NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Talk of the Sound has learned that Shadia Alvarez, the House IV Principal at New Rochelle High School, and currently a primary target of a New Rochelle School District investigation into grade-fixing involving Apex Credit Recovery, was effectively barred for life from working in the New York City Public School System following a sustained investigation by The Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District (SCI) into allegations of financial fraud and mismanagement involving unpaid invoices in excess of $100,000. The investigation launched in 2014, the year before Alvarez was hired in the summer of 2015 by then-New Rochelle High School Principal Reggie Richardson. The investigation was concluded in 2016, two years after she was demoted from a probationary appointment as Principal of the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science in the Bronx and subsequently fired following a prior financial fraud investigation where allegations were sustained by SCI that Alvarez falsified time sheets to generate payments totaling thousands of dollars for time she did not work including her claims she worked when schools were closed due to Hurricane Sandy.
Alvarez was up for tenure this past summer. She was not granted tenure but has inexplicably remained employee by the District as an administrator at the high school where she is paid a base salary of $154,720 plus any stipends or overtime, based on 2018 data from seethroughny.net.
As part of their investigation, SCI investigators questioned Zulma Melendez, a woman Alvarez hired as a “Parent Coordinator” at Collegiate. Alvarez claimed Melendez had school budget experience and designated her as the unofficial “business manager” of the school which had not previously had a business manager. SCI learned that Melendez was working out of job title.
Melendez invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refused to cooperate with SCI investigators. SCI recommended to the New York City Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor that Melendez be terminated and made ineligible for future work in the DOE.
SCI investigators obtained a subpoena to gather school bank statements with Alvarez’ name on them from Citibank. SCI investigators learned Alvarez had used a Citibank DOE Purchasing Card or “P-Card” to make thousands of dollars in purchases from retailers including Best Buy, Rite Aid and BJ’s Wholesale.
SCI also reviewed the results a random audit of Collegiate by Ernst & Young (EY). The EY audit report found 31 questionable P Card expenditures totaling more more than $10,000 including expenses not allowed under DOE policy, lack of supporting documentation, no evidence of goods or services received, no documentation concerning required bids and a failure to maintain or reconcile a log of P-Card usage. The 31 transactions totaled $10,449.21. Alvarez did not refute the audit findings, according to SCI.
A “P-Card” or “purchasing card” is a form of a charge card that allows goods and services to be procured without using a traditional purchasing process. The DOE P-Card is pre-funded with transfers from a school’s General School Fund account. Purchases made with a DOE P-Card are capped at $2,500 and exempt from sales and use tax.
Purchasing a $1,000 television at Best Buy using a DOE P-Card would eliminate the New York City Sales and Use Tax of 8.875% resulting in a savings of $88.75.
The SCI Investigation determined that Shadia Alvarez failed to supervise and monitor her school’s finances, resulting in more than $100,000 in unpaid invoices in a single school year, and numerous undocumented expenses.
Talk of the Sound obtained a copy of SCI Case #2014-4956 under a Freedom of Information request. Portions of the report were redacted.
The SCI investigation of Alvarez, the second in two years in New York City, both sustained, began in September 2014. SCI received an email from an unnamed administrator in DOE District 11 who alleged that Alvarez and Melendez stuck Collegiate with $114,000 in unpaid invoices.
The SCI initially referred the matter to the New York City Police Department School Safety Division and monitored the police investigation. The NYPD later referred the matter back to SCI which then launched it own investigation which ended in July 2016.
Three interviews scheduled for Alvarez over the course of three months were postponed at her request by her attorney. Alvarez was deposed twice under oath.
Alvarez told investigators she opened a bank account at TD Bank and obtained a TD Bank debit card but claimed she never used the debit card leaving all financial matters to Melendez. Alvarez admitted she routinely co-signed checks with Melendez who submitted checks to Alvarez for signature without any supporting documentation. Alvarez admitted she failed to review all TD bank statements.
Investigators raised questions about restaurant receipts filed by Melendez with no documented explanations for the expenses such as “staff meetings” or “parent conferences”. More questions were raised about cash transactions where Melendez collected money from students for senior dues, purchase of “hoodies and t-shirts”, senior prom, graduation, yearbook, and school trips. There were other questions about VISA debit gift cards.
SCI investigators looked at a $1,155.00 invoice from Barino’s Market which was reportedly paid in cash with $600 cash coming from the General School Fund and $600 cash coming from the College Bound Initiative organization.
There were additional purchases and unpaid invoices from Barnes & Noble, Office Depot and Music Delight.
The total amount of unpaid invoices during Alvarez final year at Collegiate, 2013-14, was $114,393.29.
At the conclusion of the investigation, SCI Deputy Commissioner Gerald P. Conroy recommended to the Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools that Alvarez be made ineligible for future work, and the sustained charges against her be considered should she apply for any type of position with the New York City Department of Education. The matter was was referred to the DOE’s Office of Legal Services and the New York State Education Department.