NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- New Rochelle Board of Education Vice President Rachel Relkin speaking last Tuesday at the first Budget Input Hearing of 2016, made reference to what she called "the new administration." Dr. Osborne often refers to himself as "the new guy" or "the new Superintendent".
At what point is a Superintendent no longer "new" and, as such, taking full responsibility for his words and actions?
Brian Osborne signed a contract in the Spring of 2014 to run for a three-year term, from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017. Under the terms of the contract, the Board of Education is required to notify Dr. Osborne not later than June 30, 2016 if it does not wish to extend his appointment past June 30, 2017.
A review of this contract, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, shows that Dr. Osborne is now well into the second half of his term with a notification date for his renewal now 5 months away and his current contract ending next year. Given this, it would appear that we are well past the expiration date on Osborne (and the Board) describing the Superintendent as "new". He is just THE Superintendent.
There is one startling aspect to the contract which I only noticed upon comparing to the Osborne contract to the contract for former Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak. The old Organisciak contract is much shorter with just sections a-c whereas Osborne's contract is much longer with sections a-g.
Here is the "covenant" section of the Organisciak contract:
IT IS COVENANTED AND AGREED AS FOLLOWS:
1. Term; Certification; Powers and Duties
(a) The School District agrees to employ Mr. Organisciak, and Mr. Organisciak agrees to serve, as Superintendent of Schools, commencing August 15, 2006 and continuing through August 14, 2009 (later extended in 2011 to run to 2014).
(b) As a continuing condition of employment, Mr. Organisciak will keep in full force and effect all certifications and licenses required to serve as a Superintendent of Schools in the State of New York, and will devote his full working time, attention and efforts to the discharge of his duties as an employee of the School District; provided, however, that with the prior approval of the Board of Education, and so long as the same is not inconsistent with the full and faithful discharge of his duties to the School District, Mr. Organisciak may engage in outside activities such as consulting, teaching, speaking, lecturing and writing, without reduction in compensation.
(c) Mr. Organisciak's powers and duties shall be as have previously been or may hereafter be prescribed by the Board of Education of the School District, as set forth by the Education Law of the State of New York, by the Rules and Regulations of the New York State Commissioner of Education and the Board of Regents of the State University of New York, and as otherwise set forth by law.
Here is the “covenant” section of the Osborne contract:
IT IS COVENANTED AND AGREED AS FOLLOWS:
1. Term; Certification; Powers and Duties; Best Efforts; Outside Engagements
(a) The School District agrees to employ Dr. Osborne and Dr. Osborne agrees to serve as Superintendent of Schools of the School District for a three-year tern commencing July l, 2014 and continuing through June 30, 2017.
(b) It shall be a condition precedent to the effectiveness of this Agreement that Dr. Osborne receive clearance for employment by a criminal background check to be conducted by the New York State Education Department Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability ("OSPRA") on or prior to July 1, 2014.
(c) As a continuing condition of employment, Dr. Osborne will keep in full force and effect all certifications and licenses required to serve as a Superintendent of Schools in the State of New York.
(d) Dr. Osborne shall perform the duties of the Superintendent of Schools of the School District pursuant to, and as prescribed by, the laws of the State of New York and the rules, regulations and policies established thereunder by the Commissioner of Education and/or the Department of Education of the State of New York, the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, and by the Board of Education of the School District. Dr. Osborne shall be responsible for the administration of the School District under the direction of the Board of Education, and agrees faithfully to perform the duties of the Superintendent of Schools and to serve as the chief executive officer of the School District.
(e) Without limitation of, and in addition to, the duties of a Superintendent of Schools otherwise prescribed by law, Dr. Osborne shall have the authority to organize, reorganize and arrange the administrative and supervisory staff, including, without limitation, instruction and business affairs, which, in his judgment, best serves the School District, subject to the approval of the Board of Education. The responsibility for selection, placement and transfer of personnel shall be vested in the Superintendent of Schools, subject to the approval of the Board of Education. Dr. Osborne shall perform all duties incident to the office of the Superintendent of Schools and such other duties as may be prescribed by the Board of Education from time to time. Dr. Osborne, from time to time, shall suggest regulations, rules, policies and procedures deemed necessary for the good order of the School District.
(f) During the term of this Agreement, the Board of Education shall not assign Dr. Osborne to any position other than Superintendent of Schools.
