is said to be on the verge of retiring himself. Parking Richardson at the Alternative Campus High School until he can find a job elsewhere allows Richardson to continue to collect a paycheck and the District gets some useful service for their money.
One question is whether the Alternative Campus High School is or could be made to be considered a separate high school and the exact nature of Richardson’s tenure as a principal of a high school. The board resolution indicates that Richardson is tenured as a Principal. The Collective Bargain Agreement under which Richardson is employed specifies a pay scale for “High School”. The Alternative Campus High School web site lists Fridovich as “Administrator” of the Alternative Campus High School which is “a part of New Rochelle High School, that has been designed to provide approximately eighty students with a small, supportive setting in which to pursue their high school diploma.” It appears the board would have to put in place some sort of paperwork that would allow Richardson to be paid as a Principal while serving in Fridovich’s role. This is all assuming Fridovich would agree to retire, Richardson would agree to a diminished role and the Administrative and Supervisory Association would go long.
The board is certainly in a pickle if Richardson is determined to return as Principal at New Rochelle High School as he has not resigned and he has tenure. So, what if that happens? What grounds might the District have to file a § 3020-a complaint against Richardson?
One charge might be insubordination as it pertains to Board Policy 5520 New Rochelle High School Closed Campus. As an employee of the board, Richardson had an affirmative obligation to faithfully carry out board policy. He chose not to do that, a decision which led directly to the death of Valaree Schwab and the melee at the pizza shop which led directly to the Bryan Stamps stabbing in a high school classroom.
Another charge might be falsifying grades and, in turn, diplomas. The most notable issue is the allegations of grade-fixing through the Apex Learning “credit recovery“ program, a story broken by Talk of the Sound on May 6th (despite repeated false claims by the Journal News that they broke the story, weeks later). The matter is currently under investigation by an outside private investigation firm. There are other allegations from school staff of grade-fixing, phony “credit recovery” programs like making up an entire year of Physical Education by attending classes for a week in June (failing PE is often the most common reason a student fails to graduate with their cohort in June). High School staff have told Talk of the Sound in some cases grades were simply changed in the computer. In others that family members or friends of a family were given administrative access to online credit recovery exams so students could claim to complete exams off-campus without teacher supervision with the implication that someone other than the student completed the exams. A common complaint has been that teachers not certified in a particular subject were grading exams and entering grades into the high schoool computer system. In one case a teacher was accused of stealing material from another teacher in order to pass a student.
The bottom line is that if Richardson wants to remain as Principal of New Rochelle High School until retirement he is free to do so barring some extreme action by the District. That would leave him standing at a podium on a warm June day in the distant future congratulating the New Rochelle High School Class of 2033.
The question then becomes what the 9 board members are prepared to do to get rid of Richardson — buy him out or file charges or something else. A spot check on the sentiment of the board indicates that there is not a large appetite for an aggressive posture towards Richardson. Some board members never wanted him to go in the first place. And Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne has always been a big supporter of Richardson.
What was expected to be a sleepy August 7th board meeting now has two hot topics on the agenda: Re-Registration and Reggie Richardson.