Board of Ed Member David Lacher Grills Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak on Residency Loopholes


DSC_0585.jpgWith all the excitement last week over the board coup which saw Quay Watkins first take herself out of the running for school board president and then be defeated as a candidate for school board vice president, we set aside another highly significant event which took place at the Committee of the Whole meeting just minutes before the coup -- David Lacher grilling Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak on the loopholes contained in the district's residency policy which, according to Lacher, provided a "road map" for parents to improperly place children from other school district in the New Rochelle schools.

Lacher has hit the nail on the head and in so doing provided another motivation for allowing non-resident children to enroll in New Rochelle schools -- there are various constituencies within the community that have been for many years arranging for grandchildren, nephews and nieces of New Rochelle residents to attend school in New Rochelle. If I had to guess this is some of the same people who have been placing highly unqualified personnel in positions of great responsibility within the schools to provide for the security and safety of New Rochelle students.

While he put on an excellent performance -- one of the rare examples of a board member asking tough questions of the administration at a public meeting -- there needs to be follow through by Mr. Lacher.

What is clearly needed is a two-step process where the District (1) implements a truly rigorous process going forward; (2) an aggressive, highly invasive residency investigation for EVERY student in New Rochelle public schools. This full-scale investigation should take place every five years as a "fail safe" measure.

Now let's take a look at the particulars of what was discussed about the "residency issue" last Tuesday.

As regular readers know, since last fall, Talk of the Sound has been at the forefront of raising the "residency issue" in New Rochelle. We have conservatively estimated that more than 200 students are "wrongly enrolled" in the New Rochelle school system but recognize the figure is likely far higher. At a cost of $20,000 per student, that would mean the schools are spending over $4 million per school year of New Rochelle taxpayer money to educate children from Mount Vernon, the Bronx and elsewhere.

This past spring, the Mount Vernon school district revealed that a residency investigation in their district showed that over 800 students (out of roughly 10,000) we're "wrongly enrolled". The matter came to a head when the Mount Vernon school board initially voted down the Superintendent's proposed budget which called for cutting 50 teachers no longer needed since 10% of the students were being kicked out. If the numbers in New Rochelle are similar (and there is no reason to think they are not) it would mean that there are about 880 wrongly enrolled students in New Rochelle at a cost of almost $18 million per year or about 7.5% of the total budget for the year.

Our attempts and those of school board candidates to raise the issue at school board meetings have been literally shouted down by school board members. Quay Watkins, Mary Jane Reddington and Deidre Polow have been foremost in grandiosely dismissing concerns of residents and candidates. Ironically, it was Ms. Polow who inadvertently disclosed the board's awareness of an issue they had long sought to deny. In a response to a question during the League of Women Voter's forum in May, Polow said that the district was removing 60 to 90 "wrongly enrolled" students per year from the New Rochelle public schools. That would mean during her most recent term of office the district has removed 300 to 450 students. Given her claim, our conservative estimate of 200 may be far too low.

Given the vehement denials of board members and the administration, it was with great surprise that we noted the agenda for last week's school board meeting had "Residency Issue" listed as an agenda item. During the meeting Organisciak described the enrollment process for new students in New Rochelle:

A. Parents or guardians of student who apply to enroll in New Rochelle public schools are required to provide 3 current proofs of residence.

B. There are several "special cases":

  • 1. Hosted Cases - a child is living with a family in New Rochelle where a New Rochelle resident takes responsibility for someone else's child; in such cases the New Rochelle resident must provide proof of surrender.
  • 2. Custody Cases - a child of separated or divorced parents living with one of the parents in New Rochelle is considered a resident of New Rochelle if the parent living in New Rochelle can produce an Affidavit of Custody and the student can be enrolled in the New Rochelle public schools if the parents can product 3 current proofs of residence.
  • 3. Foster Home Cases - a child living with foster parents in New Rochelle is considered a resident of New Rochelle and can be enrolled in the New Rochelle public schools if the parents can product 3 current proofs of residence.
  • 4. Homeless Cases - a child found to be in New Rochelle and verified as homeless is immediately enrolled in the New Rochelle public schools.

C. The District has been actively engaged in preventing non-resident students from matriculating into the New Rochelle public schools and regularly removes students after suspected cases of wrongly enrolled students are referred to the District.

