The New Rochelle Board of Education met last night in their last meeting before the start of the school year. Here are a few highlights with some commentary:
Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak said that harassment in the schools has gotten to the point where the district needs to go beyond what they have in terms of bullying prevention and sexual harassment.
After a series of incidents reported exclusively by Talk of the Sound, where unauthorized people were found wandering around school buildings, the school district conducted a pilot program last spring where school staff at elementary school were required to wear badges. The program will now be expanded. BoE President Chrisanne Petrone encouraged board members to wear their badges to set a good example for staff. There is a certain irony to this as for the past several years I have been urging the district to adopt biometric time clocks to reduce time-theft by employees. This was opposed by board members, candidates and the administration on the grounds that clocking-in would be insulting and demeaning to teachers. Only in New Rochelle is finger-printing teachers, running background on teachers, monitoring police and court records for teachers, requiring teachers to have ID photos taken and forcing them teachers to wear ID cards while on school grounds is A-OK. Ask them to punch a time clock, like millions of Americans do every day and that is some sort of grievous insult?
David Lacher went on a bit of a self-described "rant" on the lack of coordination among 9-11 memorial observances in New Rochelle. Lacher said he found it "disturbing" that the school district, city, police and fire had not worked together, that we are all one community but that it was too late now.
Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff informed the board that parents of newly registering students from the Lincoln district were previously told that Davis School was not available to them due to concerns about class size (recall last year how parents from "Scarsdale" and "Larchmont" complained that their children were in classes of more than two dozen children). That policy later changed so that Lincoln parents who came later are now being allowed to enroll their children at Davis if they wish; Korostoff said his office was trying to get back in touch with the parents who applied earlier to Davis and were denied.
The district is set to approve a $6.5 million contract with Honeywell for energy services. This is the contract that Mr. Quinn told the board last year would cost "nothing". Apparently, by "nothing" he meant millions of dollars.
New York State Education Department announced on August 26 a new standardized testing schedule for the ELA and Math tests for 3rd grade to 8th grade are scheduled for April 17 and 18th for English with makeup days on April 19 and April 20 and scoring dates between April 20 of April 30 and for the mass the tests are on April 23 of April 24 with makeup days on April 25 and April 26 and scoring dates between April 26 on May 4. Richard Organisciak and Jeffrey Korostoff pointed out that the testing schedule begins the day after the students return from spring break. Organisciak made some joking remarks about how teachers would be in a panic because their students scores on the test will determine their fate as teachers and those students will now be taking the test with a 2 week break prior to taking the exam. Combining the spring break and the testing period, the effect is that for the most part students will not be getting taught anything during the month of April.
Several resolutions of note:
12–90–10: selection of Paul Sarachelli and Joseph Rondinelli of school security officers. [more here]
12–90–2 Camille Edwards-Thomas to be paid $809 for conducting the Parent Academy. This seems odd considering that she doesn't have any defined duties in her current position which is a full-time salaried position part of her job but she's being paid extra to do something that she previously described as part of her job.
12–92: Why is the district paying Vincent Ripa to execute consent agreements in Tax Certioris cases involving the College of New Rochelle? I know there's a story behind this but it's not being told to the public. It seems odd because the school district doesn't have any role in the Tax Certioris process. So, what exactly are they authorizing here and why are they spending money?
12–93 The creation of a project called “Italian-American Committee on Education”. The cost of teacher salaries for this committee is $10,000 and estimated revenue is $10,000. This program is for Jefferson Elementary School which offers a Italian English one-way dual language program. Why do we need a committee? No one explained this.
12–123/12–124: APPR resolutions are related to controversial mandated development and implementation of an annual professional performance review plan designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning to meet the learning needs of students. This applies to certain classroom teachers and building principals of schools in which they are employed for the 2011–2012 school year. The plans must be adopted by the school districts. It applies only to classroom teachers of common brand subjects or English Language Arts or Mathematics in grades 4 to 8 in building principals of schools in which such teachers are employed.
During the public comment. I raised several issues.
