Citizen Advisory Committee Re-Up, Second Code of Conduct Public Hearing, 2011-12 Unofficial Graduation Rates, Marissa Anton and Donny Henry, Nadine Pacheco, Don Coqui Cooking School, Domenic Procopio, Lifeguards, School Tax drop from 4.2% to 3.5%.
This is a lot to cover over the last two meetings so let me just put it all in one long post.
The Board agreed on August 7th to continue with having a Citizen Advisory Committee on the Budget for 2012-13. There was a beta test CAC this spring which many agreed elevated the discussion about the budget by focusing the discussion and suggesting ways to improve the readability of the budget document to make it more accessible to the average citizen. Still up for discussion is the start date for the new CAC, the size of the CAC and the composition of the membership.
I am recommending that the CAC membership be smaller than the board itself (less than 9 people) and as diverse as possible (geography, socio-economic, race-ethnicity, kids in public school, private school or no kids in any school or kids at all, etc.) with one absolute constraint (only members with a strong financial background). As the purpose of the CAC is to advise the board on financial matters related to the budgets it is axiomatic that CAC members have strong financial backgrounds. The good news is that New Rochelle, with its proximity to the center of the U.S. financial markets, has many such residents.
A second public hearing on the Code of Conduct will be held on September 4th. Many residents were denied the opportunity to speak at the first public hearing on August 7th. Residents can speak at the hearing on the 4th (to be held at NRHS) or submit written comments. The board will then vote at a special meeting on September 24th. This came about after I made an issue out of it shortly after the August 7th meeting.
At the August 28th meeting, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak gave a report to the board on the 2011-12 Unofficial Graduation Rates. Over the past several years, Organisciak, as well as NRHS Principal Don Conetta, have brought documentation on projected graduations to the board, read aloud from the documents but refused to provide the information to board members or the public. As they both routinely skipped around and provide incomplete information, it was impossible to piece together the full meaning of their reports or the exact nature of the data. In April, 2012, Organisciak did this again with the difference is that due to a change in the New York State Open Meeting Law (created by our own Amy Paulin), Organisciak was required to publish the report to the district web site before the meeting which he failed to do. This occurred at several other meetings.
At that April meeting I asked Paul Costiglio, the PR guy responsible for posting such documents to the district web site, to post the graduation rate data. After initially saying he would he later refused on the grounds that the documents were protected as "work product" (i.e., internal, non-public documents). I pointed out that work product is an exception under the Freedom of Information Law and does not pertain to the Open Meeting Law. Under OML, documents discussed by the board are required to be posted to the district web site before the meeting so the public can follow along. Costiglio still refused so I filed a complaint with the New York State Committee on Open Government which responded on August 6th.
This will confirm that there would be no basis to deny access to that part of a record that was read aloud by the Superintendent during a public meeting. It is our opinion that an agency essentially waives its ability to deny access when a record is read aloud at a public meeting, effectively allowing the public to learn the content of the record. See http://docs.dos.ny.gov/coog/otext/o5239.doc
This reply was provided to the district. So far, there has been no response to my request for the records from April 2012 (nor board member Jeffrey Hastie's request for similar records during the Spring of 2012).
However, at the meeting this week, Organisciak had scheduled a graduation rate discussion and when that agenda item came up, Board President Chrisanne Petrone announced that the unofficial graduation rates for 2012 report had been copied for circulation to the public in the meeting room and that it would be made available online. Petrone has been pretty good on wanting to get the public more involved in board meetings and this was certainly a welcome step in the right direction.
The Board accepted the resignation of Marissa Anton, the New Rochelle High School librarian arrested last May after attempting to have sex with a student.
In a touch of irony, the board approved the reinstatement of Donna "Harcore" Henry, the sexting security guard. Remember her? She was let go last spring but complained long and loud to anyone who would listen and got herself back on the payroll, this time as an hourly cleaner. This is a woman who should have gone to jail for what she did and certainly has no business being around children. The girl she humilated and traumatized has long since moved away from the district but Donna Henry is still standing tall.
Nadine Pacheco appeared in a resolution as well (if you want to follow the maneuverings of the school district you really have to pay attention to these summer board meetings. Since they figure no one is watching they can slip through just about anything). Recall that she is the former Assistant Principal at Trinity School that was working for years without an administrative license.
The former MacMenamin's Grill cooking school, now Don Coqui, showed up again. Long time readers will recall the large sums being paid by the district for this school for special education students.
For reasons not explained, the district is writing off $225,000 in STAR exemptions. What's that all about?
There is a lifeguard at $15. Just a few months ago, the district was paying $45 for a life guard.
Board members received training on BoardDocs. Also, Christine Coleman got wifi installed in the meeting room and later this year it will be available to the public at meetings. Nice!
In an amusing moment, Board President Chrisanne Petrone announced a new policy that board member cell phones had to be turned off and placed on the table to avoid having "shadow meetings" that might be illegal. Huh? Knowing how furiously some board members use their phones during meetings this is sure to have some comical results soon enough especially given the addition of wifi in the room.
Chrisanne Petrone is being honored by Domenic Procopio at the Casa Calabria. Considering Procopio's record, that is some "honor".
Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak told the board that Tax Cert were lower than projects by $2mm so that that the tax rate for this year would be 3.5% not 4.2%. David Lacher, as he is wont to do, leaped on this to argue that his recommendation to hire a lawyer to sit in on tax cert meetings was the cause. Sorry to disappoint, but unless Mr. Lacher has a machine that he can use to create an alternate reality where Vinnie Ripe was not hired to work for the district there is no way (and never will be) to know whether Ripa has caused tax cert payments to decline. What we can be certain of is Ripa's fee. Hopefully, Mr. Lacher will desist from clutching at straws like this and just accept that there is no way to actually justify his push to hire Ripa.