*** EXCLUSIVE ***
Former Mount Vernon Superintendent Welton L. “Tony” Sawyer lost his job this week and was formerly separated from the district after school board trustees learned that he was involved in a sexual relationship with a teacher who he had promoted to an administrative position without informing the school board and for which the teacher was not qualified, sources tell Talk of the Sound.
In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the Mount Vernon Board of Education reached a settlement agreement with Sawyer which the district refused to make public. The Journal News reports that it has filed a Freedom of Information Law request seeking to obtain the document describing the settlement agreement.
The Mount Vernon Board of Trustees suspended Sawyer without explanation on November 4th, 2011. He was replaced by former Mount Vernon Director of Pupil Personnel Waveline Bennett-Conroy who has been serving as acting-Superintendnet since November.
The basis for the suspension last fall has been a closely guarded secret. After approving the deal, board trustees refused to discuss any aspect of the case. Trustee Leonard Sarver told the Journal News, “confidentiality dominates the whole process".
That domination of confidentiality is now eroding.
Sawyer was scheduled to receive a salary of $269,043 for the 2011-12 school year, the last on a 5 year contract. He was hired after a national search in 2006-07. He previously held the position of Superintendent in Topeka, Kansas from July 2003 to July 2007. Before that he was a superintendent in New York City. He was responsible for 41 schools with about 46,000 students and a $312 million budget, according to a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Talk of the Sound expects to have the name of the paramour by the end of the weekend. She has since been restored to her previous teaching position, sources say.
Sawyer is said to be a personal friend of New Rochelle Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak who served as an administrator in the New York City public school system at the same time as Sawyer.
Organisciak has been embroiled in a similar controversy in New Rochelle after Talk of the Sound reported that an administrator had been serving as Assistant Principal at the Trinity Elementary School. Nadine Pacheco, a former teacher at the Davis Elementary School, was given the position by Assistant Principal despite not having the required administrative license. Pacheco had previously qualified for a provisional license which had lapsed due to her failure to work as an administrator during the provisional period.
Organisciak hired Pacheco, knowing she did not have the license, advising her to enroll in a two-year program at the College of New Rochelle to earn the credits necessary to qualify for the license. According to a statement later released by the New Rochelle school district, Pacheco had enrolled in the program and is expected to complete her course work this coming May. In October 2011, the administration submitted a resolution to the New Rochelle Board of Education, stating that Pacheco was stepping down as Assistant Principal for "personal reasons" and would be immediately re-hired as teacher without classroom responsibilities making $114,165.
The plan was for Pacheco to continue to work as if she was the Assistant Principal without making any formal announcement of the change in her position. Talk of the Sound broke the story of what the district was up to before the school board has seen the resolution, setting off a firestorm at the school, and causing the plan to backfire.
Organisciak then shifted gears. The district announced that Pacheco would be teaching a class of second-graders. The teacher of the classroom, Nicole Mussolini, was a newly-hired but widely liked probationary teacher earning $18,000 a year. She was scheduled to be promoted in October to a full-time, tenure-track position earning over $60,000 a year at the same meeting where Pacheco's demotion/transfer resolution was scheduled for a vote in October. Instead, Mussolini was informed that she was being removed from her classroom and would not be promoted to make way for Pacheco.
Members of F.U.S.E., the teachers union in New Rochelle got involved, objecting that Pacheco was being given a six-figure teaching position without any notice of the availability of the position.
Matters came to a head when the New Rochelle Board of Education went into an illegal executive session meeting immediately after a contentious PTA meeting at Trinity at which the Superintendent had been asked to speak and explain the situation. During the PTA meeting, Organisciak infuriated many parents, adopting a condescending attitude, stating that he was not there to listen to parents but to inform them of the decision he had made -- to replace Mussolini with Pacheco so as to keep Pacheco at the school until May with the intention of re-hiring her as Assistant Principal. Over 150 people attended the meeting, some upset over the handling of Pacheco and others parents of second-graders in Mussolini's class.
Organisciak refused repeated requests by Trinity parents and New Rochelle residents to explain how Pacheco was hired in the first place.
