F.U.S.E. News & Updates May 4, 2014
May 10 has a lot going on!
• The Third Annual Food Drive is scheduled for May 10. VP Billy Coleman is again organizing the event which provides food and other household necessities to New Rochelle food pantries.
• The second annual “Race for Solidarity” is also scheduled for May 10. Last year over 28 FUSE members participated in the 5K race with over 350 other runners from NYSUT locals in the Westchester/Rockland region. Several FUSE members won medals, including Tim Kuklis from NRHS who won the First Place medal for fastest time. Members interested in running the race this year should contact me at the FUSE office by Wednesday!
It’s only two weeks away! The annual Fuse Party is on May 15 at Beckwith Pointe. All FUSE members are welcome to this annual opportunity to relax with friends and see colleagues from around the district. The event – which includes music, food and drink — begins at 4:00. See you there!
The election for the Vice-President/School Related Professionals will be held on Thursday, May 22. SRP members only will vote by secret ballot in their buildings/worksites.
The two candidates are incumbent Vice President Billy Coleman from IEYMS and Mike Tozzo from Barnard School. The successful candidate will serve a three year term beginning June 1, 2014 and ending on May 31, 2017.
In order for SRP members to hear directly from both candidates for the Vice-President’s position, a Candidates’ Forum is being planned for Wednesday, May 14. Details about time and location will be forthcoming later this week.
All of the other officers of the FUSE were “re-elected” since their positions were uncontested. FUSE President Martin Daly, Executive Vice-President Sandy Annunziata, Vice-President/Pedagogic Staff Aisha Cook, Secretary Matthew Reid and Treasurer Ann Marie Manganiello will all continue serving the union in a new three year term of office beginning June 1, 2014.
Contract talks have been “on hold” since we returned from the Spring Break. The district’s negotiations team asked to postpone a scheduled meeting until after they had an opportunity to meet with the Board of Education. That meeting between the Board and the district’s counsel took place on Monday, April 28, so we are confident that there will be a negotiations meeting and a chance for both sides to continue working on a successor agreement within the next week.
School Board News
The Board of Education met Tuesday, April 29 at Trinity School.
The evening began, as it usually does when it meets in the schools, with inspiring performances from the students and informative presentations from staff members and administrators.
Following that, the Board began to address allegations of financial impropriety against Board President David Lacher featured in the Talk of the Sound blog. At that point, all I could think of was the memorable line from All About Eve when Bette Davis said “fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
First, some background –
The crux of the accusations against Mr. Lacher are that he failed to make timely payments to the school district for his health insurance premiums, and in fact was several months behind paying his premiums. The district continued to pay those premiums despite Mr. Lacher’s non-payment.
Mr. Lacher opted a few years ago to purchase the health insurance plan offered by the district to school employees – this is perfectly legal and any Board member is eligible for this benefit. However, unlike school employees who pay only a percentage of the premium (as negotiated in our contract), a Board member purchasing this coverage must pay the entire premium – approximately $1,700 a month. At one point, Mr. Lacher was up to eight month in arrears of his payments to the district.
Mr. Lacher, in a statement to the Board and community, apologized for the lack of timely payments. He added that “I, like millions of Americans have suffered significant personal financial distress through the recent recession,” and as a result “I fell increasingly behind in my health insurance premium obligations to the school district.” He added that “once financial resources became available, he fully paid off the balance in arrears.”
In addition, in his statement Mr. Lacher apologized “to the staff of the school district and to the community whom I have served faithfully on this board for nearly 23 years” for the “appearance of impropriety” that his failure to make payments on time has caused.
However, the Talk of the Sound characterizes the situation as “an unauthorized, interest-free revolving line of credit with the time value of the money subsidized by taxpayers.” It asserts that “the District paid Lacher’s premiums for him, using taxpayer dollars, and then sought reimbursement” from the Board president. The issue, as the blog sees it, is “not personal finances — Lacher’s car payments or mortgage payments — but about thousands and thousands of dollars in debt accumulated secretly on the taxpayer dime.” Moreover, the blog asserts that the situation say “raises serious questions about the board’s ability to function in an oversight capacity with Lacher dependent on [Assistant Superintendent for Business] Quinn to repeatedly pay Lacher’s insurance bills using District funds, extending Lacher credit and retaining the ability to retroactively terminate Lacher’s insurance at a moment’s notice. . . and make Lacher liable for all costs paid for under the insurance.”
