New Rochelle Board of Ed Falls Down Slippery Slope

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I gave the following remarks at the New Rochelle Board of Education on July 1, 2014:

At the May 6th meeting Chrisanne Petrone asked how "we as a board" can hold people who work for us accountable if we are not going to hold ourselves accountable.

Great question.

Sadly, her answer was to lead the effort to shift attention away from Mr. Lacher’s possibly criminal acts and engage in trumped up personal attacks against another board member while opposing efforts to hold Mr. Lacher accountable.

The Journal of Applied Psychology recently published a paper entitled “The Slippery Slope: How Small Ethical Transgressions Pave the Way for Larger Future Transgressions,” where ethics researchers explained why one small ethical slip can snowball into major violations over time if left unchecked.

They found that people rationalize their behavior to justify it. They might think ‘No one got hurt’ or ‘Everyone does it.’ The next time they feel fine about doing something a little bit worse and then commit more severe unethical actions.

Because of this rationalization process or "moral disengagement” people are more likely to slip into a pattern of behavior they call the "slippery-slope effect”

They quote Bernie Madoff in the article:

"Well, you know what happens is, it starts out with you taking a little bit, maybe a few hundred, a few thousand. You get comfortable with that, and before you know it, it snowballs into something big.”

Faced with abrupt and large dilemmas rather than those that gradually increase over time these same people are less likely to be unethical.

In this District, we have seen many times how glaring ethical violations such as those by Jose Martinez are pounced on by unethical school officials with a sort of zealotry so as to be seen as staunchly opposed to unethical behavior.

This “Facade of Rectitude” is an aggressive attempt to present oneself in public as highly ethical in order to overcompensate for the truth, that the person knows they have slipped into moral disengagement.

In the event that there is some confusion as to whom I am addressing my remarks, if you think that I might be talking about you…then I am.

This evening, a new board member is sworn in. And for the second time in two years, we have a person whose first official act towards becoming a board member was to engage in unethical behavior.

I know for some in this room it will be an inconvenient truth but I have seen the records first hand and there is no doubt that Dr. Fernandez and Dr. Davis both signed Statements of Witness on their ballot petition documents for petition signatures they did not collect, some of which contain forged signatures, which they attested to having witnessed.

Engaging in a persistent pattern of voter fraud, forging signatures and making material false statements under oath, and then sloughing it off with “everyone does it” is moral disengagement.

How far is it from committing perjury on a ballot petition to not implementing required anti-bullying policies to failing to report allegations of child rape to police or child protective services?

How far is it from violating the open meeting law to not paying an invoice promptly to taking out an unauthorized, secret ten thousand dollar loan of public funds to pay personal medical insurance bills?

Do we need academic researchers to tell us that unchecked one follows from the other to the other?

The PTA Council recently issued a “Statement of Concern”.

While laudable in every way, members of PTA Council are kidding themselves if they believe that this board, as currently comprised, is interested in, let alone capable of, self-governance or operating in a spirit of transparency and accountability.

That the board refused to even ACKNOWLEDGE a statement signed by 28 members of the PTA Council let alone answer the points raised in the statement IS an answer.

While we all share a desire for respectful behavior and civil discourse, in the case of our District that amounts to picking out new wallpaper while your house is on fire.

The good news is that the slippery-slope effect can be reduced by inducing a “prevention focus,” a mindset associated with self-regulation that makes people more vigilant and thereby deactivates the justification process.

The researchers offer 6 steps to a more ethical organization.

1. Ensure that the organization has a strong ethical culture where misconduct is clearly defined.

2. Set and maintain an ethical status quo.

3. Use rhetoric to underscore ethical boundaries and continue to talk about them. Include ethics in vision statements, speeches and presentations to employees.

4. Make ethics part of the organizational identity to interrupt moral disengagement.

5. Inculcate a prevention focus in employees by setting clear standards and openly delineating potential ethical pitfalls that must be avoided.

6. Be vigilant about small ethical lapses and address them quickly to prevent larger ones.

Employees who see coworkers called out for minor offenses might be less likely to rationalize their own potentially deviant behaviors.

And what is good for employees is good for board members.

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