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Invoices Suggest Grade-Fixing Scandal at New Rochelle High School May Involve Dozens of Students

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Invoices Suggest Grade-Fixing Scandal at New Rochelle High School May Involve Dozens of Students

November 27, 2018 - 21:04
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District Lied in Response to Freedom of Information Requests

T&M Invoices & Agreement

 

 

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Invoices obtained by Talk of the Sound under a Freedom of Information (FOIL) Request suggest that as many as 32 students may have been involved in a grade-fixing scandal at New Rochelle High School.

Talk of the Sound began reporting on irregularities with the Apex Credit Recovery program at the high school in 2017. A FOIL request in November 2017 was denied. We first reported on the involvement of House Principal Shadia Alvarez on May 7, 2018. 

It is worth noting here, for the first time on Talk of the Sound, that over the past two years, serious questions have been raised about the use of the Apex Learning Credit Recovery Program to artificially inflate graduation rates at the high school and whether students are properly completing work to qualify for credit recovery. Talk of the Sound has previously sought records (and was rebuffed) in an effort to ascertain how many students each year are obtaining high school credits through credit recovery, how many such credits they are obtaining and how many students graduate each year with “credit recovery” credits on their transcript. 

Sources at New Rochelle High School have told Talk of the Sound that the computers used for credit recovery are left “unlocked” so that students can complete “closed book” tests with their books, notes and other material on hand. Students have access to the exams at any time and can work on them from home. There is no way to know that a particular student completed their own work.  Worse, in some cases, credit recovery is not being used to recover credit for a class but rather in lieu of taking the class. Some house principals have students that are only enrolled in credit recovery classes.

Alvarez was hired by New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson in 2015 as a house principal despite being terminated by the New York City School District based on sustained charges of financial fraud following an investigation by the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District (SCI). She was paid a $5,000 stipend to oversee the Apex program; no one before had been paid to oversee the program. 

This reporter discussed our reporting on Apex with two board members on May 8th, both said they had read the Talk of the Sound story, found the allegations disturbing, and would look into the matter. As a result of our reporting, internal Apex records were apparently obtained and distributed among high school employees, copies of which made their way to Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne. Talk of the Sound turned down an offer to receive these records purporting to show irregularities in Apex scoring of student grades for legal and source protection reasons. Those records were sent to the Journal News which ran a story on May 23rd.

In May, the school board approved the unprecedented step of outsourcing the investigation to their law firm, Bond, Schoeneck & King (BSK) which, in turn, supposedly hired T&M. The invoices and contract obtained under FOIL by Talk of the Sound last night, show this not to have been the case. The District has yet to provide a coherent explanation of why BSK was involved at all.

After weeks of stonewalling by senior officials at the New Rochelle Board of Education, Talk of the Sound has obtained copies of a 7-page invoice from T&M Protection Resources (T&M) related to their investigation into credit recovery at New Rochelle High School.

For weeks, the District has claimed they had no invoice or payment records from T&M because the District was not a party to the contract under which T&M was hired, that T&M was hired by their law firm, Bond, Schoeneck & King. School officials subsequently claimed that BSK did not have invoices from T&M either.

The invoice obtained last night by Talk of the Sound through an appeal to the head of agency, Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey, clearly show the District lied about the invoices.

There is a single invoice for the period May 24, 2018 to July 31, 2018. The invoice was billed to Brian Osborne at City Hall in New Rochelle. The invoice date is September 21, 2018.

Contrary to the repeated, knowingly false statements by the District in response to a Freedom of Information Law request, the District had the invoice the entire time. The District was a party to the contract; the invoices were not sent to BSK.

It is worth noting the in addition to the Board Clerk, Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey, Board President Jeffrey Hastie and Board Vice President Amy Moselhi were parties to the FOIL requests, the subsequent email exchange, the FOIL Appeal and, ultimately, the granting of the appeal.

Still not explained is why the T&M contract with BSK and the District was not signed by a representative of the District and whether that contract will be amended to include a signature from a District official. More to the point, why was BSK a party to the contract at all?

The District was charged $75,897.71 for 10 weeks work, according to the T&M invoice.

