NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The New Rochelle Board of Education and senior school officials ignored warnings as far back as 2015 that Director of Special Education Yvette Goorevitch had diverted tens of thousands of dollars a month in transportation funds to provide taxpayer-funded bus service to ineligible private school students. Goorevitch designated special education students to attend schools not approved by New York State to create the appearance of legal justification for authorizing payments to cover transportation expenses for ineligible students.
The warning came in the form of a report by a transportation consulting firm hired by then Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration Jeff White. A detailed report was presented to the board in executive session in the Fall of 2015 by a consultant for Transportation Advisory Services — and then quietly buried. After the board was informed of these and other significant financial irregularities and safety violations in the Transportation Department, the board directed the administration to take no action, sources say.
A review of transportation invoices from 2014 to 2018, obtained by Talk of the Sound under a Freedom of Information request, show that during one five-year period the District spent between $1.2 million and $1.5 million to provide transportation to two schools in New York City and three schools in New Jersey in what sources tell Talk of the Sound was part of a broader effort to placate New Rochelle’s Orthodox Jewish community in the wake of controversy that erupted in 2011. At the time, members of Young Israel New Rochelle and Young Israel Scarsdale became politically active on school issues when then-Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak sought to eliminate out-of-District busing to private and parochial schools.
Members of the Orthodox Jewish community typically do not send their children to the public schools and view “free busing” as an entitlement since they pay school taxes but tend not to send their children to the public schools.
Talk of the Sound began looking into the matter after questions were raised about students not classified by the CSE who were alleged to have been receiving district-provided transportation each day to and from a parochial school for special needs children in New York City. A Freedom of Information request was filed for the last 5 years of transportation invoices to/from that school. In reviewing monthly transportation invoices for the one school a total of five schools — three in New Jersey and two in Manhattan – were identified where students from New Rochelle are currently being given unauthorized district-provided transportation.
In the course of reporting out this story, Talk of the Sound learned that school administrators and board members have been well aware for years that school funds were being misappropriated to pay transportation expenses for ineligible students.
Under Section 3635 of the New York State Education Law, City school districts like New Rochelle are not required to provide transportation at all, except for suitable transportation for special needs children. A City school district can, however, by a majority vote of the board of education, opt to provide transportation. If transportation is provided, it must be provided equally to all pupils in like circumstances, those attending both public or non-public schools.
Regular education students residing in New Rochelle are eligible for district-provided transportation if they attend a private or parochial school that is no more than 10 miles from their home; special education students residing in New Rochelle are eligible for district-provided transportation up to 50 miles from their home with the provision that the school is a state-approved special needs school.
Under Chapter 853 of the Laws of 1976, a “Committee on Special Education may recommend a placement of a student with a disability in the approved private school when it determines that the student cannot be appropriately educated in the home school district, a neighboring district or in the programs of a board of cooperative educational services program.”
NYSED maintains a list of state-approved “853 schools” and a handful of “Approved Out-of-State Schools”. According to NYSED, “out-of-state placements may be considered only after determining in-State options will not provide an appropriate educational program.”
In 1988, the New Rochelle Board of Education adopted Resolution 3610 on Transportation.
“Free transportation is provided for public and non‑public school students in kindergarten through grade five who reside within the boundaries of the School District and more than one and one-half miles but not more than ten miles from the school they attend.”
“Public and non‑public school students in grades six through twelve who reside within the boundaries of the School District and more than one and a half miles from the school they attend are provided with fare subsidization for the public transit within the boundaries of New Rochelle.”
The way distance is measured is set out in Board Policy 3615 Mileage Measurement which was adopted in 1988 and last revised in 2012:
“Measurements for determining eligibility for transportation must be made of the nearest available (shortest) route between home and school. Measurements may be made over private roads and over publicly maintained pathways.”
“Mileage is measured by a computerized Transportation System.”
“District officials may measure from any point on school property as long as they do so fairly and consistently. The point of measurement shall be taken from the front door of the residence (curbside) to the front entrance of the school (curbside).
Transportation eligibility for students in a public or non‑public school is determined in accordance with the New York State Education Department and Commissioner of Education. The Commissioner of Education has held that a Board of Education lacks the authority to transport students who are not otherwise eligible for transportation.
