NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- At a meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education last night, Stephanie Tomei of the New Rochelle PTA Council was highly critical of school board members for failing to act on reports of impropriety by Board President David Lacher with regard to a school district insurance program and the general dysfunction of the board.
Tomei provided Talk of the Sound a copy of her prepared remarks:
We are alarmed and concerned by the latest course of events involving this Board of Education. The lack of communication between the Board of Ed, the district, and the community has provided fertile ground for rumblings and insinuations throughout the community and has eroded our confidence and trust in the transparency and integrity of the process.
We have entrusted you with our tax dollars, and the future of our children as well as our city. We expect you to approach your fiduciary responsibility with truthfulness and we expect a functional and functioning board of education.
We regret that the attention drawn by the current situation tramples all the recent great things that have occurred under your direction.
We elected you to serve us with honesty and honor. Tonight we are asking that this Board move forward now in that direction. This is your chance for effective leadership. We are encouraged by tonight's motion to discuss recent events at your next meeting.
With several new principals and the imminent hiring of a new superintendent, we stand poised on the dawn of a new day in New Rochelle. We implore you to make that dawn one of renewed cooperation and transparency.
Tomei added a disclaimer in her email "For clarification, our statement is in no way an endorsement of Mr. Hastie's motion to remove Mr. Lacher from his position. We were encouraged by our Board's willingness to work cooperatively in dealing with the issues at hand."
Board Member Naomi Brickel similarly took the board task.
Brickel provided Talk of the Sound a copy of her prepared remarks:
Last week at the end of the meeting David Lacher made a statement to the community and closed the meeting before any on the board could respond. I feel it is necessary to share my own response in order that the community not misinterpret silence for consent, and wanted to take a moment to make a brief statement articulating some significant concern I am experiencing both as a member of this board, and community. I am extremely disheartened by the information that was recently put out in the community, as well as the lack of clarification provided to the community even upon request. I am also disheartened by the response and overall behavior of this board most recently. I am concerned, that as a governing body of this school district we have lost credibility as we have lost sight of two of our primary functions, policy and fiscal oversight. What example does recent news and our collective response signal in that regard? I am sad to have community members - no kind of lunatic fringe - ask me if, “Have I sold out?”. I, along with some of my colleagues, ran elections on platforms of transparency and fiscal accountability. I would lack credibility if I neglected at this turn of events to implore my colleagues to remember our role in that regard. I want to remind all of us that while it is nice to get along, and it is good to be friends with those we serve; our overarching concern should be our schools and our obligations to the citizens that elected us. Too frequently lately that is not the message we are sending out to the community by our actions. This response is not intended as judgment on anyone. As David has articulated, it is not illegal or even uncommon to find oneself in fiscal distress. In this situation, however, such actions represent a lack fiduciary responsibility and a significant abuse of the power of the office, even without intent. I do ask all of my colleagues to think constructively, at the very least, of what mechanisms, or system of checks and balances, we can put into place to insure that we never find ourselves comprised in this way again. I will not be here this evening. I need to rush home now to catch a ride up to Albany for an early morning work obligation. I apologize for walking out before the rest of the meeting but did felt it was necessary to be here and at least share a response.
Board Member Jeffrey Hastie then made a motion to remove David Lacher as Board President, request an investigation by the New York State Education Department into the circumstances of David Lacher's failure to make timely reimbursement to the district for his medical insurance and an internal investigation into who authorized a loan to David Lacher?
Hastie later explained to Talk of the Sound his reasons for making the motion:
I made a motion to remove David Lacher from the Office of President, to have the matter of his unapproved, interest-free loan brought to the attention of the State Education Department and to investigate who in the administration allowed this to happen.
I, along with my board colleagues, have an explicit fiduciary duty to ensure that the funds entrusted to us by the taxpayer are used properly. School board members have three responsibilities: (1) provide fiscal oversight; (2) establish district-wide policies; and (3) hiring and managing a superintendent.
The school board failed to provide fiscal oversight but in fairness, the board was deceived.
Mr. Lacher withheld this information from his board colleagues even as he lobbied to become President of the Board.
Mr. Quinn, our business manager, withheld this information from us even as the District initiated action to retroactively terminate Mr. Lacher's insurance, making him responsible to NYSHIP for all past due premiums and the full cost of past claims.
David Lacher’s unapproved loan appears to violate the School District Code of Ethics (Policy #4150) which states "an officer or employee shall not directly or indirectly solicit any gift or accept or receive any gift having more than a nominal value (and in no event to exceed a value of $75), or more, whether in the form of money, services, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or any other form, under circumstances in which it could reasonably be inferred that the gift was intended to influence him or her in the performance of his or her official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his or her part.
In order for the school board to function with creditability, our actions, personally and collectively, have to be above reproach. We must avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Mr. Lacher, as he acknowledged in his public remarks last week, failed in that obligation.
To do nothing as a board is to join Mr. Lacher in fostering the appearance of impropriety that he created.
For our own personal reputation and the reputation of the Board as an institution, we have no choice but to remove Mr. Lacher as an officer of the board immediately and initiate an independent investigation to do what Mr. Lacher has flatly refused to do -- "sift the fact from the fantasy".
Conspicuously absent was Board President David Lacher. Talk of the Sound has independently confirmed that David Lacher was at the planning board meeting representing a client. Also missing was Valerie Orellana and Rachel Relkin.