It is worth noting that there was no evidence that the Board ever planned to “write off” the balance of the accrued money owed by Mr. Lacher and that balance owed was brought forward every month on statements received by Mr. Lacher.
Back to the Board Meeting –
Mr. Lacher, along with Board members Valerie Orellana and Rachel Relkin were not at the meeting due to previous commitments.
After Board member Naomi Brickel made a statement harshly critical of the Board President calling the situation regarding his lack of payment for health insurance an “abuse of power,” Board member Jeffrey Hastie introduced a motion calling for Lacher to step down as Board president or resign from the Board while the Board requests that the state Education Department initiate an investigation to determine if his non-payment of premiums violated any laws or regulation of the Commissioner. The motion failed to get the required second, however Mrs. Brickel offered a “counter resolution” to table any discussion until the whole Board is present. That “counter-motion” was seconded and approved by the Board members present. Interim Superintendent Jeff Korostoff said he would make sure it appears on the agenda for an upcoming meeting.
While it certainly is the case that there is the “appearance of impropriety,” in this situation, it doesn’t appear as though there is any significant wrong doing here. The issue can and should be investigated and clear procedures put in place to prevent this from happening again. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the situation is just It is what it looks to be — an embarrassing situation where financial hardships caused Mr. Lacher to fall behind on his insurance payments. If nothing else, I think the Board President’s body of work on behalf of our school district, his years of service, his integrity and his commitment to the community of New Rochelle has earned him the benefit of the doubt, and allows for us to err on the side of compassion rather than harsh judgment.
Public Comment Section of the Meeting
There were ten other speakers during the “public comment” portion of the meeting. In an effort to make this lengthy wrap-up somewhat shorter, I’ll highlight only a few of them.
Vincent Malfetano spoke and again accused me of violating the District’s “Acceptable Use Policy”, (AUP), for internet use when I referred to the comments he has repeatedly made regarding the bussing of students as “thinly veiled anti-semantic rants.” He believes my characterization of his comments violated the AUP’s prohibitions against “intolerant, defamatory language or personal attacks.” He has urged the Board to contact the State Education Department to initiate a “Part 83 Hearing” against me saying that my comments demonstrate that I lack the “requisite moral character” to hold a teaching certificate in New York State.
For the record, I never called Mr. Malfetano an anti-Semite. I did say that his frequently voiced comments objecting to the school district providing bussing for out-of-district students appeared to me to be “thinly veiled anti-Semitic rants.” My opinion of his screeds were shaped by a review of his comments referring to “wealthy north-end residents” who “hold a lot of influence” on this Board, particularly “friends of yours, David (Lacher)” combined with the fact that that the majority of citizens who showed up at Board meetings a few years ago when bussing to private schools was being discussed were Jewish parents who enrolled their children in private faith-based schools. It was those facts, and not any personal animus, that raised in my mind the ugly specter of anti-Semitism.
I cannot help but note the irony that Mr. Malfetano, who exercises his First Amendment rights as he yells over Board members as they try to speak, who calls Board members names and questions their integrity, and who more often than not addresses the Board and the public in Board in belligerent tones with angry words — has such a thin skin that my tempered observations questioning his motives has sent him into such a tizzy that he demands legal action, Part 83 Hearings and my termination for exercising my rights as a citizen and as local union leader. Happily, I have been assured by NYSUT counsel that there is little to no way that any legal or contractual challenges to my job, my union position or this newsletter would be sustained in any administrative hearing or court of law.