Details contained in the invoice provide insight into the investigation by T&M. It is apparent from the billing records that T&M investigated at least two matters: (1) allegations of grade-fixing made by teachers in the NRHS Art Department; (2) allegations of grade-fixing involving Apex and, in particular, the role of Shadia Alvarez.

Other details from the invoice show union officials sat with employees during interviews; the hard drive of one employee was seized; T&M reviewed articles published in Talk of the Sound.

Further details and observations follow:

On 5/29 T&M interviewed 6 employees. Also, on 5/29 T&M interviewed art teachers, an English/technology teacher and one other person (redacted). On 5/30 T&M prepared for 6 interviews then conducted some number of interviews on 5/31. This suggests that part of the investigation related to the email published by Talk of the Sound on 5/23.

New Rochelle Teachers Allege Grading Misconduct in High School Art Department

The email was sent by three members of the New Rochelle High School Art Department faculty alleged gross misconduct and unethical practices involving the Guidance Department, the Night School Division and the Chair of the Art Department. The email describes a time line of communications between the three teachers, their Department Chair Marc Schneider, Guidance Counselor Administrator Gregg Sloane, and Night School Administrator Maureen Maire. The complaint alleges that Maria Nuñez, a guidance counselor at New Rochelle High School, stole course materials and instructed a student without a certification to teach art as part of an improper credit recovery scheme.

For the first time, we are disclosing the names of the art teachers who sent the email: Alexi Brock, Moira McCaul and Kerry Sharkey. The only English/Technology teacher at New Rochelle High School is Anthony Stirpe.

Given this information it appears that the initial phase of the T&M investigation focused on the Art Department allegations first published in Talk of the Sound and that at least 11 subjects were interviewed including Alexi Brock, Moira McCaul and Kerry Sharkey, Maria Nuñez, Marc Schneider, Gregg Sloane, Maureen Maire and at least 4 other people.

On 6/1, T&M conducted witness interviews. It is not clear who that might be; possibly students and/or the parents of students who used the Apex system. On 6/4, T&M set up an unspecified number of interviews at New Rochelle High School, then conducted some interviews at the high school and elsewhere in New Rochelle on 6/6 including Mike Tromblee, the District IT Director, at City Hall, all in reference to Apex.

There was a break from interviews for more than two weeks while T&M collected records and evaluated what they had obtained up to that point.

On 6/21, T&M appears to have moved onto the main event; they set up interviews for what it describes as “Apex abuses”. On 6/22, T&M interviewed a guidance counselor on the telephone. On 6/26, T&M interviewed witnesses in New Rochelle and, interestingly, Scarsdale. The expenses portion of the invoice includes an item for travel to Scarsdale on June 26th. On 6/27 T&M interviewed more witnesses at New Rochelle High School and other locations in New Rochelle.

On 7/10 there is a note about an  “attempt” to get records from Apex suggesting Apex was not cooperating with T&M. Talk of the Sound previously learned that the Apex contract expired on 6/30 and was not renewed which might explain any lack of cooperation.

On 7/11, T&M compiled a spreadsheet for “grade changes” for 32 students, then on 7/16 T&M reviewed documents for 31 students with “AC”. It is not clear what “AC” means or who that might be but this line item in the invoice does suggest the scope of the investigation is beyond the 3 cases referenced in the Journal News article on 5/23 and involves dozens of students whose grades were changed or added improperly.

On 7/18 and 7/19, T&M prepared for an interview with "subject” which sounds like "target", as in target of the investigation. On 7/23, T&M prepared for interviews with two people. Their names are redacted. On 7/24, T&M went to City Hall to meet these two people and interview them. The redaction is not complete, there are a few letters not completely obscured. The first name of the first person starts with “B” and the last name ends in “e”. Given the location of the meeting, this would appear to be “Brian Osborne”. The first name of the second person begins with “Sh” which is most likely “Shadia Alvarez”. Given the location and the use of the word “subject” this suggests that Shadia Alvarez is the target of this portion of the investigation which would be entirely consistent with our reporting over the past year.