"I'm not here to talk about the past", said Organisciak. "I am here to talk about moving forward."
In an unprecedented move, the Board of Education left the Trinity auditorium without explanation, went to the school library, met behind closed doors and passed a resolution promoting Mussolini to a full-time position, restoring her to her classroom. The decision of the board was a clear rebuke of the Superintendent.
Whatever their merits, the actions of the board were illegal. It is a violation of the New York State Open Meeting Law for a school board to gather as a quorum to discuss public business without making a public notice of a meeting. It is also a violation of the OML to go into executive session directly without first bringing to order a properly noticed public meeting and then passing a seconded-motion to go into execution session. The motion must give a reason that the executive session is permitted under OML. Even though many members of the public with a direct interest in the matter were present in the auditorium, no announcement of a meeting was made. The resolution was never made public.
Under Resolution 12-153-4 Nicole Mussolini was appointed as Interim Teacher with 6 of 9 board members present. No resolution was passed that night for Pacheco raising questions as to the basis for her continued employment -- she had resigned as Assistant Principal and was not appointed as a teacher.
Pacheco was later given an entirely new position, again not properly advertised and for which no other candidates were interviewed, and at the same $114,165 salary decried in the October resolution that was tabled.
At the time, Talk of the Sound wrote:
This is a simple issue -- either Pacheco lied on her job application or the district knowingly broke the law by putting an unqualified person in an administrator position. In either case someone committed a criminal act and should be terminated for cause.
The employment by the New Rochelle Board of Education of Nadine Pacheco as Assistant Principal at Trinity Elementary School and Patricia Lambert at Barnard Elementary School appears to violate state law and may subject school board members personally to misdemeanor charges and fines. Neither Pacheco or Lambert appear to have had the required administrative licenses to work as an administrator in New York state public schools.
The law in question is Education Law §3009 which makes it illegal to hire individuals not appropriately certified or licensed. The law states "No part of the school moneys apportioned to a district shall be applied to the payment of the salary of an unqualified teacher". A teacher or administrator is considered qualified if they are appropriately certified in accordance with Part 80 of the Commissioner’s regulations.
New York Education Article 61 § 3009 (1): Unqualified Teachers Shall Not Be Paid From School Moneys
No part of the school moneys apportioned to a district shall be applied to the payment of the salary of an unqualified teacher, nor shall his salary, or any part thereof, be collected by a district tax except as provided in this chapter.
N.Y. EDN. LAW § 3010 NY Code Section 3010: Penalty for payment of unqualified teacher.
Any trustee or member of a board of education who applies, or directs, or consents to the application of, any district money to the payment of an unqualified teacher's salary, thereby commits a misdemeanor; and any fine imposed upon him therefor shall be for the benefit of the common schools of the district.
Talk of the Sound later reported that another administrator, Patricia Lambert, principal at the Barnard Elementary School was also working with a license.
The Westchester County District Attorney's office declined to investigate the matter stating that law was "poorly written" and that there was no evidence that the administration or board members were aware of the law or having violated the law in approving Pacheco as Assistant Principal and paying her as an administrator without an administrative license.
Talk of the Sound is aware of a third administrator working without a license in New Rochelle during the same time period, details of which have not yet been reported. As readers will discover, it is litigation involving this administrator which triggered the entire sequence of events leading to the public revelations that Organisciak was employing as administrators several women who did not have administrative licenses from New York State.
The context for the repeated failure of the New Rochelle Board of Education to properly vet and certify administrators between 2007 and 2011 is the Jose Martinez case. Martinez was hired as an administrator in 2007 and allowed to begin working for the district without having completed a background check required under the New York S.A.V.E. law. Martinez was promoted from Dean at Isaac E. Young Middle School to Assistant Principal at Jefferson Elementary School. It was later disclosed that while Martinez was interviewing for the position at Jefferson, he was repeatedly raping a 14-year old male student in his office at Isaac.
Talk of the Sound broke the news of Martinez sudden resignation, flight and subsequent arrest on charges of repeatedly raping and sodomizing the student. Martinez later plead guilty and sentenced to time served and 10-years probation.