Billy Coleman, FUSE Vice President for School Related Professionals spoke in response to comments made by Anna Giordano who question the “excessive amount of overtime paid to members during the month of January when there were only 14 school days.” Billy forcefully reminded the Board and the community of a number of important factors that impact overtime of which Mrs. Giordano might not have been aware – namely the unusually heavy accumulation of snow this winter; the effect of layoffs, particularly the abolition of several assistant custodian positions at the elementary schools; and the fact that whether there is school or not, the district still bears the responsibility for clearing snow from school driveways and sidewalks on its properties. Billy’s comments made a definite impression on the Board and others in attendance. They all have a better understanding of the many considerations that must be taken into account when talking about overtime for our members.
Finally, Dr. Sal Fernandes, a parent at the Ward School as well as an educator and principal in New York City, and Rick Monzon, an active member of the Trinity PTA, New Rochelle SEPTA and president of the Miracle League of Westchester (a baseball league for special needs children) announced that they will also be running for a position on the School Board.
This brings the total number of candidates to three, as incumbent Jeffrey Hastie announced last month that he will be seeking re-election to a second five-year term.
New Rochelle voters will elect two candidates to the Board on May 20, the same day of the school district budget vote.
News From NYSUT:
Stand With Spencerport – Sign the Petition
More than 60 teachers at Spencerport’s Cosgrove Middle School have signed a petition calling for action by the NYS Commissioner of Education John King, Chancellor Meryl Tisch, and Governor Andrew Cuomo. The petition takes issue specifically with this year’s ELA and Math tests for grades 3-8 characterizing the tests as “poorly written, developmentally inappropriate, deliberately confusing, and ambiguous.” Additionally, the tests require students to complete tasks with insufficient time.
Commissioner King fired back at the Spencerport teachers with a letter and press release calling the tests “the best way to determine how all of our students are performing, as compared with other students in their school, their district and across the state.” New York’s parents, teachers, and principals know the truth about these flawed tests. We stand with Spencerport and applaud their courage to tell the truth about testing in New York.
Please sign the petition below to support the Spencerport teachers’ letter to NYSED, Commissioner King, Chancellor Tisch, and Governor Cuomo. Signatories will have their name, school, and county published in future postings on the “Stand With Spencerport” website. Emails will be kept confidential and are collected for verification purposes only. Sign the petition and support our colleagues today!
NYSUT’s “Picket in the Pines”
Parents and educators organized by New York State United Teachers staged informational picketing Sunday in Lake Placid, protesting at Camp Philos, a $1,000-a-person education conference sponsored by hedge fund managers and billionaires who have used their enormous campaign donations to impose their so-called “reforms” on public education.
You can follow the event – even if you can’t be there – on Twitter, #picketinthepines .
Picket lines were up at the exclusive Whiteface Lodge about 4 p.m. Sunday. Parents and educators are calling attention to efforts by hedge fund managers and Wall Street tycoons to privatize public education; expand standardized testing and the Common Core; collect and manage private student data; push test-based teacher evaluation systems; and remove teachers – and their unions – from important decisions about the future of public education.
Camp Philos – billed as “a philosopher’s camp for education reformers” – is organized by Education Reform Now and its deep-pocketed political action committee, Democrats for Education Reform. Two of its leaders – John Petry, founder of Sessa Capital, and Joel Greenblatt, founder of Gotham Capital – have alone contributed more than $600,000 to political campaigns since 2010. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the honorary chairman of the three-day event.
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said the pickets symbolize growing anger among educators and parents over state education policies. “The only thing missing from this education conference is actual educators. Camp Philos doesn’t want to hear from them,” Magee said. “New Yorkers should be alarmed that billionaire campaign donors and their supporters are trying to drive the education policy debate at the expense of what students and parents want for their public schools.”
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said he is deeply concerned about the impact a handful of very wealthy, self-described “reformers” who make big campaign donations are having on education policy in Albany. The recent state budget, he noted, included giveaways to privately operated charter schools, which siphon money from school districts in an undemocratic fashion. Local taxpayers are required to fund charters, but do not have a voice or a vote in how they are run.
“The state’s priority should be the 97 percent of students who attend regular district schools – schools which have been harmed by deep program cuts and an undemocratic tax cap,” Pallotta said. “Instead of catering to the whims of very rich education philosophers who know nothing about what happens in classrooms across the state, we need leaders in Albany who are going to fight for what students, parents and educators want for their public schools.”