T&M conducted additional witness interviews on 7/24. On 7/25, T&M reviewed graduation requirements which suggest they were evaluating one of the major questions in this matter: did students graduate without having completed enough credits to earn a diploma. The invoice ends at 7/31.

Talk of the Sound knows that T&M has done additional work on the investigation because we know they have been meeting with the board in executive session and the board has explained the delay in releasing the report on the grounds that what they received on or about 10/20 was a draft of the report and the board is still waiting for the final report. So, there are more invoices to come.

T&M’s investigation of Apex and credit recovery is not on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education so the earliest the report — redacted or not — could be brought forward at a board meeting is in December.

It is difficult to see how this report will be anything other than extremely damaging to the reputation of New Rochelle High School, the City School District of New Rochelle and those in leadership roles at the high school, central office and members of the board of education. It would go a long way towards explaining why the board will not release the T&M report until December when T&M completed most, if not al,l of its research and interviews by the end of July.

There are plenty of people who know more about what has been happening with the investigation including all board members, the unions under Marty Daly (F.U.S.E.) and Joe Starvaggi (A&S), and the various interviews subjects, many of who we have identified above. Other likely interview candidates would include house principals like Camille-Edwards Thomas and Daniel Gonzalez, building leadership like Joe Starvaggi and Reggie Richardson, and clerical staff like the registrar, Barbara Hasset.

Talk of the Sound continues to reach out to those with knowledge of the investigation. 

Robert Cox can be reached confidentially at 914-325-4616. 

RELATED:

Apex Investigation Stonewall: District Claims Investigators Have Never Billed for Services

Prom Killer Who Ripped Off NYC Schools After Hurricane Sandy Now Up for Tenure at New Rochelle High School

New Rochelle Teachers Allege Grading Misconduct in High School Art Department

FED JUDGE: Fraud Charges Sustained Against New Rochelle High School Administrator at Center of Apex Grade-Fixing Scandal

New Rochelle High School grade inflation probe launched for online course program

Few Apex documents produced from New Rochelle schools after public records request

 

RELATED COMMENT:

I replied to Dr. Parvey with several questions:

Having reviewed the records you sent last night I cannot help but note the invoice date is 9/21/18 and that the invoice was billed to Dr. Osborne at City Hall in New Rochelle.

Why was I told that the District did not have any invoices in response to my FOIL on 10/25 when clearly they had them the entire time?

Why was I told BSK had the invoices when the contract states the District is responsible to pay all invoices and the invoice was, in fact, sent to the District and only the District two months ago?

Why was I told that the District was not a party to the T&M contract despite all evidence to the contrary?

T&M is, apparently, continuing to do work for the District yet the T&M contract remains insigned. Are there any plans to rectify that?

Looking through all of this and knowing what I know about these matters (which is quite a bit as I am the one who first broke this story) I still fail to understand both why anyone would believe that the District was not a party to the T&M contract and, conversely, why BSK was and is a party to the T&M contract. The whole thing strikes me as flipped on its head - the District should have hired T&M directly and on its own and BSK could play a role advising the District under the contract between the District and BSK. I see no reason at all for BSK to be mentioned at all in the T&M contract. Can you explain that?

If Dr. Parvey responds this article will be updated.

If you are interested for a glimpse into the absurd nature of how the school district manages responses to my FOIL requests you are welcome to read the following exchange.

As you read it, keep in mind that after about a month the District ultimately admitted I was entitled to all of the records I requested and has now provided a number of them including the T&M invoices which they claimed they did not have and did not have access to because they were not party to the agreement between T&M and BSK (and for this supposed reason did not sign the contract between T&M, BSK and CSDNR. They also claimed BSK had no such records.

From: Robert Cox

Date: Oct 25, 2018, 12:38 PM

To: Liz Saraiva

Subject: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources

Liz

This is a public records request.