“Students classified by the District Committee on Special Education are transported to the school or program to which they are assigned by the Committee. Door-to-door transportation is provided to/from schools located within or outside of the New Rochelle City School District located no further than fifty miles from their home. Distances greater than fifty miles must be approved by the State Education Department.”
None of the five schools are on the NYSED list of 853 schools. All of the schools are far in excess of 10 miles from the closest point in New Rochelle. One school, the Community School n Teaneck, NJ is an approved Out-of-State School.
The Shefa School is located at 40 E 29th Street in Manhattan. It is not an 853 school and is about 17 miles from New Rochelle. The average monthly invoice for transportation expenses to/from the school is about $5,600 and has been paid by the District going back to September 2016.
“The Shefa School is a Jewish community day school in Manhattan serving students in grades 1-8 who benefit from a specialized educational environment in order to develop their strengths while addressing their learning challenges. We specifically serve students with language-based learning disabilities who have not yet reached their potential levels of success in traditional classroom settings. Shefa is a pluralistic community school serving families across the range of Jewish involvement and observance.”
Manhattan Day School is located at 310 W. 75th Street in Manhattan. It is not an 853 school and is about 15 miles from New Rochelle. The average monthly invoice for transportation expenses to/from the school is about $6,300 and has been paid by the District going back to at least September 2014 and likely long before that.
“Manhattan Day School, often referred to as MDS, is a co-educational Modern Orthodox Jewish yeshiva elementary school located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was founded in 1943 as Yeshivat Ohr Torah Community School and recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary.”
The Sinai Karasick Shalem High School at Torah Academy of Bergen County is located in Teaneck, NY. It is not an 853 school and is about 21 miles from New Rochelle. The average monthly invoice for transportation expenses to/from the school is about $3,500 and has been paid by the District going back to at least November 2015.
“SINAI’s Rabbi Mark and Linda Karasick Shalem High School at Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) is located in Teaneck, NJ. Serving boys ages 14-21, we offer a functional academic high school program designed to prepare students with developmental disabilities for rich and productive adult lives. Our hands-on, pragmatic curriculum stretches and challenges students while providing them with the critical skills they will need most as adults. We prepare our students to serve as contributing members of the Jewish community through a variety of hands-on programs including Work Study, World Awareness, and Life Skills.”
The Frisch School (Yeshivat Frisch) is located in Paramus, NY. It is not an 853 school and is about 26 miles from New Rochelle. The average monthly invoice for transportation expenses to/from the school is about $7,500 and has been paid by the District going back to at least November 2015.
“The Frisch School, commonly known as Yeshivat Frisch, is a coeducational yeshiva high school located in Paramus, New Jersey, United States. Founded in 1972 by Rabbi Menachem Meier and Alfred Frisch, it adheres to the tenets and practices of Modern Orthodox Judaism.”
The Community School is located in Teaneck, NJ. The school is on the NYSED list of out-of-state approved schools. It is questionable that the school met the criteria to be assigned by the CSE. The average monthly invoice for transportation expenses to/from the school is about $6,900 and has been paid by the District going back to at least October 2014.
“The Community (Lower) School and Community High School in Teaneck, New Jersey provide structured, small-group/one-to-one, multisensory, individually-tailored education to bright children with learning differences and attention deficits. Through small group instruction and innovative teaching, the schools expose students to a wide range of information and activities available in the educational mainstream and ensure that all students excel and reach their individual potential.”
Several other non-853 schools were on invoices in the past but are no longer active.
The average monthly invoice for transportation expenses to/from these five schools is about $30,000 a month; it appears that this $30,000 was misappropriated as transportation costs for ineligible students — roughly $300,000 a year or $1.2 mm to $1.5 over the past 5 years.
There are other issues currently under review by Talk of the Sound including unauthorized transportation from schools to after-school religious instruction and filing for state aid reimbursement for unauthorized expenses such as bus monitors which coupled with payments for ineligible students indicated fraudulent reimbursement claims to New York State in excess of a million dollars a year (the state reimburses school districts 42.5% of eligible transportation expenses).
RELATED DOCUMENTS AND LINKS (WORKSHEET, FOIL, NYSED, BOE)
FOUR-PART SERIES ON SECRET TRANSPORTATION STUDY + SUMMARY + RELATED ARTICLE