WHAT NEXT?: Richardson Resignation, Rescinded Job Offer Leave Doubt and Confusion in New Rochelle

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — It has been another wild and wooly week at the New Rochelle Board of Education.

On Friday, many in the community breathed a collective sigh of relief when it was annouced that the “Reggie issue” had been resolved. New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson had resigned to take a job in New York City.  Within 24 hours, that relief turned to confusion and consternation with the news that the NYC Department of Education had rescinded its offer.

Richardson sent a “resignation letter” dated Thursday July 19th to Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne. The following day, on Friday July 20th, the City School District of New Rochelle sent copies of open letters to the New Rochelle High School community from Osborne and Richardson concerning Richardson’s departure. On Saturday July 21st, Richardson was notified by the New York City Department of Education that their offer to him had been rescinded. On Monday July 23rd, the Officer of the Clerk of the Board of Education formally received and time-stamped Richardson’s “resignation letter”.

According to well-placed sources at City Hall, Richardson has been quietly looking for a new job for over a year. He was in the running for an Assistant Superintendent position in New Rochelle. That all fell apart with the death of Valaree Schwab, further student-on-student violence and a wave of negative publicity for the high school. By February, Richardson was told to start looking for a new job despite the fact that he is tenured and removing him would be extremely difficult. He came close to landing a new job a few times, interviewing for cabinet-level and principal level positions.

Further incidents involving students followed. In March, several Long Island high schools refused to attend an academic-oriented event called Model Congress. In May, Talk of the Sound raised questions about Richardson hiring Shadia Alvarez who was hired after she was run out of New York City following an investigation by the DOE’s Office of Special Investigations. Alvarez, hired in 2015, was up for tenure in August 2018.

Charges that she took money for time she did not work — including in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when schools were closed — were sustained. She found herself no longer a Principal and by the time she was interviewing in New Rochelle out of a job. Richardson hired her anyway, put her in charge of the Apex online learning program and paid her an unprecented $5,000 stipend (the prior Apex administration did it for no extra pay).

Talk of the Sound had been investigating the Apex program for over a year. A Freedom of Information Request in 2017 was stonewalled. In our May 6th article on Alvarez we made the first public mention of the Apex grade-fixing scandal, launching an immediate internal investigation. Three board members were made aware of the Apex scandal. Two weeks later, a school district employee offered Talk of the Sound confidential and Federally-protected Apex records. We declined to accept them. Instead the records were sent to the Journal News which ran a story on the Apex records. An outside firm was hired to investigate the Apex program and Alvarez’ tenure promotion was put on hold.

At the school board level, in the wake of the Valaree Schwab murder, board Vice President Maddali Attalah resigned and the board operated with 8 members instead of its usual 9 until an election in May. Jeffrey Hastie was elected by the board to fill the remainder of Attalah’s term as Vice President. Board Member Lianne Merchant, who has a long history of animosity towards Hastie, voted “no”.

During that May election, a coatlition of three board members formed to oppose Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne who went on to suffer the worse election defeat of any kind for the district when voters overwhelming rejected the 2018-19 budget. A 9th board member was added to fill Attalah’s vacated position, bring to four the number of board members who opposed extending Osborne’s contract which was set to expire in June 2019.

At a super executive session (with no one but board members present), a straw poll was taken. The expectation going in was that Osborne would be retained by a vote of 5-4. In an unexpected outcome, Lianne Merchant joined forces with Jeffrey Hastie, Amy Moselhi, Sal Fernandez and Chris Daniello to deny Osborne a new contract. This was later spun in a press statement claiming that Osborne had decided not to renew his contact. Of course, school board’s renew Superintendent’s contracts not the other way around. In July, the oppositon coalition on the board elected Jeffrey Hastie as BOE President and Amy Moselhi BOE Vice President despite having support from only four board members. The implications of Hastie and Moselhi running the school board with only 4 of 9 votes remain to be seen.

As for Richardson, what happens now is anyone’s guess.

In his “resignation letter”, Richardson says “I am writing to inform you that I have accepted a position as Director of School Quality for the New York City Department of Education. As a result, I will be resigning as Principal of New Rochelle High School. My last day as Principal will be August 20th, 2018.”

The first question is whether the administration or the school board wish to retain Richardson now that his job with the NYC DOE has fallen through.  The second question is how that would work depending on whether he is considered to have resigned his position or not.

On the one hand, Richardson sent a “resignation letter” on July 19th and it was officially marked received on July 23rd. On other other hand, Richardson’s July 19th letter stated a future intention, namely that “he will be resigning” and ”his last day as Principal will be August 20th, 2018”. Either way, Richardson was to remain in office and on the payroll for another month. Now that he has no job to go to, will the administration or school board allow Richardson to remain past August 20th?

If the resignation letter is deemed “accepted” as of July 19th or July 23rd then only the board could, in effect, rehire Richardson. If not, Osborne could simply tear up the resignation letter.

After a canvass of key players over the weekend, Talk of the Sound believes that Osborne, a lame-duck Superintendent, is willing to retain Richardson; most of the board member also appear willing to retain him. There has always been a fear that pushing Richardson out would set off a firestorm; Richardson has pockets of very strong support in New Rochelle including among progressive groups, students and the black community.

Larger questions loom as the school year approaches, most notably, will the District proceed with a search for a replacement as Osborne indicated on Friday?

There is further confusion on what exactly took place at the New York City Department of Education. Talk of the Sound reached out to Deputy Communication Director Doug Cohen for answers.

“Mr. Richardson received a part-time, conditional offer as a consultant with the title Director of School Quality,” said Cohen. He would have been paid $71.65 per hour.

“There are currently 21 Directors of School Quality; they conduct Quality Reviews and provide training to school leaders about information captured in the Quality Review,” said Cohen.

This sounds quite different that what Richardson described in his open letter to the New Rochelle High School community.

Cohen said “the offer was rescinded after we became aware of additional information.” 

Talk of the Sound also reached out to New York Post reporter Susan Edelman who is largely responsible for Richardson losing the New York City job.

Edelman began asking questions of the DOE on Friday afternoon, soon after the news or Richardson’s resignation was made public. Those questions were based, in large part, on reporting by Talk of the Sound. It was her questions that prompted a DOE review of news accounts of problems with Richardson and, ultimately, a phone call to Richardson Saturday evening informing him the offer had been rescinded.

UPDATE: The City School District of New Rochelle issued a statement later in the day on July 23 which reads: “The City School District of New Rochelle is continuing to search for a new Principal for New Rochelle High School, as announced on Friday.” This would appear to suggest that the District is not considering allowing Richardson to take back his resignation.