NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Like the 1962 Mets, as described in Jimmy Breslin’s book, the New Rochelle Board of Education has become an exercise in futility, “preserving for all time a remarkable tale of ineptitude, mediocrity, and abject failure.”
Those Less-Than-Lovable-Losers known as the New Rochelle Board of Education hosted a Town Hall on School Security last night. The precise purpose of the meeting was never made clear but seems to have shifted a few times, then been cancelled, then put back on the calendar, then changed again. It ended up being a panel discussion with John LaPlaca of Alteris, NRPD Commissioner Joe Schaller, NRPD Deputy Commissioner Robert Gazzola, NRFD Captain Barry Nechis, NRFD Chief and Commissioner Andy Sandor.
Schaller, Gazzola, Nechis, and Sandor appeared a bit mystified as to how they ended up on a dais to talk about school security. Schaller seemed particularly unhappy to be asked why the police do not round up youngsters for the “crime” of walking down the street during the middle of the day. Even better, to identify members of senior command who are minorities/women (hint: none in NRPD, no women at all in NRFD).
Because the Board asked attendees to do it, I foolishly went along and took the trouble to compose and submit questions in advance. I sent five questions to Ken Valenti, the Board’s PR guy (and posted them on social media) with the expectation that each question would be answered, succinctly and directly.
This turned out to be a forlorn hope and a complete waste of my time.
Only one of my five questions was asked but it was not only not answered but I (and the 80 or so people on hand and those watching at home or on tape delay) were lied to in the process. It was the second question on my list so a deliberate decision was made to skip my first question.
Seeing that the Board was skipping my questions to give priority to questions not submitted in advance, I submitted a sixth question on an index card. For some reason, the event convener, board member Julia Muggia-Ochs, kept looking at the index card with my brief question then not reading the question as written on the card but making up her own question (twice). The question was about how Alteris would go about training security guards to not to sit in a chair while reading books and newspapers or looking at their smartphone, while they were assigned to “stand post” at New Rochelle High School.
In a discussion afterwards with Muggia-Ochs and Valenti. I asked why the community was asked to submit questions in advance but at the event people who did not do so and simply raised their hands were not only given priority but were given the microphone to ask their questions directly while questions submitted in advance were asked by Muggia-Ochs or Valenti, or not asked at all.
They said some people who submitted questions in advance had submitted multiple questions and that some of those people were not present so to accommodate the people who actually came to the meeting they decided to ask just one question each from the people who submitted questions in advance. I asked “what about people like me who both submitted questions in advance AND were present?”
As for answering “one question” from those submitted in advance, I will leave it to the reader to decide if even this low bar was met. I would stress that the exchange below was in response to a question I had submitted last week and is a very easy question to answer: provide a dollar amount paid to each of three companies and the line item associated with those payments. This question requires less than 10 seconds to answer in full.
You can listen along to the lunacy in this 4 minute audio clip from last night’s fiasco.
Muggia-Ochs: Is Mr. Cox here?
Valenti: I see him over here.
Muggia-Ochs: (reading Cox’s question) “Over the past year, the District has hired three different security firms (Guidepost, T&M, and Alteris) none of which was a budgeted expense. What is the actual or projected cost for each and what line item in the budget is being used to pay for each of them?”
Muggia-Ochs: So, were going to throw that to…Dr. Parvey and Mr. Hastie.
Dr. Parvey: OK. So our budgets are…I’m sorry…I’ll stand up. Where’s Mr. Cox?
Muggia-Ochs: (whispering) He’s here.
Dr. Parvey: So, our budget really is our estimate of our expenses. We do have. We do move funds for priorities so we may plan something and end up with other priorities in the budget and we shift out funds to meet the priorities of the District. That’s not uncommon. We’ve done that before.
T&M wasn’t an actual District expense. We did not pay for T&M that was our attorneys paid for that, BSK paid for that.
When it comes to…when we look at our budget over all, we prioritize and we move funds and prioritize when necessary such as security and we do have a security line item as well.
First, if I know enough to ask about budget line items do I really need an explanation of what a budget is?
Second, T&M was a District expense not an expense paid for by BSK (the former law firm, Bond, Schoeneck & King). The T&M contract specifies that BSK is not responsible for any expense and all invoices were to be sent to Dr. Brian Osborne. They were, sent in two batches during 2018.
T&M 5/1/18 – 7/31/18
T&M 8/1/18 – 12/31/18
Third, Dr. Parvey and Jeffrey Hastie were well aware that the District was invoiced directly by T&M because just three months ago Dr. Parvey granted my FOIL Appeal to release the T&M invoices after the District lied repeatedly about the T&M Contract and T&M Invoices. Jeffrey Hastie was copied on every single email in that exchange including Dr. Parvey’s email with the attached invoices and the T&M contract.
Subject: FOIL: T&M Protection Resources
I am writing in response to your FOIL appeal of November 6, 2018. I am granting your appeal. Attached is the agreement entered into between T&M Investigative Services and our legal counsel, on behalf of the School District to conduct an investigation into the District’s use of the APEX on-line learning system as well as a bill received from T&M (emphasis added)(excerpted for brevity).
Magda Parvey, Ed. D.
Interim Superintendent of Schools
City School District of New Rochelle
Look under the “Professional Fees” section:
“It is understood and agreed that Counsel is not financially responsible to T&M for any fees, costs, or expenses and that all such fees, costs, and expenses shall be paid by Client.”
