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Journal News Shills for New Rochelle Schools (Redux) - This Time on Residency Issue

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Journal News Shills for New Rochelle Schools (Redux) - This Time on Residency Issue

July 17, 2009 - 16:58
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The Journal News has published a totally one-sided puff-piece on the residency issue at New Rochelle schools. I am not going to dignify the article by repeating the headline on Talk of the Sound but the link is below.

http://lohud.com/article/20090717/NEWS02/907170354/-1/newsfront

This article represents a new low for Aman Ali and the Jounal News which takes at face-value data provided by the district, offers no critical analysis, questions nothing put forward by the administration, makes no mention of the contentious questioning of Organisciak by long-time school board member David Lacher, contains not a single reaction from those who have been raising this issue at school board meetings, and even features this sick-making quote:

"I was a little surprised because I thought it would have been higher," Organisciak said. "The way you hear people talk about this, you would think it would be three times that amount."

Organisciak is "surprised"? Why? The data he presented goes back to 2007 and he has to sign off on any removals of students. Yet, the Journal News gives Organisciak carte-blanche to put forward the absurd notion that the first he heard about any of this was this month, that until now he did not know how many students were being removed each year from the school district he purportedly runs. As usual, Organisciak lies and misleads the public and Aman Ali and the Journal News happily serves as his enabler.

Real reporters working for legitimate newspapers serve the community in a watchdog role, challenging public officials and holding them to account. In New Rochelle, we are shackled with a subservient Managing Editor, Henry Freeman, and Organisciak's poodle, Aman Ali. I look forward to the day when Gannett, losing money hand over fist, shutters the Journal News. At least then the school district will not have the benefit of a propaganda outlet which both accepts cash payments from the District on the one hand and then writes articles spoon-fed to them by school officials on the other.

Nowhere in his article does Ali question the "fox guarding the hen house" nature of this so-called "investigation". He does not review any of the data he is reporting, never tells readers what happened to the hundreds of referrals made to the district where kids were not removed, in fact, he does not tell readers anything more than what Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak wants them to hear.

Newsflash to Ali, New Rochelle residents want an independent investigation not the sort of self-serving whitewash we have here. In fact, this is not an investigation at al, merely a report on data compiled by the district over the past two years (and why just two years, what happen in 2006? 2005? 2004?) Since Ali rarely attends school board meetings, did not attend the meetings where the residency issue was first raised (even though he references these meetings he did not attend) and did not interview any of the residents raising this issue the entire basis for his article is information provided to him by school district officials (including me, the person who has been raised the issue first and done so louder and longer than anyone in New Rochelle). No surprise then that the article serves to exonerate the District of any wrong doing without even noting what the wrong doing was in the first place.

Nowhere do we read that for many months the district administration and school board have repeatedly denied there were ANY non-residents attending school in New Rochelle. When residents and school board candidates have raised the issue, members of the school board and Organisciak have routinely deflected questions about the residency issue and otherwise claimed it was a non-issue.

In perhaps the most absurd exchange, last May, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak instructed school board candidate Dr. Jack Wagner to follow students to home, knock on the door, verify the student is living at the residence and then provide the district with names of children he had thus confirmed to live outside the district. Wagner declined to pursue Organisciak's suggestion.

The real story here is that after months of stonewalling, the district now admits that there it gets hundreds of complaints a year and has removed a hundred students over the past two years. But, instead of focusing on this marked shift in the district's public position -- which suggests they have willfully sought to mislead the public all along -- the Journal News instead seeks to close the book on the matter by charitably describing the number of students wrongly enrolled as a "small fraction". The phrase is nothing more than a transparent attempt to discredit critics of the school district and paint the issue as a matter of "much ado about nothing".

Not sure where the reporters and editors at the Journal News were taught math but the numbers claimed by critics have always been a "small fraction" of the student population. The number of kids recently removed from Mount Vernon was 880 out of 10,000 - a small fraction (1/25th). Our initial conservative estimate was that there are 200 wrongly enrolled students out of 11,500 in New Rochelle -- a small fraction (1/58th). Our revised estimate after the Mount Vernon story broke was to double our original estimate to 400 out of 11,500 -- still, a small fraction (1/29th). The issue is not whether it is a "small fraction" of the total population but how high the cost of having any number of students greater than zero in the New Rochelle schools.

Every wrongly enrolled student costs about $20,000. The district claims to be removing 50 kids a year (Deidre Polow said between 60 and 90 a year). That's a million dollars a year, at least. But are these students only in the district for a single year? I personally know of students removed from New Rochelle High School. How many years did they attend school in New Rochelle as a non-resident? It is close to a mathematical certainty that the average number of years a "removed student" was in the school system prior to being removed is great than 1 so the the price tag on each child removed is going to be tens of thousands of dollars per kid and maybe even over $100,000 in some cases. And, of course, Diane Massimo now admits the district takes no punitive action against the criminals who defraud New Rochelle taxpayers and seeks no reimbursement from the parents or from the child's actual home district. Given this "no harm, no foul" policy is it any wonder that parents from other districts are lined up around the block at the beginning of each school year trying to finagle their kids into New Rochelle schools -- no downside and lots of upside (if you live in Mount Vernon, the Bronx or some other third-rate district).

