NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The New Rochelle Board of Education failed to obtain state-mandated voter approval for multi-year contracts, authorized illegal payments under no bid contracts for transportation of the high school football team to away games and play-off games, approved RFPs plagiarized from documents from other school districts — and then hired back three of the people involved.
The strongest criticisms contained in a recently exposed Student Transportation Efficiency Study — secretly delivered to the New Rochelle Board of Education in 2015 and hidden from the public for years — center on poorly constructed Requests for Proposals, illegal no-bid contracts, and the awarding of multi-year contracts without obtaining voter approval as required under New York State law.
The picture painted by the report is of an out-of-control business office led by utterly incompetent and unqualified administrators and staff. There is no mention of the role of attorneys Jeff Kehl, Sara Richmond and their law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King (originally as Kehl, Katzive & Simon) who were paid millions of dollars over decades ostensibly to prevent precisely what is described in the report. Bond, Schoeneck & King was recently terminated as outside counsel for the New Rochelle Board of Education after they, and Kehl’s previous firm, Kehl, Katzive & Simon had gouged the District for years with high-priced but incompetent legal advice, according to multiple sources at City Hall. Kehl billed the District for more than 40 years under what the New York State Comptroller previously described as a no-bid contract. The District recently admitted there is no record of any contract despite annual board resolutions “renewing” the non-existent agreement.
The issues with the RFPs and Contracts was addressed further in a follow up report delivered to the District in January 2016 and quitely (very) made public at the March 1, 2016 board meeting when the report was linked to an item buried in the consent agenda:
The New Rochelle Board of Education has never explained why the initial report was not made public prior to the board meeting when it was discussed, why the report was delivered and discussed only in executive session and never in open session or why the follow up report was made public in a manner which appears to have been intended to hide the report from public scrutiny. The secretive control of the initial report by the board appears to involve violations of New York State Open Meeting Law and Freedom of Information Law.
Even now, the District has still not produced the initial October 2015 study under a previously filed Freedom of Information request by Talk of the Sound. We obtained a copy of the Study through an anonymous source and intend to publish it shortly if the District continues to stonewall producing what should always have been a publicly available document readily available for download via the District web site.
The only reason we can see for hiding this document is that it is embarrassing; it details all manner of violations of state law going back to 1998 as well as unprofessional conduct and dereliction of duty by business office staff including the Purchasing Manager, Internal Claims Auditor, Business Manager, Transportation Director, Treasurer and the previous three Assistant Superintendents for Business & Administration. Names known to Talk of the Sound readers include Diana “DWI” Wessel, Ina Saunders, Lynda Greenbaum, Carole “Signed Every Zonzini Bribery Check” Amorello, Tom Ryan, and John “Fake Aramark Contract” Quinn.
Incredibly, despite these and many other failures including a successful Federal corruption prosecution, the Board recently rehired Lynda Greenbaum, Carole Amorello, and Tom Ryan to run the business office despite their clear and long-standing track record of malfeasance and incompetence.
In the January 2016 report, Transportation Advisory Services (TAS), the District’s transportation consultant, explained how the School District was operating under four separate RFP’s for Home-to-School and for Summer School transportation services and a Bid for Field and Sports Trips.
The plan in early 2016 was to issue a new RFP which would combine these five documents in order to put in place a single, legal transportation contract that better protected the students, staff and taxpayers while bringing the District into compliance with New York State law. This effort was ultimately successful and the new contract is now in place.
The October 2015 Study raised concerns about the construction of the RFPs, the failure to obtain voter approval for multi-year contracts, and no-bid contracts.
Poorly Constructed RFPs
“Overall, the RFP/Bid specifications being used by the School District do not reflect the industry standards/practices at the time they were published. Portions are plagiarized from documents developed for other school districts at the time the School District’s RFP/Bid documents were initially published and renewed.”
“What the School District produced on its own is poorly written in part, and sections are not organized in a logical format; contain many requirements that are simply a repeat of the regulatory mandates of the time period; omit other requirements that should exist to ensure operational efficiency (e.g., vehicle age and/or mileage requirements), and do not contain a sufficiency of means to hold the Contractors accountable for a high level of performance (e.g., liquidated/non performance damages).”
“Also, while Bid/RFP documents have changed over time due to different experiences; changes in industry equipment, practices, and regulations; and increased knowledge, the School District’s current RFPs and Bid reflect a prior time period that no longer exists and a transportation program that is not currently operating.”
Failure to Obtain Voter Approval for Multi-Year Contracts
In New York State, multi-year contracts require prior voter approval:
“Where the contract covers a multi-year period (2-5 years) the voters must approve a separate proposition or a specific line item in the school budget. The budget must also include a footnote to the line item which indicates the total number of years and cost of the multi-year contract. The full term of a multi-year contract must be included in a single contract form. For example, where a contract covers a 5-year term, the ending date will be June 30 of the fifth school year. (See Chart for summer & school year dates)”
“The School District is a member of a transportation cooperative with six other school districts – Bronxville, Eastchester, Mamaroneck, Pelham, Rye Neck, and Tuckahoe. The cooperative is more commonly referred as BEPT (Bronxville, Eastchester, Pelham, and Tuckahoe) since these were the four school districts that initially created a variety of cooperative arrangements that included transportation…”
The BEPT is run by Southern Westchester BOCES and the bus service at the time was provided by Montauk Student Transport.
“The initial multi-year contract does not state the requirement for voter approval. Records show that the Bid was approved by the School District on June 19, 2012, but the recommendation for School Board approval does not show prior authorization/approval by the voters at the May 2012 budget vote.
“The recommendation from Southern Westchester BOCES for approval of Montauk Student Transport’s three-year Bid submission is dated May 23, 2012. This is after the opportunity to secure voter approval of the multi-year contract.”
“Because the Bid specifications were for a three-year contract, it is possible that the school districts may not be empowered to enter into a five-year contract since that was not part of the original set of specifications.”
“The possible problem of a five year extension may be moot since the initial contract for three years is problematic due to a lack of voter approval.”
Royal Coach Lines Contract
“There is no written record of any extension of the Summer School transportation contract with Royal Coach Lines in the School District files. However, cooperative transportation services were utilized in the summer of 2015.”
“…since fuel was not provided in the initial three-year contract, a contract extension that provides fuel and a CPI percentage increase is actually paying more than what is capped by just the CPI. While the provision to provide fuel was in the original Bid specifications, the decision was made not to provide fuel. Because fuel was not provided initially, you can’t provide it on contract renewals.”
No-Bid Contract for Athletic Department
“…all contracts for public work involving an expenditure of more than thirty-five thousand dollars and all purchase contracts involving an expenditure of more than twenty thousand dollars, shall be awarded…to the lowest responsible bidder furnishing the required security after advertisement for sealed bids in the manner provided by this section…”
“The School District is in non-compliance with the Bidding requirement of the General Municipal Law. J&R Tours ($29,945) no-bid contract…the service should have been Bid since coach bus services, like “yellow bus” services that exceeded $20,000 is subject to Bid requirements…”
“The Athletic Department’s need/purpose for the use of coach buses should also be reviewed.”
“What is of concern is that for the 2014-2015 school year the School District’s Athletic Department spent $29,945 in coach bus service and the Music Department spent $8,970 in coach bus service. Athletic department and music department prices for transportation services are different for identical and similar services from the same Contractor.”
This article is the fourth in a series. We will publish a final summary article which will link copies of the two transportation reports including the illegally secret October 2015 Study.
FOUR-PART SERIES ON SECRET TRANSPORTATION STUDY + SUMMARY + RELATED ARTICLE