I would like to obtain the following records:

Documents pertaining to the agreement under which T&M Protection Resources was hired earlier this year to conduct an investigation related to Apex Credit Recovery Service along with all invoices and all related payments pursuant to that agreement

Robert Cox

Publisher and Managing Editor

Talk of the Sound

 

From: Liz Saraiva

Date: Nov 1, 2018, 3:37 PM -0400

To: Robert Cox

Cc: Meghan LaBella, Amy Moselhi, Jeffrey Hastie, Magda Parvey

Subject: Re: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources

Dear Mr. Cox,

I acknowledge receipt of your Freedom of Information Law request dated 10/25/2018, which was received via e-mail on same date.

The records you are seeking are not in the possession of the City School District of New Rochelle. The private investigative firm was hired by our attorneys, Bond Schoeneck & King, not the School District, to investigate the APEX complaints.

Sincerely,

Lisdalia ("Liz") I. Saraiva

Clerk and Secretary to the Board of Education

 

From: Robert Cox

Date: Nov 1, 2018, 6:10 PM -0400

To: Liz Saraiva

Cc: Meghan LaBella, Amy Moselhi, Jeffrey Hastie, Magda Parvey

Subject: Re: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources

Don’t be ridiculous.

You all know perfectly well if the records are possessed by some other entity you have to go get them.

Do you not recall we went through this baloney regarding financial records possessed by O’Connor Davies.

I want the records immediately and I am not paying for them either.

smh

Bob Cox

 

From: Robert Cox

Date: Nov 1, 2018, 8:45 PM -0400

To: Robert Freeman

Subject: Fwd: Re: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources

Mr. Freeman,

I gather you have been hearing from Denise Ward about the supposed investigation into Apex Credit Recovery In New Rochelle.

I made what I thought was a rather straightforward request: the contract under which the work is done, the invoices and payments.

Here is the District’s response:

“The records you are seeking are not in the possession of the City School District of New Rochelle. The private investigative firm was hired by our attorneys, Bond Schoeneck & King, not the School District, to investigate the APEX complaints.”

I told them this was baloney (they have tried this before and I ultimately got the records).

Robert Cox

Publisher and Managing Editor

Talk of the Sound

 

From: Robert Cox

Date: Nov 6, 2018, 8:46 AM

To: Magda Parvey

Cc: Liz Saraiva, Amy Moselhi, Robert Freeman, Jeffrey Hastie

Subject: Fwd: Re: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources

APPEAL OF DENIAL OF FOIL REQUEST

Dr. Parvey

The district has unsuccessfully adopted this absurd position before (below).

If there are public records in the possession of a third party (previously it was financial records at O’Connor Davies) the District must obtain those records and provide them to me. This is not even a question; the law is quite clear on this point.

In the previous case, the District claimed its cost to obtain the records was $800+. I successfully refuted that absurd claim as well and was ultimately provide the financial records at no cost. So please do not come back and tell me anything about paying for the records.

I want you to instruct BSK to deliver the records to you and for you to deliver them to me. I would like that to happen today.

Under NYS Law you have 10 days to respond to my appeal and must notify NYS COOG.

Robert Cox

Publisher and Managing Editor

Talk of the Sound

 

From: Robert Cox

Date: Nov 6, 2018, 11:20 AM

To: Liz Saraiva

Cc: Magda Parvey, Jeff White, Jeffrey Hastie, Amy Moselhi

Subject: Fwd: Re: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources,

Liz

Let me cover my bases here while awaiting my appeal on this phony denial of my previous FOIL request.

This is a public records request.

I would like to obtain the following records:

For the period May 1 2018 until the present, all invoices from and payments to Bond, Schoeneck & King including all supporting documents such as, but not exclusively, invoices from T&M Protection and payments to T&M Protection, any agreements with T&M Protection, and beyond just T&M, any and all time sheets, records of billable hours, travel & entertainment forms including related invoices and receipts and any other document submitted by BSK for purposes of billing the District during that period.

