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Million Dollar Swim Coach Rakes in the Cash at Taxpayer Expense with Sweetheart Deal on New Rochelle High School Pool

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Million Dollar Swim Coach Rakes in the Cash at Taxpayer Expense with Sweetheart Deal on New Rochelle High School Pool

February 02, 2012 - 19:20
16 comments

Kip FierroA 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?

There are 16 Comments

the figures and numbers in this comment are complete exaggerations, as new rochelle high school is not the only location used for badger. the fees paid for by the parents covers up to four different pools throughout the county, and one in the bronx. while they may get new rochelle at a discount through coach fierro's connections they are taked else were for their other locations, to say the profit margins are in the millions, is absurd.

students at new ro use the pool as designated by the phys ed department, and has several red cross certified staffers teaching life guarding,

the amount of time the students spend in the pool has nothing to do with Badger, in fact badger has hired Students from the school to work.

and the program has offered more kids a chance at college then most other programs, due to its turn over rate of great athletes some of wich are minorities from under privileged families

the "1,500" an hour is actually about the same price as a yearly membership.

and Badger Age Group has offered discounted rates to minority groups, and underprivileged and starts teaching children as young as five, i know cause i swam and worked there in years past.

i would recommend talking to some of the alumni of the program and of the school including Olympic Gold Medalist Christina Tuescher, who came from The Badger Program and brought a lot of pride to New Rochelle,

this is hack reporting at its worst, basing facts off of google searches instead of talking to the people you are reporting about and misinforming your public with almost soapbox-ish accusations is wrong, and people should be told all the facts not just the ones from one side of the table.

Im guessing college was'nt in the cards for you.Too much chlorine in the brain.

Robert Cox's picture

From the perspective of New Rochelle taxpayers it really does not matter how much money Badger takes in but how much they use the pool and what they should be charged for that.

The going rate is $150 to $250 an hour so at 750 hours a year at the median price of $200 an hour that is $150,000.

If the Badger Swim Club has used the pool for 15 years for 750 hours at $200 an hour they should have paid $2.25 mm over that time.

If they actually paid $60,000 and kept the rest as profit that means New Rochelle taxpayers have been subsidizing the Badger Swim Club to the tune of $2.19 mm.

Fierro is already being paid for his work at the high school so that he actually does work to earn his pay does not justify the district making such a lopsided deal.

Put the pool out for bid through an RFP process, base the minimum bid on the estimated hourly cost to operate the pool and either lease it out, keep it closed or, if the hours are going to be given away, give them to the New Rochelle Parks & Rec department not a private, for-profit business.

as for the math...

"the "1,500" an hour is actually about the same price as a yearly membership." - If you read the article a little more carefully you will see that $1,500 an hour is based on 50 swimmers at $30 an hour.

I think they need to add more Chlorine because something smells.
Let us say the facts and figures are not exact but its still the same thing over and over in NRED.
They have a tax payer budget and they seem to operate the system like a cookie jar.
If this is on the up and up lets see it hit the surface.
Right now this looks like a snickers floating and this ain't Caddy Shack. Although I am not saying anything bad about the coach or the director I certainly as a tax payer would like enough clarity to see whats laying on the bottom.

Honestly this article speaks little to no truth. The numbers are used inaccurately. The statement that Kip Fierro acts as a "lifeguard" is an absolute lie. If you asked any student of NRHS what went on during pool time in their physical education class, they would tell you that Kip was their primary teacher while their regular gym teacher stepped aside and helped Kip teach. As a NRHS graduate I have witnessed Kip teach kids how to swim that have never been in a pool before. Teaching teenagers to swim is a extremely difficult task that not many can accomplish successfully.

NRHS employs one of the United States most renowned swim coaches who has trained swimmers at the collegiate and Olympic level. Swimmers that participate on his team are lucky to learn from a Coach with so much experience. If the school district decides to enter a contract to lease the pool with Badger, that is their decision. Bottom line if they were not leasing it to him (a NRHS employee) they would with another swim program.

I would suggest a more accurate investigation before writing a article full of accusations and numbers pulled from Google about the going rate to lease a pool.

Robert Cox's picture

The figures for the going rate for leasing an indoor pool in this area are based on phone interviews with a half-dozen facilities in this area. The going rate is $150-250 an hour.

For about 12 years, the Badger Swim Club paid zero dollars.

Now, you can dispute the "going rate" figures until the cows come home but I seriously doubt you are going to convince anyone that the going rate for an indoor pool in one of the most expensive places to live in the United States is zero dollar per hour.

Of course not..But nobody is talking about $0 per hour, are they? Most times the going rate differs from the contracted rate. I think you should do your homework more closely. Next time, instead of asking a simple question and accepting the answer given, go a step further and ask for copies of their rental agreements...