(g) Dr. Osborne shall devote his full time, skill, labor, attention and best efforts to his responsibilities as Superintendent of Schools during the term of this Agreement; provided, however, that Dr. Osborne may, with the prior approval of the Board of Education and so long as such activities do not interfere with his responsibilities as the Superintendent of Schools, undertake consulting work, speaking engagements, writing, lecturing, Superintendent leadership positions and other professional activities, with or without honorarium. It is agreed that the School District will not reimburse any expenses incurred by Dr. Osborne in connection with activities from which he receives compensation from a third party.
The central difference is between section (c) in the Organisciak contract and section (e) in the Osborne contract.
Section (c) in the Organisciak contract refers to "the Education Law of the State of New York" which, under section (5), grants power to a school board to "create, abolish, maintain and consolidate such positions, divisions, boards or bureaus as, in its judgment, may be necessary for the proper and efficient administration of its work; shall appoint properly qualified persons to fill such positions, including a superintendent of schools, such associate, assistant and other superintendents, directors, supervisors, principals, teachers, lecturers, special instructors, medical inspectors, nurses, claims auditors, attendance officers, secretaries, clerks, custodians, janitors and other employees and other persons or experts in educational, social or recreational work or in the business management or direction of its affairs as said board shall determine necessary for the efficient management of the schools and other educational, social, recreational and business activities; and shall determine their duties except as otherwise provided herein."
Section (e) in the Osborne contract grants authorities otherwise reserved to the school board to Osborne, stating that "Without limitation of, and in addition to, the duties of a Superintendent of Schools otherwise prescribed by law, Dr. Osborne shall have the authority to organize, reorganize and arrange the administrative and supervisory staff, including, without limitation, instruction and business affairs, which, in his judgment, best serves the School District, subject to the approval of the Board of Education. The responsibility for selection, placement and transfer of personnel shall be vested in the Superintendent of Schools, subject to the approval of the Board of Education. Dr. Osborne shall perform all duties incident to the office of the Superintendent of Schools and such other duties as may be prescribed by the Board of Education from time to time. Dr. Osborne, from time to time, shall suggest regulations, rules, policies and procedures deemed necessary for the good order of the School District.
In short, the New Rochelle Board of Education has ceded its responsibilities to make hiring and firing decisions for every position in the District, except for Superintendent, giving Osborne unprecedented and complete control.
Prior to the Osborne contract, there was process that included, depending on the position, the Human Resources department, school level committees compromised of staff and parents and school board interviews and Superintendent interviews. At the end of the process, having received input along the way, the Superintendent would recommend a candidate and the board would approve the candidate.
This entire process has been eliminated, the board has abdicated its role and all power has been devolved to one person - Brian Osborne. He has been coronated, in effect, a totalitarian ruler so long as the board continues his contract with him having been handed over essential responsibilities formerly vested in the Board of Education by NYS Education Law.
This is an eye-opening, revolutionary and shocking change - one which went unremarked upon by school board members at the time thus indicating that they were united in this decision to give up control and abdicate their responsibility for the hiring of Associate or Assistant Superintendents, school principals and other leadership positions in the school district.
It is unfathomable as to why a school board would give up power granted to it by the State of New York.
In the case of New Rochelle it may have had something to do with the context where, for months prior to his hiring, the board had displayed the true depth of its dysfunction (one school board member using foul language from the board in a public meeting, one board member using their position to benefit their spouse, one board member using public money to pay for his personal medical insurance and a significant level of intre-board arguments and recriminations at public board meetings). It may have something to do with demands made by Brian Osborne. In fact, similar demands — and the refusal of another board to accept them — might then explain why Osborne withdrew after he was publicly introduced as the final candidate for the Ann Arbor, Michigan school district. It might explain why Osborne was rejected by the White Plains Board of Education after the first round of interviews.
However it came about, New Rochelle has a school board that deliberately handed over one of its three major roles as a school board (setting policy, financial oversight, hiring/firing key administrative positions).
Perhaps continually referring to Osborne as “the new administration” or “the new guy” might be the board’s way of withholding judgement on a Superintendency which has quickly developed a track record of failure, incompetence and mendacity.
The clock is ticking for a school board that will face a stay/go decision in about 21 weeks.