BSK does not pay T&M, the District pays T&M. Got that?
So, how can the District claim with a straight face they are not a party to an agreement when they alone are required to pay for all of the services and related costs provided under that agreement?
The agreement specifically obligates the District to pay T&M and specifically excludes BSK from paying T&M.
For weeks, the District has claimed they had no invoice or payment records from T&M because the District was not a party to the contract under which T&M was hired, that T&M was hired by their law firm, Bond, Schoeneck & King. School officials subsequently claimed that BSK did not have invoices from T&M either.
The invoice obtained last night by Talk of the Sound through an appeal to the head of agency, Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey, clearly show the District lied about the invoices.
There is a single invoice for the period May 24, 2018 to July 31, 2018. The invoice was billed to Brian Osborne at City Hall in New Rochelle. The invoice date is September 21, 2018.
Contrary to the repeated, knowingly false statements by the District in response to a Freedom of Information Law request, the District had the invoice the entire time. The District was a party to the contract; the invoices were not sent to BSK.
It is worth noting the in addition to the Board Clerk, Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey, Board President Jeffrey Hastie and Board Vice President Amy Moselhi were parties to the FOIL requests, the subsequent email exchange, the FOIL Appeal and, ultimately, the granting of the appeal.
Dr. Parvey did not respond further at the Town Hall but then Board President Jeffrey Hastie jumped in and flat out lied several times.
Hastie: Let me clarify just two things the question (inaudible) the question about T&M and the expense for that but T&M is not a security related issue but as Dr. Parvey said it was billed through BSK but we do pay our law firm but it was $77,000 spent for that related to security. I just wanted to clarify that.
First, I never said T&M was a “security-related issue” I said they are a “security firm”, which they are but then Hastie adds “it was $77,000 spent for that related to security.” So, it is security or it is not security. He said both. Not too clarifying.
Second, T&M was not billed through BSK. T&M invoiced the District directly as illustrated above.
Third, the amount paid to T&M was not $77,000; it was at least $131,607.53, possibly more if T&M continued to do work after December 31, 2018.
Muggia-Ochs: Did that answer your question?
What else could I say, the entire response was an idiotic, time-wasting, irritating, jumbled, incoherent, false and incomplete mess. It was certainly not an answer. No line items were provided for any of the three companies, no amounts were provided for two of the companies and the one amount provide was off by about half and falsely claimed not to have been a District expense at all when it was and they knew that.
I tried to be patient.
Cox: I am asking about the line items in the budget, where the money’s coming from and I don’t know why Dr. Parvey thinks the District didn’t pay for T&M. I have copies of the invoices… the T&M contract requires the District to make those payments so I don’t know what she’s talking about.
Muggia-Ochs: So, we will try to clarify all of that and include that in the…
Hastie: So I think you need to repeat the question, the question is where in the budget this is being paid for…your first question…
There was only one question so I have no idea what Hastie meant by “first question”.
Cox: Line items…yeah, the line items…
Hastie: So, security is paid for out of 1623-400 which is Security-Other. In the budget for this year we had actually a place holder of $200,000 in there so that’s kinda where this these costs is coming from, where these costs are coming from. Is there anything else?
Cox: Well, just that what Dr. Parvey said is not accurate. The contract with T&M requires the District to pay for it and the invoices were all sent to Dr. Osborne and I have copies of them so I don’t know why…
Hastie: Well, I answered that question… Thank you.
Well, no he did not.
Cox: (in an aside to Muggia-Ochs, standing next to me) So, they all came from the same line item, is that what we’re saying?
Muggia-Ochs: If you want to email me with follow up questions or Mr. Valenti we will make sure that it’s included in the Q&A we will be putting together afterwards we’re going to do kind of a summary.
Gee, thanks! There is no “follow up”. There is just the one question Julia Muggia-Ochs read at the outset and there is still no answer to that question. So, why should I email a question I had emailed the week before which she had literally in her hand and had still not been answered?
Obviously, Hastie, the Marv Throneberry of the team, who repeatedly interrupted me and cut me off, did not answer “that question” or any other question. What little he did say was wrong or confused. He said T&M was “not security-related” but only mentions one line item, “Security-Other” so is T&M in that security line item or not?
Long after this exchange ended, Hastie blurted out that Alteris was to be paid $104,000 for 12 months. Neither he nor Parvey ever provided a figure for Guidepost Solutions. I have heard it was about $75,000 but I cannot be sure.
Why does this matter?
If the “Security-Other” line item is $200,000 and they spent $75,000 on Guidepost and $131,607.53 on T&M and 6 months worth of Alteris at $52,000 that comes out to $258,000 which is more than the $200,000 budgeted for “Security-Other” (50% of Alteris fees were BOCES-reimburseable but that money comes much later, after the invoices are paid).
What makes the entire exchange troubling is that this was a very simple, direct question that they received the week before and required a 10 second answer. Instead Parvey and Hastie fumbled around for far longer and not only failed to answer this simple question but gave false information and Hastie lied about it when I pointed our their errors and then behaved rudely on top of that.
If they could not answer such a simple question in an honest and accurate way, even when they had the question in advance, why would anyone believe anything they have to say about school security or any other subject?