Robert Cox's picture

Try to pay attention, OK?

For 12 years Badger paid zero. Three years ago, due to complaints, they were charged $20,000.

While we may not agree on what the "going rate" is for a pool (my figures based on actually calling facilities managers and interviewing them, your figures based on your own imagined sense of self-importance) we appear to agree that the going rate is not zero. That is what Badger was charged for 12 years. So, can we agree that zero was a tad low?

Sure, we can agree that zero is a tad low...But that's not Badger's issue, that's NRHS problem..They are the one's issuing the contract.
Also, I was the Aquatics Director at a local aquatics center and I, unlike yourself, am basing my figures off of fact.. I drew up contracts and agreements and know what all of the local pools charge. That's why I'm asking who charges $250 because I don't know of ANY facility charging higher than $175.00.

Robert Cox's picture

I have no idea who you are and you are using a pseudonym.

Of course you are welcome to post using a pseudonym but you cannot then turn around and claim to be someone or have some experience, authority or knowledge.

You are NOT anything except a few pixels on a computer screen. If you want credit for having been "Aquatics Director at a local aquatics center" then you need to give your name and the place you worked otherwise it is just more blather.

As for as how much people are charging, my article addresses that and, in fact, the prices you say are correct are hardly inconsistent with what I have reported. You say $100 to $150 and tops $175. What I was told what "low hundreds" or between $150 and $250. In fact, the article states that the Asst. AD at SUNY-Purchase gave the the 150-250 range. I picked the median of the range I was given but it does not really matter whether you take $150 or $!75 or $200 because the point is that Badger was getting the pool for zero for 12 years and not gets it for $26 an hour.

Given that even the figures you cite (100, 150, 175) are 4, 6 and 7 times higher than what Badger is charged I am at a loss to understand why you are adopting a tone that my numbers are way off, that I don't know what I am talking about and so forth when are numbers clearly overlap and are entirely consistent. I do not simply make up numbers I called a half dozen pools of various types in the area. If you told me that the pool you ran charged $100 to $150 how would that change what I wrote? I would have just added that to my list so that prices I was told were anywhere from 100 to 325 depending on the length of contract.

Really you are just not making any sense.

Let me just grant you that YOU are right and that the correct price is $100.

OK?

Now, how does that make it OK that Badger pays 1/4 of that amount?

How does it make it OK that for 12 years Badger paid zero?

How does it make it OK that Badger has had an exclusive, no-bid contract for 15 years?

See my point? You are making an argument based on a distinction without a difference. No matter which of these prices are used, Badger still pays a fraction of the fair market value for the pool and the price is still well below the cost to operate the pool.

If you have some real knowledge and something useful to add please do so but to show up here pontificating like you know something I don't is absurd. I made a perfectly reasonable effort to survey the market in this area and came up with numbers that are not terribly different from yours. Yet you act as if my numbers are fabricated or unrealistic when, in fact, you can call every pool I mentioned and do just what I did and get the same answers. Instead of whining about the information I was provided why don't you call the YMCA, SUNY-Purchase, etc.

And yes, I am aware that there is such thing as a volume discount. I don't thing you need to have once been an Aquatics Director to understand that if you buy more of something you get charged a lower per unit price.

Just stop with the unmerited condescension and get to the point.

You say the price should be $100. On 750 hours that would be $75,000. That would still me that Badger was undercharged $1,065,000 over the last 15 years.

That is a million bucks using YOUR NUMBERS that was subsidizing a for-profit business, that is money that dropped directly to their bottom line in the form of profit.

Seems to me that since your own numbers support the point I have been making you could just acknowledge that Badger has had a sweet deal at NRHS pool for a long time whether they pocketed $1mm or $2mm, money that did not go to retain teachers or reduce property taxes.

The larger picture, of which you may not be aware, is that this is just one of many such questionable deals through which the taxpayer of New Rochelle is fleeced while private individuals or for-profit companies reap the reward. The amounts involved are millions and millions of dollars.

I think most people in New Rochelle would prefer to see their tax dollars put to better use or returned.

I think this is an excellent column. Lets put this in perspective, I have heard the town of Eastchester is thinking of enclosing the pool at Lake Isle to make extra money. There are not many indoor swim facilities in the lower westchester area and they feel they can make a nice profit investing to enclose the pool.

I agree it does not matter how much money Badger Swim Club makes. The point is the pool is being rented to an outside club and not being used for school and town use.

Under these terms the school disrict should get market value for the use of the pool.

In all businesses we use a request for a proposal. Put it out for bid and lets see what the going rate is.