The meeting, which took place at the Trinity Elementary, was the first meeting where the public had a voice since Talk of the Sound broke the story that Lacher was routinely failing to reimburse the school district for taxpayer dollars spent by Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John Quinn to provide Lacher medical insurance coverage he otherwise could not afford. By the time the issue was first raised publicly on February 26th, Lacher was nearly 8 months behind and owed well over $13,000.
The previous board meeting on April 22nd was a special meeting, primarily to vote on the 2013-14 proposed budget. Lacher angered some on the board by improperly adjourning the meeting so that only he could speak at the end of the meeting. Lacher made a motion to go into Executive Session which was adopted, then spoke for several minutes about the medical insurance issue and then declared the meeting closed. The board then went into Executive Session.
The sequence appears to be incorrect, that the public meeting should have ended when the motion to go into executive session was adopted. That Lacher then continued with the public meeting and then closed the meeting would be to not go into executive session so gaveling the meeting to a close without a new motion to go into executive session.
The effect of Lacher's actions was to use board members as props for his speech while denying board members an opportunity to comment on his remarks so that they appeared to be silently endorsing a speech Talk of the Sound has called "self-serving" and "wallowing".
In her remarks last night Brickel expressed her displeasure at Lacher's parliamentary tricks.
We will have the full video of all the key remarks and board discussion when the District posts the video from the meetings but in the meantime we have a few brief notes that were live tweeted during the meeting. Hastie's motion is described correctly above but incorrectly in the tweet.
Below are prepared remarks delivered as written by Robert Cox.
David Lacher has not been forthright about his failure to make timely reimbursement for medical insurance obtained through the district. He has apologized to his board colleagues, district employees and the community at large. Yet his apologies have been wrapped in an elaborate, self-serving, false narrative in which he portrays himself as an victim of private circumstances beyond his control.
I wish to examine that here tonight.
Mr. Lacher is fond of baseball analogies so let me make one here.
It is a fact that Barry Bonds played 22 major league seasons, was a 14-time All-Star, 8-time Gold Glove winner, 7-time MVP, and holds the record for most home runs in a career and a season. Yet he is not in the Hall of Fame.
Bonds never tested positive for steroid use, was never suspended by Major League Baseball and testified under oath that he never tested positive for steroid use.
He was charged with perjury for making this claim but Federal prosecutors could not prove their case and dropped those charges.
So, perhaps one day Bonds will be in the Hall of Fame.
I neglected to mention that Bonds WAS convicted for obstruction of justice on the grounds that a factually true statement can be obstructive if it is misleading or evasive.
In his public remarks last week Mr. Lacher listed a number of factually true statements.
He said it is a fact that...
Board members are entitled to participate in the district medical insurance, must pay the full premium when billed each month, that the cost of his insurance was $1,700 a month, that he fell increasingly behind, that the accruals became substantial, that there was no write-off of any part of his obligation and that the only open item is the April invoice.
So, perhaps Mr. Lacher is the innocent victim he portrays himself to be.
I neglected to mention that the payment for April was due on the first so that he was and is $1,700 in arrears right now and will be $3,400 in arrears this week unless he makes payment on Thursday.
So when he claims he paid the entire balance “to the penny” that is false.
He claimed on February 26th that not one dollar of his premiums were taxpayer subsidized. That is false. Taxpayers were subsidizing 100% of his premiums at that time.
Lacher says that the first of several FOIL requests was made shortly after that meeting and that there were three FOIL requests. False and False. The first and only FOIL request for a list of all insured was made in November 2013.
He says the list was recompiled and the second time around, his name did appear on the list. False. The list was compiled three times and Lacher’s name never appeared on the list and no such list was ever provided under FOIL.
Mr. Lacher claims other current board members get the medical insurance. False.
That PAST board members had gotten the medical insurance. False.
He says the only his invoices were sought under FOIL when there were no other records to seek because he was the only board member to have ever gotten the insurance.
Mr. Lacher says board members are obligated to pay 100% of their premiums. But Mr. Lacher was in arrears for 21 of the past 22 months, and continually since November 2012, and up to as much as 8 months as of February 2014, and he is in arrears right now.
Lacher says the District threatened to go back six months and terminate his coverage but fails to mention he was sent a certified letter on February 7th stating that he was 7 months behind and that his coverage would be cut off retroactively on February 14th.
Mr. Lacher has sought to portray this as a personal matter. The board’s own lawyer determined otherwise.
Mr. Lacher refers to the District as a “creditor”. Public school districts are not private banks for board members.
Mr. Lacher knows he is obligated to avoid the APPEARANCE of impropriety which even he admits he failed to do. But this matter is about ACTUAL impropriety.
The issue is not that he had medical insurance but that Lacher failed to reimburse taxpayer funds on a timely basis, that he believed that no one would find out and that as Board President he could safely ignore payment demands and threats to terminate his coverage. And it never was.
That is abuse of power.
Mr. Lacher says he failed to inform Board members of his precarious financial situation when the issue is that he was secretly extended an unauthorized five-figure revolving line of credit opened by the District’s Business Manager — the conversion of taxpayer dollars for personal use.
That is misappropriation.
Mr. Lacher has oversight responsibility for Mr. Quinn yet placed Quinn in a position to retroactively terminate his insurance.
That is conflict of interest.
Barry Bonds was not elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and likely never will be due to the widespread belief that he was a cheater.
Whatever factually true statements Mr. Lacher can muster, he has not been honest and continues to present a false narrative about serious public matters which go to the heart of his role as Trustee of this Board of Education.
EDITOR'S NOTE: this story will be updated with video and transcripts once the official video is posted by the City School District of New Rochelle.