This reminds me of the district's claims about the "savings' the district would achieve by turning out the lights in school buildings. John Quinn must have carpal tunnel syndrome by now after patting himself on the back so many times at school board meetings for his "innovative" plan to turn off the lights at night in our schools. Not once did we hear how the District has been wasting money for decades by leaving these same lights on all this time.

In the case of non-resident students in our schools, Quinn wants to focus on the $1 million saved going forward by removing 50 kids a year rather than then $1 million a year wasted by allowing them to enroll in the first place.

After Organisciak's presentation to the school board two weeks ago, we raised a wide range of questions that should be answered to which I would now add the following:

Of the roughly 50 students per year that have been removed, how many years were they in the school district prior to being removed?

Why did Organisciak limit his report to the school board to the past two school years? Why not go back before his tenure? Wouldn't that show how things have changed under his watch?

To the Journal News, why did you not interview any of the residents who were, according to your own story, "spurred" the report by Organisciak to the board?

Why does the Journal News continue to take Organisciak at his word when he has repeatedly been shown to have demonstrably lied to Journal News reporters in the past?

What exactly does an attendance officer do when they receive a complaint from a resident?

And my personal favorite: If last year 58 students were found to have been wrongly enrolled and then removed based on 225 complaints from residents, how many students were removed based on investigations initiated by the school district itself. That would appear to be zero.

Does anyone at the school district care to discuss the one grandmother in the Trinity District who has, for years, enrolled well over a dozen grand children with the school district?

Does anyone at the school district care to discuss the out-of-district cases, students who have never stepped foot in New Rochelle but whose out-of-district tuition is fully paid for by the District?

Here is the original set of questions after the recent board meeting:

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.

The fact is that until the school budget is defeated twice and the state brought in to do the sort of rigorous residency investigation done in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle residents will continue to pay millions of dollars a year to educated other district's kids.

There are 13 Comments

Ok Robert, If you don't agree, do some investigation on your own. Go out, hit the pavement, and publish what you find out. It appears to me that you are just complaining because you disagree. What are the "real" facts then? I'm sure you can "twist" the numbers in whatever direction you want also.

Robert Cox's picture

Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting,
With exactness grinds he all.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Apparently you can't think or read . The facts show BoE denies problem . Polow admits problem . Organisciak denies problem exists , later says "thought the number would be higher" . Now that problem exists board minimizes it . Only small percentage . Guess what - small precentage = millions of dollars . 2.3 mill = 1% tax hike. Are you saying you don't want a 2 to 3% tax reduction on the biggest portion of your tax bill ? Probably not 'cause you're a dolter .

hire the right people to investigate this ever growing problem. There is a large number of non residence flooding our scholls

...the Journal News would lie

david, this is your moment for voters/taxpayers in New Rochelle to see whether you were serious and committed a week or so back when you directed Organisciak to bring forward a correct, defensible set of distict figures re: enrollment in our schools.

you are surely a skilled advocate and I am equally sure that you feel you bear a sense of responsibility for the voter/taxpayer even in excess of any personal loyalty to this superintendent. You realize more than most that every single extra student in the system is a further weight on our backs, a drain on class size, an extra challenge for teachers who have enough to deal with on their plates

as a man who often puts together questionnaire profiles to defend a client, you are aware of the latest organisciak exploitation of the taxpayer and, frankly, on the face of it, one might deduce that he wouldn't dare to release information of this sort to the Journal News without board authorization. However, it is possible that he has embarrassed you by doing so, similar to the way he embarrassed his superiors in New York City by submitted an amicus curiae brief against a position that the current New York State Education Commissioner was taking at the time on a regents position. It is possible that he is so maze dull, so secure in his arrogrance, that he figured he could circumvent the trustee base in the same way that he did years earlier by contracting Boces in Suffolk County to do a critical study on the growth of the school system (or whatever you charged him with) -- not clear because he curiously labeled it a Demographic Study. To the best of my knowledge few, if any, voters/taxpayers are aware of it and it certainly sounded like more of an astrological than professional capacity analysis given some nonsense about what climatic or cyclic conditions predicted birth rates. He did nothing than we know of to address the salient question of capacity, under/over capacity, etc. etc. Reason is simply that he is incapable, but the city should bear the blame as well as the question is extremely crticial in terms of de novo and organic growth of infrastrucure which bears a significant set of debt market questions among so many others.

