A Conspiracy of Cowards: What the Penn State Board of Trustees and Joe Paterno Can Teach the New Rochelle Board of Education

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Last night the Board of Trustees of Penn State University announced the termination of Dr. Graham Spanier as University President and Joe Paterno as the Head Football Coach in the wake of a sex abuse scandal that stretches back at least 17 years. In short, school officials and employees knew about the sexual abuse of young boys by a former football coach and responded by taking steps designed to protect the image of the school and their legendary football coach and did nothing at all to protect the children being abused.

While many heads have already rolled -- with more to come -- the Board itself has a lot of explaining to do because ultimately they are responsible for oversight of the administration including the football program.

In a similar way, the New Rochelle Board of Education has been a docile monolith which has seen its job to provide cover Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak and serve as booster club for New Rochelle real estate agents. Since Richard Organisciak was hired as Schools Superintendent in New Rochelle, the Board has NEVER conducted an independent investigation into an of the criminal wrongdoing reported by Talk of the Sound. Current and former board members have been made of instances of sexual harassment, child pornography, child rape in administrative offices, security guards at the high school having sex with students and not once set up the sort of independent investigative committee announced earlier this week by Penn State.

For many months Talk of the Sound has reported on financial irregularities involved the district's $19mm undesignated fund balance ("rainy day fund") which has been masked by accounting gimmicks in an effort to mislead the community and justify unnecessary tax increases, bonding and teacher/staff reductions.

In the past few weeks, the Board has learned that two people were hired as administrators at two difference schools dispute not having a required administrative license and remained employed as administrators for years. Patricia Lambert was hired in 2004 and until September 2011 did not have an administrative license; the license she obtained 7 years too later is an "out-of-state transfer" license although there is no evidence that Lambert worked as an a principal in another state. Nadine Pacheco was hired in 2007 and was forced to resign last month because she did not have an administrative license and is not eligible to get once because her temporary license expired in 2005.

Talk of the Sound has provided ample evidence that Violence and Disruptive Incident Reports submitted to the State Education Department are routinely falsified to cover up the amount of crime being reported in our schools.

Just to be clear, all of these things -- failure to report child abuse to Child Protective Services, Financial Fraud, Falsifying Public Records, Paying Unlicensed Administrators -- are all crimes under New York State law.

There is a clear track record in New Rochelle of the administration lying to the board and yet board members continue to behave like the "Three Monkeys" -- See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. Board members have managed to convince themselves that by operating behind the scenes (as they did in the Pacheco case), never publicly speaking ill of the Superintendent or fact-checking his claims that they are operating in the best interests of New Rochelle.

What the Penn State/Paterno case can teach New Rochelle Board of Education members that the sort of rationalizations they have engaged in for years -- blindly relying on the Superintendent for information about criminal acts occurring in the schools, relying on the law firm hired by the Superintendent for legal advice, relying on a politically-connected accounting firm for "independent" audits of the district's finances -- will eventually bite them in the behind.

The New Rochelle Board of Education can began to unwind this mess by, first of all, self-reporting violations like the hiring and employment of Lambert and Pacheco which are violations of Article 61 Section 3009 of New York State education law and pay whatever fines are required. They need to appoint an independent financial auditor to review the district's books with a special eye on the fund balance accounting fraud which appears to have occurred. They need to hire a special investigator with experience in sex crimes to investigate who knew what and when with regard to Jose Martinez as well as Walter Hubbard, Kyle Figueroa, Robert McClean, Leroy Manuel, Donna Henry and anyone else involved with sex crimes involving children.

Given her own failures in the Martinez matter, Chrisanne Petrone needs to recuse herself with regards to the Martinez case.

On a final note, several board members have expressed their view that it is unfair for critics to lump them all together because they do not all agree with Organisciak or support Organisciak on certain issues. While that is all well and good, that is just looking for a pat on the back for doing what they are supposed to do. So long as the board members speak with one voice, vote unanimously on every vote, hide their debates and deliberations, and otherwise act as a monolith they are going to be lumped together. What other choice do they leave the rest of us? When they show the courage to stand apart from the administration and their lackeys on the school board, to take a public stand against the culture of cover up that exists in our school system, then they will be deserving of praise.

Sadly, what we have now is a conspiracy of cowards more worried about getting invited to the next cocktail party than protecting children entrusted to their care.

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fearisourenemy on Sat, 11/12/2011 - 19:23