  • 1. 2007-2008: 34 students who applied to the New Rochelle public schools were unable to prove residency and were excluded from New Rochelle public schools.
  • 2. 2008-09: 48 students who applied to the New Rochelle public schools were unable to prove residency and were excluded from New Rochelle public schools.
  • 3. 2007-08: 225 current students were referred to the District and 58 current students were found to be non-residents and thus excluded from New Rochelle public schools.
  • 4. 2008-2009: 150 current students were referred to the District and 41 current students were found to be non-residents and thus excluded from New Rochelle public schools.

Organsiciak's explanation raises far more questions than it answers.

Before I begin raising them let me note that the guidelines the district has today are NOT STRICT. Summit, New Jersey just hired a new Superintendent from Orange, New Jersey. This man is very familiar with the residency game as a former EXPORTER of students. Now that he is in a more affluent district and hence an IMPORTER of students, he is determined to apply what he knows to block "wrongly enrolled" students from Summmit. His solution? One of this first actions at Superintendent was to require EVERY parent or guardian to come to their child's school with FIVE (5) proofs of residence. Now THOSE are some strict guidelines.


Is there a specific list of proofs that are considered acceptable, like what DHS gives out for U.S. passport proofs or the DMV gives out for Driver's License proofs? Why wasn't that list provided to the board, read aloud, or made available on the school district web site.

What effort is made to validate these proofs? For example, if a Con Ed bill is submitted as proof of residency is any effort made to contact Con Ed to determine how long the person indicated on the bill has been paying the bill? How about obtaining copies of cancelled checks to show that the person listed on the bill is actually paying the bills?

It was mentioned that student residences are checked by physical visits to the address listed as the home address of the child, then cross-verified that the people are living in New Rochelle. Does this apply to ALL cases are just the special cases?

How many students are enrolled year in each of the "Special Case" categories: Hosted Cases, Custody Cases, Foster Home Cases, Homeless Cases.

How is a child determined to be both "homeless" and "residing in New Rochelle"? Isn't that contradictory?

I expect that hosted cases will be a large percentage but I wonder about the 58 kids excluded in 2007-08 and 41 students excluded in 2008-09? How many of those kids were claiming to be "hosted" kids?

Why is a host told when to expect a surprise visit? Hosts are told to expect a "surprise visit" within 36 hours of the time when they file the enrollment papers. Is that really much of a window to create "surprise"? In many cases the host will claim they will be out of the home or otherwise may not be available at the time of the "surprise" visit so an appointment is made for the inspection. Is a surprise inspection by appointment much of a surprise?

As a matter of policy, once the "surprise" inspection appointment takes place the district never goes back again. Doesn't this invite hosts to simply make up a room for a day or two to look like the child is living with them get the kid's ticket punched and then send the kid on back to Mount Vernon or the Bronx?

225 and 150 students were "referred" in the last two years. How exactly were they referred? Is there a form to be filled out? Is this done by school employees? Disgruntled family members? Neighbors? Your average citizen? And how are such referrals made? How many of these referrals were, in efffect, dupes?

Does the District inform the whistleblower of the outcome of their complaint? For those who do refer students suspected of being wrongly enrolled, what happens to them? Are they provided any information about the outcome of their complaint? This seems very important because if you do not tell the person who made the referral about the outcome it fuels the sense that the district is doing nothing.

If the guidelines are so strict when a student if first enrolled, how are ANY students later identified as "wrongly enrolled"?

Jeff Hastie, although not yet a sworn member of the board at the time, suggested that the administration produce a monthly report of residency actions and circulate that information to the board. Why limit circulation of that information to the board? To do so, from the POV of the general public is a continuation of the current policy to say nothing publicly about the matter which allows people like Watkins, Reddington and Polow to continue to deny there is a problem. If the goal is to show the problem is not as significant as some (like Talk of the Sound) fear how will circulating a "secret" document among board members address that point?

Why not turn the report Jeff Hastie asked for and turn it into a Board Resolution so the information is always made public. How about listing the names of adults who wrongly enrolled students and then publish that information on your web site. How about doing what the IRS does each year; pick a few strong cases and purse those who would defraud New Rochelle and make examples of them. At the very least, pursue their home district for some form of reimbursement.