Robert Cox

Publisher and Managing Editor

Talk of the Sound

 

From: Liz Saraiva

Date: Nov 9, 2018, 4:18 PM

To: Robert Cox

Cc: Jeffrey White, Magda Parvey, Amy Moselhi, Jeffrey Hastie

Subject: Fwd: Re: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources

Dear Mr. Cox,

In reference to your Freedom of Information Law requests dated 10/25/2018 and 11/6/2018, and further to our e-mail exchange, attached please find a copy of the executed agreement between Bond Schoeneck & King, PLLC and T&M Protection Resources, LLC, dated May 23, 2018. There is no signature by representative of our School District because the agreement was between BSK and T&M. There are no invoices from T&M or payments made to them by Bond Schoeneck & King pertaining to this agreement.

Lisdalia ("Liz") I. Saraiva

Clerk and Secretary to the Board of Education

 

From: Robert Cox

Date: Nov 6, 2018, 8:46 AM

To: Magda Parvey

Cc: Liz Saraiva, Amy Moselhi, Robert Freeman, Jeffrey Hastie

Subject: Fwd: Re: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources

Dr. Parvey

The district has unsuccessfully adopted this absurd position before.

If there are public records in the possession of a third party (previously it was financial records at O’Connor Davies) the District must obtain those records and provide them to me. This is not even a question; the law is quite clear on this point.

In the previous case, the District claimed its cost to obtain the records was $800+. I successfully refuted that absurd claim as well and was ultimately provide the financial records at no cost. So please do not come back and tell me anything about paying for the records.

I want you to instruct BSK to deliver the records to you and for you to deliver them to me. I would like that to happen today.

Under NYS Law you have 10 days to respond to my appeal and must notify NYS COOG.

Robert Cox

Publisher and Managing Editor

Talk of the Sound

 

From: Robert Cox

Date: Nov 9, 2018, 4:40 PM -0500

To: Liz Saraiva

Cc: Amy Moselhi, Jeffrey Hastie, Dr Magda Parvey

Subject: Re: Fwd: Re: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources

Liz

This is not a correct response.

My FOIL for T&M records was denied.

I filed an appeal to the head of agency. Once that happens the head of agency must reply and send a copy to the NYS Committee on Open Government.

I also made a separate FOIL request for records from BSK.

You seem to be mashing this all together.

So, first Dr. Parvey needs to respond to my appeal. Second, you have to give me all the BSK records I requested or acknowledge receipt and request more time.

Obviously, the original denial was bogus but that is not my problem.

I expect a formal reply signed by Dr. Parvey where is she free to admit the denial of T&M records was improper.

I will set aside for now that the position of the District that in six months of working on the Apex investigation T&M has not invoiced anyone for anything. I did not realize they were a charity!

Thanks

Robert Cox

Publisher and Managing Editor

Talk of the Sound

 

From: Liz Saraiva

Date: Nov 14, 2018, 4:58 PM -0500

To: Robert Cox

Cc: Jeffrey White, Magda Parvey, Amy Moselhi, Jeffrey Hastie

Subject: Fwd: Re: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources,

Dear Mr. Cox,

I acknowledge receipt of your Freedom of Information Law request dated 11/6/2018, received via e-mail on same date.

Attached is the agreement between T&M Protection Resources, LLC and Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC.

Lisdalia ("Liz") I. Saraiva

Clerk and Secretary to the Board of Education

 

From: Dr. Magda Parvey

Date: Nov 26, 2018, 3:54 PM

To: Robert Cox

Cc: Robert Freeman, Liz Saraiva, Amy Moselhi, Jeffrey Hastie

Subject: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources

Mr. Cox,

I am writing in response to your FOIL appeal of November 6, 2018.  I am granting your appeal.  Attached is the agreement entered into between T&M Investigative Services and our legal counsel, on behalf of the School District to conduct an investigation into the District’s use of the APEX on-line learning system as well as a bill received from T&M which has been redacted to protect personally identifiable information.  Bond Schoeneck and King’s bills contain personally identifiable and otherwise protected information and will need to be reviewed and redacted before they can be released pursuant to your request.  There are approximately 200 pages that will need to reviewed. We anticipate that this process will take a minimum of one month to complete. Once it is complete we will forward you the redacted documents that you have requested.  Should there be any fees associated with this review, we will apprise you immediately.

Thank you,

Dr. Parvey

Magda Parvey, Ed. D.

Interim Superintendent of Schools

City School District of New Rochelle