There was an amazing exchange involving Christine Coleman, the IT director for the school district, and Dr. Jones, who has responsibility for enrolling students in the original school system, and school board member David Lacher. Christine Coleman was explaining the new home access program which allows parents to get information like report cards online. Ms. Coleman was explaining the need to verify that the parent or guardian have legitimate access to the records. She began talking about meeting with the parents or guardians in person, requiring them to produce photo identification an flagging any identification did not match with school records. It soon became clear that Christine Coleman was talking about a type of verification that was, for all intensive purposes, a residency audit, something that the district has been arguing for years is impossible. I began making notes to raise this point David Lacher beat me to the punch. He pointed out that this sounded a lot like the shorter residency audit that the district had been saying for years it couldn't be done. He wondered aloud whether the verification for home access with something that could be leveraged for a residency audit. Coleman and Jones both began nodding at each other and smiling; they had obviously been discussing this very thing. Coleman stated that the protocol that they were using to verify that the parent or guardian have legitimate access to the student records included making referrals to Dr. Jones when the resume is sort of red flag issue with the photo identification or related records. At which point Richard Organisciak disclose the Dr. Jones and her team that spent the entire summer working on residency audits of suspect student registrations and that she would be giving a report to the board at the end of September. For those new to reading Talk of the Sound, I would make you aware at this point that when Talk of the Sound 1st raise these issues several years ago the reaction of school board members was vitriolic. Quay Watkins, in particular, was aggressive and insulting. She expressed outrage that anybody would question her integrity or that of any other board member and insisted that there were not any “wrongly enrolled” students in the New Rochelle School Superintendent. Since that time the district has made public reports indicating that hundreds of students have been removed from the school system because they were not residents of new Rochelle and even more students were blocked from enrolling for the same reason. Quay Watkins never apologize for her outburst or retracted her remarks which were directed at Robert Cox, Peggy Godfrey and Vince Malfetano.
There was a report made to the school clerk of illegal electioneering at Jefferson Elementary School last May by school principal Kim Nieves on behalf of candidate Peter O'Keefe. According to the allegation, Kim Nieves walked with Peter O'Keefe through the Jefferson Elementary School where she is principal and ordered or directed school staff to sign a petition for O'Keefe which he then used to get on the ballot in the May 2011 school board election. After the allegation was made but before the election I inquired about what the district was doing about the allegation and was told it was being investigated by the school clerk. After the election I inquired again, asking about the investigation and was told that it was a personnel matter and that I would not be provided any information about the investigation. When I addressed the board last night they stated that as a candidate in that election who may have been directly impacted by Mr. O'Keefe being on the ballot improperly I believe I have a right to know the outcome of an investigation regarding election in which I was a candidate. This would, of course, apply to all candidates.
During the election at the League of Women Voters debate at the New Rochelle Public Library in May, then-candidate Naomi Brickle made public what was a private conversation for political purposes regarding information in my possession of the names of five school district employees who were known to school officials to have engaged in sex with students. During the debate she challenged me to do something about it. Last night I did. I provided Naomi Brickle with a list of the five names so that she can request copies of their personnel files now that she's a school board member -- as I would have done had I been elected. She will find that 2 of the employees have already been terminated by the district including José Martinez was arrested last March and pled guilty over the summer to charges of raping a student at the Isaac E. Young Middle School over a period of months in 2010. The other worked at the alternative school at St. Gabriel's. The remaining 3 are still employed by the district as security guards at New Rochelle High School and/or Isaac E. Young Middle School. In one case the employee impregnated an underage girl who was since moved to Florida where she is raising the baby. As Naomi Brickle was so concerned that something be done about it I now invite her to take the names I provided and conduct her own investigation as she is entitled to following her election to the board.
I informed the board of my attending a presentation by Robert Freeman of the New York State Committee on Open Government. Given the history of the school board improperly limiting my time and preventing me from making remarks about school district employees during the public comment. At school board meetings, anchored board members to watch the video link from Talk of the Sound were Mr. Freeman talks specifically about how boards scratch that school boards must treat everyone equally: if they have a policy of allowing people to speak for a specific number of minutes they must limit everyone to that specific amount of time. If they allow people to go beyond the time they must allow everyone to go beyond the time. I pointed out that in the spring during the budget discussions board allowed speakers to go on well beyond the five-minute time limit but aggressively enforce the time limit against me. In addition, the school board routinely allows the public to get up and speak to praise district employees by name but when a member of the public gets up to criticize employees by name the board routinely attempts to cut off discussion on the grounds that any criticism of a school does the employee is a personnel matter and therefore not permitted during public sessions of the board. They have on many occasions claimed that criticism my name of district employees may only occur in private discussions with the administration were during executive session. None of which is true. I concluded by advising the board that if they were going to cut me off they needed to cut everyone off for exceeding the time limit or for making any mention by name of any school does the employee. As Mr. Freeman said “the door swings both ways”. I then pointed out another remark made by Mr. Freeman, that discussions which take place in executive session are not confidential unless they are confidential by statute. The Commissioner of the New York State education Department, said Freeman, had previously issued a statement that discussing matters covered in executive session outside of executive session was grounds for removal of an elected board member from the board. Freeman said that this was wrong a look forward to the day when this was attempted and the school board filed a civil rights lawsuit and was awarded $1 million. I can add here that when I ran for school board one board member attempted to dissuade me on the grounds that if I use my website a radio show to disclose information discussed in executive session that I could be removed from the board. As Mr. Freeman makes clear that's a vital threat. It's simply not true. Of course there are things that are properly by statute confidential but just because something is discussed in executive session does not make it confidential. I also mentioned Amy Paulin's Bill 72–B which would require that boards like the inertial Board of Education published to the web prior to their meetings any reports or presentations that will be discussed at the meeting.