As noted above, when we initially raised this issue the response of the BoE was to convey that idea that our claim -- that we conservatively estimate that there are at least 200 students wrongly enrolled in New Rochelle -- was absurd and even offensive. After the Mount Vernon residency story broke Talk of the Sound pointed out that if we had a similar size problem in New Rochelle that would mean about 880 wrongly enrolled students. Ms Polow, at the LWV forum said 60-90 students were removed each year. On Tuesday, Organisciak said that about 40 kids a year are being blocked from the outset and 50 kids are being removed. Given these numbers -- 40 a year, 50 a year, 60 a year, 90 a year -- why is it so unreasonable to think that for every student you identify and remove there are 2 or 3 or 4 others who are not identified? Given this, a figure of 880 wrongly enrolled students not only seems possible but likely.

It is nice that the "Residency Issue" was put on the agenda for public discussion but it will mean little if the questions above are not answered, steps taken to disclose the data each month and to implement the two-step process we have called for here: (1) a new, rigorous enrollment process with truly strict requirements; (2) a full-scale, highly invasive investigation of EVERY student currently enrolled.

The costs savings involved -- millions and millions of dollars -- more than justify the expense of a new, more serious approach to what has been a wholesale fraud perpetrated on the residents of New Rochelle by a lax administration and an asleep-at-the-switch school board. Kudos to Mr. Lacher for sounding tough last Tuesday. Now let's see who is prepared to act tough and drive out the parasites who have been allowed to pick our pockets for far too long.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

citijofromnewro on Mon, 07/13/2009 - 02:51

Good insight and reporting Bob, and good for you Mr Lacher! This is good news. When was the last time there was any serious discussion about an issue that has been brought up over and over with the board. I've been ther when Mr Buffoon, I mean Organisciak, sat there and told everyone how vigilant and extensive the search for non-resident students is in this district, and on more than one occasion. Polow, Deutch, have all defended their efforts at what we all know to be an issue directly affecting the taxpayers needlessly. So, contrary to the documented responses to the questions about non-residents, we now see the truth about it. Organisciak, Polow, an Deutch have all been lying to the residents everytime they answered the questions. Know this David Lacher, this is an important step, follow through on this and you will see support, but it is just the begining. This can forge a new direction for the board, one that we can appreciate rather than loathe. Unfortunately, it's to late for Ms Polow. In my opinion, she's showing signs of senility in her inability to maintain composure, respond to simple questions and remembering what her principals are. If she's going to change her mind with the latest wind, I would advise keeping her out of the discussions. Just let her play with the copy machine while you're in session. When I was a kid, my dad used to do that with me when he took me to work. It kept me from interfering with the real work.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Mon, 07/13/2009 - 13:20

Dear Anon,

It has been the policy of the school district not to deal with me to whatever extent possible. They typically ignore my Freedom of Information Law requests or twist the law to suit their purpose (not turning over information to me). All administrators were sent a letter by Organisciak telling them not to speak with me. I got a letter saying I was "banned" from school grounds unless I was there for a public event or a meeting involving my own children -- and in those cases I have to clear it advance. Few of the questions I raise to the board are ever answered and even in the rare case when I get a reply it is usually non-responsive or in some way disingenuous.

For example, prior to the school board election I got a tip that there has been several large mid-year raises that had flown under the radar. This struck me as relevant to the discussion going on at the time about the budget. Apparently these raises had been snuck into the October 2008 Board Resolutions and I had failed to notice them. I went to City Hall and asked to see a copy of the October 2008 board resolutions. Documents like this are supposed to be on file and available for inspection at the Clerk's Office during normal business hours. The Clerk has been instructed not to talk to me and I have been directed to deal only with Asst. Superintendent John Quinn. When I asked Quinn about the board resolutions he said that I would have contact his office and schedule an appointment. When I pointed out that the board resolutions were public records that under FOIL are supposed to be available for inspection by the public during normal business hours he said that I could not just "walk in off the street" and asked to see board resolutions. When I pointed out that this is exactly what FOIL permitted he repeated that I needed to contact his office to schedule an appointment. When I pointed that I was contacting his office right now and that if he was going to insist on my scheduling an appointment that it could be done right then and there. He then told me to leave my contact information and someone would get back to me I pointed that we had communicated many times and that he had all of my contact information. He then said he would have someone contact me about scheduling an appointment.