I have a feeling this is not the only facility in the New Rochelle school system being used incorrectly.

After reading this article, I was outraged.. Usually, the purpose of an article is to either inform or get a reaction out of it's readers. This article has had an impact on me, but not for the right reasons. It is filled with a few facts, but mostly nonsense. I am surprised you went ahead and posted this without having any knowledge on the subject.

Each aquatic center, if thats what you would like to call the New Rochelle facility, has it's own priorities. Whether it be use for students or revenue. I am unaware of ANY aquatic facility within a school, who is going to keep their schedule wide open for the student population. How are you going to bring in revenue?
The pool rates in Westchester depend on a number of things..Some of which are the rental times, the facility being used and the number of contracted dates. The going rate in Westchester County is anywhere from $100-$175, which includes the use of 2 Lifeguards. However, thats based on a short term rental. This a long term rental agreement, which does not follow the same cost / hour. Any facility that signs a long term contract, could be much less than the contracted rate of $100-$175. Why? Because NRHS is guaranteed use of their pool for the year, which is a guaranteed revenue of $20k for just one program. That fee has to be approved by the Board, not Kip Fierro.
Also, you cannot compare the cost of the The College of New Rochelle rental to NRHS. CNR is a brand new facility and NRHS signed a short term rental agreement.

You also commented on why the school doesn't offer classes? It is very difficult to bring in any revenue through classes. Also there is a liability with having very young children using your facility. Most places won't allow it. And that's not a decision for Mr. Fierro..That comes from above.

I had a question...
"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."
I thought you mentioned that Mr. Fierro had his program using the pool Monday-Saturday?

Lastly, Kip Fiero is nothing like a lifeguard. He is an aquatic director and a nationally ranked swim coach.. He's produced Olympic athletes and dedicates most of his time to coaching the sport he loves. So before you go ahead and try to tarnish someone's reputation, please look into the facts. You're going after the wrong person here...Mr. Fierro doesn't have the authority to make these decisions.

Robert Cox's picture

...and less time fish in'

Let me see if I can explain this slowly so that even you can understand it.

First, we are in agreement in that the issue is not that Fierro has accepted the largess of the New Rochelle Board of Education but that it has been offered. The pool is a taxpayer-funded resource and to sell or rent that asset to a private, for-profit company without an RFP, without competitive bidding and, for 12 years, at no charge is the sort of transaction that will certainly raise eyebrows in the Office of the State Comptroller.

I am not sure how citing an example that I provided about the PRICING for one season of Badger Swim Club has anything to do with the Badger Swim Club SCHEDULE which I linked separately. The schedule clearly shows that they use the pool every weekday evening and most of the day Saturday. If that is still not clear then visit the Badger web site and check the program scheduled yourself so you can see that they are at NRHS pool every day but Sunday.

I don't know the basis for your statement about the going rate but I have cited my sources; how about citing yours?

More to the point, why don't you just state what you think is the market price for the use of the NRHS pool for 750 hours a year. Do you think $26 an hour is a fair price. If so, just say and stop the blathering.

As far Fierro's qualifications as a swim coach, he could be Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps rolled into one, I don't' see how that justifies his getting free use of the pool, year round at no charge for 12 years. Can you explain?

I am not aware that a high school pool is supposed to be a going concern business so not sure why you ask "How are you going to bring in revenue?" Let me educate about "good revenue" and "bad revenue".

Bad revenue is money coming in that is less than it costs to provide a product or service.

$20,000 a year for 750 hours is $26 an hour which means the Board of Ed loses money every hour. That's is the kind of bad revenue that we do not need. Better to keep it closed than lose $50 every hour its open.

I find it obvious that "gone fishing" and "Mr X" try to justify the outlandish spending and corrupt deals that we deal with every day in this city and school system. However, their facts are so absurd and they have little or no sources to back up their stupidity and their crap that they write. My question is: How come the shocking and obvious corruption that is posted on this site does not get forwarded to the US attorney's office of the D.A's office for further investigation? Corruption is widespread in this city! Reader's - don't doubt me on this. I am not in the position to disclose specifics as I am in City Hall. However, when the time is right I will disclose everything.

I find it obvious that "gone fishing" and "Mr X" try to justify the outlandish spending and corrupt deals that we deal with every day in this city and school system. However, their facts are so absurd and they have little or no sources to back up their stupidity and their crap that they write. My question is: How come the shocking and obvious corruption that is posted on this site does not get forwarded to the US attorney's office or the D.A's office for further investigation? Corruption is widespread in this city! Reader's - don't doubt me on this. I am not in the position to disclose specifics as I am in City Hall. However, when the time is right I will disclose everything.

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