I raise the issue of the Painter Working-Foreman position. I quoted to the board section 95 of the New York State civil service law, the section on duties of public officers, which reads “all officers of the state or any civil division there of must conform to and comply with an aid in all proper ways in carrying into effect the provisions of the civil service law”. I reminded the board that they have an affirmative obligation as officers of the state the elected officials who swore an oath to up hold the Constitution of the State of New York and I was glad to see that an ordering another Painter Working-Foreman exam the board appear to be taking its responsibilities seriously.
I asked about Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak salary because there was a report on Talk of the Sound that his "pay freeze" did not actually happen. BoE President Chrisanne Petrone said all employees had a pay freeze. I asked if that included Organisciak and she said yes. I sent her a follow up e-mail and a request for a copy of the contract under FOIL (the district has been illegally denying my FOIL requests since 2008).
This is a public records request.
As a follow up to last night's meeting I would like to obtain a copy of the current Superintendent's Contract, preferably as a PDF document via email.
I want to get clear on this point of a pay freeze as you described it last night and to do that I need to see the actual contract for myself.
The budget presented by the BoE prior to the Budget Referendum in 2010 for 2010-11 stated that Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak was to be paid $263,250. The "preliminary" budget that was presented at the outset of the budget process this year (around February) stated that Mr. Organisciak was to be paid $266,500 for 2011-2012. On March 22, 2011, Mr. Organisciak stated that he and the Assistant Superintendents would accept a pay freeze for the coming year. Just prior to the Budget Referendum in 2011 a "final" budget was distributed which stated that Mr. Organisciak was to be paid $266,500 for 2011-2012. I noted this during the PTA debate at the NRHS Library and was publicly accused of lying by Mr. Organisciak's assistant, Camille Edwards-Thomas. In fact, I had a copy of the document in front of me and was simply stating what the document said. A few days later, Mr. Organisciak gave a statement to the press (I believe it was the Journal News) that the pay freeze he was talking about on March 22, 2011 would occur in January 2012.
Now, I have not seen it but as I mentioned there is an article published on my site. The nature of the site is that anyone can register and comment or post articles and they do not have to give a real name to do so; I want you to understand that I have not seen the contract and am not saying that I know this to be the case but the article does indicate that under the new contract Mr. Organisciak is already earning $266,500 and that he will continue to earn at that rate for 2011-2012. This suggests that Mr. Organisciak got a raise before his pay freeze took place which is not what I believe most people would understand as a pay freeze.
Perhaps the issue is understanding what is meant by a "pay freeze". I believe to most residents of New Rochelle when the BoE is discussing the 2011-12 budget and the Superintendent says that he is accepting a pay freeze for the coming year, they understand that to mean that he will not get a salary increase in the 2011-12 fiscal year. That what he being paid at the time he made the statement would be what he would be making a year from that day. The "final" 2011-12 budget document indicated Mr. Organisciak's pay would increase as scheduled; his statement shortly before the budget vote indicated that the pay freeze he was talking about would occur in 2012. Now it sounds like his pay did go up after he made his statement on March 22nd. This is all a bit confusing.
To frame the question in its simplest terms, can you tell me whether there has been any changes in the gross amount of Mr. Organisciak's paycheck between July 2010 and today; are there any scheduled changes to the gross amount of Mr. Organisciak's paycheck looking out to the end of his current contract. If so, what are they and when did they occur or will they occur?
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound
NOTE: I am testing out my new Dragon Dictation software so there may be a few odd sentences in here. Let me know if you find any so I can fix them.