Mr David Lacher --- you, sir, and your colleagues can put this right. You can begin by calling the Journal News and requesting they send someone with the experience of Dwight Worley to get out the facts of the study. When was it conducted, how was it conducted, who conducted it, were the results reviewed by the board, etc.... you might even subject yourselves to the expected derision that will surely follow from acceptance of the "host" parameter as a criterion for enrollment in our system. Surely you must admit that the chances of finding someone to sign up at literally no risk as a host is quite high. It would have been interesting to put a perjury tag or fraud label on the signature if it were later shown to be bogus.

Mr Lacher, perhaps you can have him explain this utter nonsense about having school personnel ride buses (around Yonkers if I remember)and somehow pull some magic face validity out of a hat especially in a district of this size. Do these people have super hero powers of observation.

Come on sir, step up and author a proper study knowing and accepting that each student invalidated to use our district is your duty to the voter and your contribution to improving the lot of the resident student and parents. Perhaps you would consider an inquiry panel to assist you -- maybe these can be people of impeccable credentials like Killoran of Habit, or representatives of our clergy, You, sir should run the panel assisted I think by Hastie given his recent history with the PTA. I would suggest you invite the Summit principle with hands-on experience to testify, the Mt Vernon school official who really got to the bottom of his district. Good God sir, if students are being shuffled in the darkness of night in such numbers to attend Mt Vernon schools, what does logic suggest the numbers might be to attend ours?

Ok, sir, the ball is in your court, you have the backing of people who really care, the pockets of people being bashed by this unfriendly economy, the warning from the Assessor that more bad financial news is ahead for the district and the simple simple inescapable fact that it looks bad for your credibility --- after all approximately one week after calling for proper accountability from your Superintendent, he comes forward in the heat of July, schools are closed, staff depleted by vacation, and he magically produces numbers very much like last years and frankly, we are taken to the dark place that you were aware of this before or after the fsct of the matter and so, had to authorize this lamentable article.

Prove us wrong sir and this will be a brilliant start to a regenesis of faith in the district. Follow that by firing this man for incompetence and insubordination.

warren d gross

Once again, the question is, "Who are the clerical personnel registering these students?". What documentation did they acepta? When my grandchildren were registered my daughter-in-law had to produce enough documentation for a top secret security clearance. Somebody's palm is being greased!

J. Wagner

Focus on the "form" and who has final say if documentation is missing.
58 can be found at the #42 and #7 bus station every day.
58 can be found at the train station every day.
58 can be found being picked up by a family member or friend every day.
If the right documentation were required, we could cut the district enrollement by 10%.
All schools are guilty, north and south.

I always thought it was odd that at Trinity you never got a class list of your child's classmates. At other schools you get names and addresses for Bday parties and the like. I wondered if they were hiding something.

I remember during the budget meetings someone asked about the significant expense that new rochelle tax payors make for providing free transportation to kids who attend private schools outsiden new rochelle. I thought about this and found as I asked folks at the Doyle center that all of these kids attend yeshivas outside New Rochelle even in NYC. Why do we subsidize this? is it because board members are are pushing the agendas of their temple members? This is outrageous and must stop/ Its corruption becasue I would bet that it's not legal.

Robert Cox's picture

If you give free transportation to parents who send their kids to private school and are not legally entitled to it then you can threaten to take it away. Quinn strongly hinted at this exact threat in an interview before the election. Anon, why don't you pick up the phone and call NYSED in Albany, ask them what the law requires and then start looking at schools outside the range required by law.

Then ask the district to provide copies of all invoices paid to transportation companies to provide busing to schools outside the district. That will to start to get at the issue.

In simple terms the district bribes parents with kids in private schools and gains 2 things; either support for school budget or at least not voting against the budget.

This is just one way among many that the district uses taxpayer money to manipulate election outcomes. It is a classic case of something being optimal for a small minority bringing about a sub-optimal solution for all.

So, Monday call Albany then call John Quinn at City Hall and if he declines to give you the invoices contact the NYS Committee on Open Govt and ask them what you need to do.

Some questions:
1) Small fraction? Does that make it right or even better?
2) Did no one know at the time that they were non-residents? Shouldn't those that knew be answerable?
3) How much did.do these non-residents cost taxpayers and those that knew should pay for it, in addition to those students parents.
4) How many of them are illegal immigrants.
5) How many illegal immigrants are in the school system and how much are they costing taxpayers?
Just a few. Tons more could be asked.

At one of the board meetings , a resident brought up the issue of nonresident students to Mr O . He adamantly denied any such students existing , spouted with pride the cadre of experts that stay on top of this stiuation and defied anyone to go out and find any of these elusive creatures . It's all on record (somewhere) if you believe anything from the meetings is catalogued . If that is the case Mr O , wouldn't ANY amount be surprising to you ? You can't have it both ways . If you were so sure at the meeting that there were none of these leeches , wouldn't you be surprised to hear about 3 or 10 or 20 ? How else can I say it ? He (Mr O) will twist and distort and obfuscate any sense of truth to protect his job and cover up the inequities he has enabled . Wake up New Rochelle, you're being sold down the river from the inside .

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