Weeks went by. The election came and went. No word from Quinn about any appointment (even though I saw him in person several times after my initial attempt to review the board resolutions). Finally, I wrote him an email in which I "reminded" him of his promise to get back to me and that he had lied. In response he AGAIN offered to "schedule an appointment" for me to inspect the October board resolutions. At that point, I declined his "offer".

BTW, guess who was one of the people getting the very large "secret" mid-year raises? You guess it. John Quinn. He got THREE raises in 13 months for tens of thousands of dollars and was bumped up to $195,000.

Warren Gross on Sun, 07/12/2009 - 19:53

bob this is the best piece of work i have seen since signing on. great job of reporting and indeed, kudos to david lacher. there can be no let up on this point. this should lead to a significant change in the budget, staff reductions at all levels and, if there is unwarranted collusion with the union at any board or staff level, immediate dismissal or resignation as the case may be.

surely the entire tax situation in new roc and elsewhere must bring this to a head. the current battle over certiorari brings this even more in focus. people need to know that two thirds of our local taxes go to a school district that likely is educating many children from elsewhere. organisiciak's criteria is not up to par--- it mirrors his performance. the gentleman from summit should be contacted by david lacher or jeff hastie and asked to share his experiences. best labor relations guy i had in private business was a skilled union organizer and the same logic applies here.

in fact, organisiciak himself is an out of district guy and he really should set an example by leaving our fair shores. i am hoping that a renewed, reenergized david lacher, jeff hastie, and the new team of sara richmond and chrisanne petrone can unite and neutralize those other immobliel, citizen unfriendly dinosaurs and set this district straight.

now, if only the city fathers and council persons can show some grit and join lacher. actually what he is doing is an example of courage -- his long board tenure could suggest he play it safe. I hope it works out the way your report suggests. actually, bob short of paying some form of tuition (if it didn't overcrowd our faciiities or inflate our payroll, I can think of few reasons why any non-resident of new roc should enroll in our district. if found out, even if members of the child's family have been here since the Mayflower crossed the pond, no dice. again, great stuff.

warren gross

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Mon, 07/13/2009 - 16:50
Title: Not quite

1. Federal law requires that EVERY child of a certain age must attend school and that they are entitled to enroll at their local public school -- regardless of the immigration status of a parent. If you don't like that law contact Nita Lowey. Whatever criticism I have of the school district this is not one of them. They have no choice but to accept any child into the public school if that child is residing in New Rochelle.

2. A child born in the United States is an American citizen regardless of the immigration status of the child's parent. Again, if you don't like give Nita Lowey a jingle and bend her ear about it as it is Federal law.

3. The issue discussed last week was about children who do not reside in New Rochelle but attend the public schools in New Rochelle. It does not matter if the kid's family came over to America on the Mayflower, if they do not live in New Rochelle they are not entitled to attend public schools in New Rochelle. Likewise, it does not matter how or why they are residing in New Rochelle but if they do reside in New Rochelle they are entitled to attend the public school.

Please focus on the issue at hand: the leadership of the school district has failed to implement policies and procedures that are sufficiently rigorous to keep non-residents out of the New Rochelle public schools. This IS something that is ENTIRELY within their purview. Instead of patting themselves on the back for removing 40-50 kids a year they should instead be apologizing for allowing those kids to slip through undetected. 50 kids a year at $20,000 per student is $1 mm per year. That so many kids slipped through should also serve as a great big red flag that their current approach has failed. Clearly, the same admitted failure to keep non-residents out would also suggest that they are failing to catch every kid.

Adults who "wrongly enroll" students in the New Rochelle schools are engaged in theft and fraud. A first step towards effectively dealing with the "residency issue" would be to acknowledge this, treat the perpetrators as the criminals they are and prosecute them or at least sue them to seek restitution. One conviction or successful lawsuit would send a strong message that go a long ways towards discouraging this sort of behavior in the first place. By not ever taking this sort of aggressive action the message to the adults is clear -- try and sneak one past the New Rochelle school district and don't worry if you get caught because the worst thing that will happen is you will end up back at the school you belong in anyway. It is this "no harm, no foul" attitude by school officials which leads me to conclude the District welcomes these wrongly enrolled students.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Tue, 07/14/2009 - 18:16

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