NEW ROCHELLE, NY — For as long as anyone could remember, the New Rochelle Board of Education had filed for State Aid reimbursement for Transportation expenses that included roughly $900,000 for bus monitors. As 42.5% of eligible transportation expenses are eligible for reimbursement, the District was receiving back about $380,000 a year. Except that bus monitors are not an eligible transportation expense and the filings were fraudulent.
All of that came to a screeching halt when Louis J. Boffardi of Transportation Advisory Services (“TAS”), a consultant, delivered a Student Transportation Efficiency Study in October 2015.
The report noted that the $900,000 figure was not only non-aidable but extraordinarily high.
“It is very unusual to find the number of aides used as extensively as is found in the New Rochelle School District all of the time, and especially, year after year,” TAS found which noted “only two aides are needed for the non-public school transportation service, and these are considered ‘floating’ aides.”
Aides are paid roughly $30,000 a year per FTE so $900,000 a year is about 30 FTEs.
In at least one case, a school security guard who rode a school bus to/from work each day was paid for his time as a security guard while simultaneously being paid for the same time as a bus monitor, all while being provided free transportation to/from his workplace.
The study incorrectly claimed there are no non-aidable transportation students. A review of bus company invoices between 2014 and 2018 by Talk of the Sound found an additional $300,000 a year in non-aidable expenses because the Department of Special Education CSE has been for years illegally designating non-state approved schools in Individualized Education Plans. Transporting students to private special education schools that are not state-approved is prohibited under New York State law.
Between the $900,000 for bus monitors and $300,000 for students, the District fraudulently applied for $1.2 million in ineligible transportation expenses in order to receive State Aid reimbursement to which it was not entitled. While the practice of submitting ineligible monitor expenses for state aid reimbursement ended in 2016, the District continues to provide tax-payer funded transportation to non-state approved schools to this day.
“The School District is claiming as a transportation aidable expenditure the use of monitors on buses/van to supervise student behavior,” the TAS Study explained. “This is a non-transportation aidable expense.”
School business officials set aside funds in anticipation of having to return the money but never notified New York State of the fraudulent filings — and no one from the State has ever asked for the money back.
“The State Education Department’s website has a section entitled Guide to Aidable/non-Aidable Transportation Expenses,” said TAS. “Under “Section I: Transportation Aidable Expense Items (Exceptions Noted)”, there is an alphabetical listing of aidable items. Page 6, under “M”, the next to the last item is Monitor. It says “Aide for pupils w/disabilities only; aide for disciplinary reasons not aidable”. “
“There is another State Education Department website entitled Transportation Disallowed Expenditures. Under Salaries, the third disallowed salary expenditure is “Assistant drivers on buses for regular pupils”.
Non-aidable monitor expenses in 2014-2015 totaled $901,130.00 was distributed as follows:
- George M. Davis, Jr. Elementary School 159,100.00
- Henry Barnard School Early Childhood Center $164,760.00
- Henry Barnard School Early Childhood Center – Mid-Day Routes $50,405.00
- Henry Barnard School Early Childhood Center – Late Routes $2,463.00
- New Rochelle High School – BOCES Occupational Education Route $80,058.00
- New Rochelle High School – BOCES Occupational Education Route $1,302.00
- William B. Ward Elementary School $238,650.00
- William B. Ward Elementary School – Late Routes $21,312.00
- Trinity Elementary School $47,730.00
- Daniel Webster Elementary School $54,920.00
- Albert Leonard Middle School – Late Routes $919.00
- Albert Leonard Middle School – Late Routes $1,859.00
- SAR Academy $19,020
- Solomon Schechter – Lower School $19,020
- Westchester Day School $19,020
Of the roughly 30 bus monitors employed annually by the District over the years, 28 are assigned to buses going to/from public schools.
“Note that only two aides are needed for the non-public school transportation service, and these are considered “floating” aides. That is, the bus to a specific school to which they can be assigned can change, and the bus assignment is subject to the needs of the day. The reason given for substantially fewer aides is that transportation services to most of the schools utilize vans which contain fewer students, and there are less student behavior problems.
The TAS Study explains the difference between “monitors” and “attendants”:
“Another view of the School District’s in-School District home-to-school transportation program shows that all the non special education vehicles have aides (Technically, in New York State they are called monitors. The aides on special education vehicles are called attendants).”
“The reason given by the Transportation Assistant is that the misbehavior of the students is such that a person in addition to the driver is required on the buses/vans for student supervision. The aides also assist the students on/off the bus and ensure safe crossing of a street. It was also stated that the use of aides on the buses/van transporting students to/from school is long standing, is supported by the community, and their use has become institutionalized. While cameras on the buses/vans are required in accordance with the RFP specifications, it appears that they are not a deterrent, some cameras represent old technology, and sometimes the cameras are not working.”
“In all fairness, while cameras (video and sound recording equipment) on buses and vans are now common, all they do is identify and document student misbehavior. They do not prevent the misbehavior or stop it when it is taking place unless the student recognizes that he/she will be identified and punished for the misbehavior through the use of the camera(s). It is for this reason some school districts place aides on some buses for short periods of time to reduce student misbehavior. However, it is very unusual to find the number of aides used as extensively as is found in the New Rochelle School District all of the time, and especially, year after year.”
This article is the second in a series. Future articles will report on RFPs and Contract and Recommend Policy Fixes (none of which were acted upon).
UPDATE: Jennifer Freeman, spokesperson for New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli responded to our inquiry on this story:
“I will reach out to my local audit team and get back to you. Our last audit was released in 2014: www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/schools/2014/newrochelle.htm
As for future audits, we do not have one currently planned but will take this information into consideration.”
FOUR-PART SERIES ON SECRET TRANSPORTATION STUDY + SUMMARY + RELATED ARTICLE