As the New Rochelle Board of Education Approved Special Counsel to Investigate Lost Instructional Hours, the Contradictions Pile Up

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Jeffrey Hastie wants you to believe he is angry because he was blindsided by the revelation 3 weeks ago that the school district he runs is facing draconian cuts in state aid after earning the dubious distinction of being the only District in the State of New York to screw up implementing new Education Commissioner Regulations for Instructional Hours.

Video tapes, the words of his own administrators and his lawyer’s invoices suggest otherwise.

Despite a massive failure that began the week he was sworn in as Board President in July 2018, Hastie is determined to point the finger of blame everywhere and anywhere except at himself — and he is prepared to spend $220 an hour of taxpayer money to send a lawyer on a snipe hunt to prove everyone but him is to blame.

This is what happens when amateurs play at being professional education leaders.

After tabling a similar motion last week, the New Rochelle Board of Education followed Hastie’s lead Tuesday and voted unanimously to hire a Long Island lawyer as Special Counsel to investigate the District’s failure to comply with new regulations for Instructional Hours.

The law firm of Douglas A. Spencer, PLLC has been hired to “investigate a certain personnel matter and administrative matter with regard to the 2018-19 school calendar,” according to a board resolution on tonight’s agenda. The resolution was changed from the draft version tabled last Thursday which limited the investigation to “a certain personnel matter with regard to the 2018-19 school calendar”. The Special Counsel will report his findings to the New Rochelle Board of Education and Ingerman Smith, the District’s new law firm.

There was no board discussion prior to voting on the resolution. Todd Kern and Sal Fernandez did not attend tonight’s meeting.

Hastie later addressed questions raised during the public comment period about a discussion of Instructional Hours at a School Board Town Hall meeting on September 20, 2018 which we reported several days ago.

Hastie dismissed all criticism, claiming the “law firm did not complete analysis until a few months later so it’s not like we knew there was a problem, we knew what the regulation were then we were trying to have our law firm take a look at where we were hours-wise.”

With regards to 9th period not being “instructional,” Hastie said “actually during 9th period there are extra help for students…each teacher has an extra help period and one during the week and one during the last period so there is some instruction that goes on during that time period for those students that take advantage of it.”

The significance of that first statement will become apparent as we disconnect the dots.

The unprecedented hiring of a “Special Counsel” appears to be aimed at former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Osborne on the implausible premise that Osborne alone failed to act to implement the new regulations.

The new regulations have been in the offing for more than two years. In 2017, the New York State Department of Education undertook a comprehensive overhaul of the Minimum Instruction Requirement for State Aid. The Department proposed an amendment to the regulation to eliminate the daily minimum instructional hour requirement and replace it with an aggregate yearly requirement (i.e., 900/990 hours over 180 days for full-day kindergarten through grade six and grades seven through twelve, respectively), to provide school districts additional flexibility when establishing their school calendar.

The State Aid Office issued a clarification in April 2017 and subsequently created an Advisory Committee compromised of organizations representing every conceivable stakeholder in education in the State of New York which held five regional meetings in the Fall of 2017. Letters were issued, there were road shows with slide presentations, surveys, questionnaires, public comment periods all leading up to a declaration of emergency action prior to implementation on July 1, 2018.

According to SED officials, New Rochelle is the only District which failed to comply with the new regulations.

On March 5th, Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey stunned the New Rochelle school community when she announced the District had a major problem:

“The New York State Board of Regents adopted new requirements for minimum instructional hours in public schools that went into effect at the start of this school year,” said Parvey. “The City School District of New Rochelle’s previous administration did not implement appropriate schedule changes in anticipation of those new requirements.”

To this day, neither Parvey nor Hastie has provided a cogent, detailed explanation of what happened, how it happened and precise details of the implications. Instead, like sap from a Maple tree, the community came to learn, in dribs and drabs, how 7th and 8th graders at the middle schools were about 100 hours short of the required 990 hours a year where a school day is quantified as 5.5 hours in grades 7 through 12 so those 7th and 8th grade students were short about 18 full days of school out of 180 or about 10%.

Setting aside the State Aid implications, the loss of so many days of instruction means students are deprived of at least 36 days of school as they prepared to enter high school. Any middle school parent knows that instruction time in June dwindles to nothing as teachers roll out Smart Boards, TVs and DVD players and replace learning with movies and The Cartoon Network. If New Rochelle middle schoolers are getting 150 days of instruction a year it would surprise many parents.

Upset with Parvey’s “solution” to require teachers to teach all through June, right up until the last day of the school year, the New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees (F.U.S.E.) pushed back. In a statement issued March 18th, F.U.S.E. officials denied the two middle schools were not in compliance with state requirements for instructional hours.

“It is the union’s position that the “period 9” extra help periods in each school should be part of the calculation for “instructional hours,” said F.U.S.E. President Martin Daly. “The extra help periods provide time for individual or small group instruction that provides an opportunity for homework support, remediation, enrichment, test supervised study.”

Daly was apparently unaware that Parvey had made the very same arguments 10 days earlier in a March 8th meeting with Southern Westchester BOCES Superintendent Dr. Harold A. Coles and Judith Johnson, Board of Regents Member for the 9th Judicial District.

In a never-before-disclosed letter, obtained under a Freedom of Information request by Talk of the Sound, Parvey thanks Coles and Johnson for agreeing to advocate for counting 9th period as instructional hours. Parvey describes 9th period as an opportunity for students who wish to attend to receive extra help in subject like math, english and history; receive instruction in reading, writing and critical thinking; receive homework assistance and, at Albert Leonard, get STEM enrichment.

“At each of the middle schools, 100+ students attend 9th period,” says Parvey. “I hope you find this information helpful and that you are able to make a case for our 9th period.”

Parvey does not say how many of the 100+ students are in 7th or 8th grade or mention that attendance is not mandatory or say how many of those who do attend are present every day. Each middle school has about 1,200 students so even assuming the 100+ students she claims attend are only 7th and 8th grade students and attend 9th period 100% of the time, every day of the school year, those students represent less than 9% of the effected students. In reality, it may be closer to 3% of 7th and 8th graders attend 9th period.

On March 5th, Hastie told Tony Aiello, the change in Instructional Hours was “something we should have known…but we didn’t.”

Except “we” did.

At a New Rochelle Board of Education Town Hall on September 20, 2018, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Joseph Williams discussed at length the new Commissioner’s Regulations for Instructional Hours while sitting on a panel with Hastie and Parvey, joined by Interim Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Amy Goodman, Interim New Rochelle High School Principal Joseph Starvaggi and Board Members Christopher Daniello, Julia Muggia-Ochs, Paul Warhit, Rachel Relkin, Board Vice President and Amy Moselhi.

As Hastie asked him to do, Williams proceeded to explain the new Commissioner Regulations for instructional hours.

“It changed this year, I believe it is 990 hours for students throughout the course of the school year,” said Williams. “What we are in the process of doing as I speak actually is doing a calendar analysis through the use of our District’s counsel that should be done in the next couple of week’s time and that will give us a full account of where we stand in terms of the Commissioner’s Regulations.”

The video undermines claims by Parvey and Hastie that no one but Osborne was aware of the new regulations for instructional hours and that the failure to implement necessary changes was Osborne’s failure alone.

It gets worse.

On September 20, 2018 Joe Williams says “as I speak” the lawyers at Bond, Schoeneck & King are doing an analysis of the school district’s calendar for compliance with the new Commissioner’s Regulations that will be completed “in the next couple of weeks”.

On March 5, 2019, Magda Parvey says the new regulations were adopted in July 2018 but there was no conversation about the new regulations at the time and says Osborne did not implement “appropriate schedule changes” in anticipation of the new regulations.

On March 26, 2019, Jeffrey Hastie says Bond, Schoeneck & King did not complete their analysis of the school district’s calendar for compliance with the new Commissioner’s Regulations until “a few months” after the Town Hall meeting “so its not like we knew there was a problem” only that “we were trying to have our law firm take a look at where we were hours-wise.”

Hastie made a deal to buy out Osborne’s contract and the board approved the deal on October 2, 2018. If Bond, Schoeneck & King did not complete their compliance analysis until “a few months” after September 20th then on what basis is Parvey blaming Osborne as the “previous administration” when she was Interim Superintendent “a few months” after September 20th. In fact, she was Interim Superintendent two weeks after the Town Hall on September 20th.

Unfortunately for Hastie and Parvey we have all of the relevant invoices from Bond, Schoeneck & King (obtained through a prior unrelated Freedom of Information request).

On August 24, 2018, BSK lawyer Craig Olivo “reviewed emails from and prepared emails to J. Williams, regarding school calendar, consulted with Attorney Richmond.”

That would be former New Rochelle Board of Education President Sara Richmond.

As of August 24th, Joe Williams had sent emails to BSK about the school calendar issues and two BSK lawyers are reviewing those emails and sending Williams information about the school calendar issue.

This BSK invoice contradicts Parvey’s claim on March 5, 2019 that there was “no conversation about the new regulations at the time”. There were.

On October 17, 2018, Ayanna Y. Thomas labor and employment lawyer at Bond, Schoeneck & King “analyzed whether the District’s school calendar complies with NYSED requirements.”

Thomas is back at it on October 18, 2018 when she again “analyzed whether the District’s school calendar complies with NYSED requirements”.

These BSK invoices are not for work “a few months” after the Town Hall on September 20th. They are not even for work a month after the Town Hall. They both contradict Hastie’s statement on March 26th.

The failure to make changes to the school calendar is a colossal failure that short changed 2,400 students out of 18 days of school — 43,200 or 240 years worth of education. It impacts only the children. The teachers and staff are not having their pay docked 10% for teaching 10% less.

The community is entitled to a complete accounting of what happened — who was responsible, what this will cost, the impact on students — not another scapegoat.

RELATED:

New Rochelle Board of Education Names Special Counsel to Investigate Lost Instructional Hours at Middle Schools

New Rochelle School Board Attempt to Pin Lost Instructional Hours Fiasco on Former Superintendent Implausible

New Rochelle Schools Union Disputes Middle School Instructional Hours Controversy

New Rochelle Board of Ed Failed to Provide Required Instructional Time to Middle Schoolers Resulting in State Aid Cuts

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