Last night after the New Rochelle Board of Education Budget Review meeting, I was talking with Board Vice President Amy Moselhi. I was expanding on concerns I raised during the meeting that it was unfair to the community to limit public input at that meeting. She said the questions I had just asked would be answered at the next meeting on Thursday. I scoffed at that, pointing out that over the past few months I have asked dozens of questions at board meetings and received precisely ZERO answers. I pointed out that the one reply I had gotten from Interim Superintendent Dr. Magda Parvey and Hastie were a stack of lies about the T&M invoices. Parvey walked up as I said this and responded, saying that the reason she said in February that Bond, Schoeneck & King had paid T&M for the Apex Investigation is because T&M had sent invoices to the District but the District did not have an executed contract with T&M and so the District told T&M to invoice BSK and then BSK invoiced the District. I replied that the statement she just made was the first time I had heard this explanation in the seven months since I made a FOIL request for the T&M invoices and her statement on April 9, 2019 directly contradicted what I was told by the District Clerk on November 9th when the Clerk stated “There are no invoices from T&M or payments made to them by Bond Schoeneck & King pertaining to this agreement.”
This prompted me to go back to the Clerk and insist that she immediately reply more fully and accurately to my FOIL requests in October and November to include the records Dr. Parvey was now claiming existed despite prior claims to the contrary. I also contacted Dr. Parvey and requested a meeting to get to the bottom of the discrepancies in what I was told going back to October and what she was saying now.
This conversation took place as I was expressing my dismay over the limited public input at that meeting especially given that the board had previously eliminated the traditional budget input sessions in February and the line-by-line budget reviews in March with the effect that 4 or 5 opportunities for the public to have some voice on the budget were taken away.
Given that Moselhi and Board President Jeffrey Hastie did a great deal of chest pounding and table thumping last year about how the lack of “communication” and “community input” was a reason to vote down last year’s budget it is unseemly that having fired everyone involved last year it took then until April 9th — just 5 school days before the board must adopt a budget — before the community was shown even a single line item in the 2019-20 budget. It is now April 10th. There is still no completed budget. In the entire budget season to date, community members have been granted a grand total of three minutes to address the board on the budget before the budget must be adopted.
Last year Moselhi and Hastie railed endlessly about the supposed lack of transparency with the budget. It is worth noting that whatever their complaints, at least last year there WAS a budget. It was prepared prior to the first budget review on March 8th. It was presented, line by line, to the community in March 2018.
This year, so far, not a single line item has been presented. Instead, last night, Interim Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration Tom Ryan gave a slide presentation (much of it 4 point font) of so-called “budget highlights” while Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Joseph Williams handed out photocopies of a supposed “preliminary budget”. Neither document was made available prior to the meeting as required under New York State Open Meeting Law and no photocopies of the slide presentation was made available prior to the meeting as required under New York State Open Meeting Law.
Ryan described the budget document Williams distributed as “90% complete” without explaining how a budget can be 90% complete – it is either done or not done. So, 90% complete is another way of saying he had failed to deliver the budget on time even when “on time” meant a month later than all prior years.
There has been an incredible amount of excuse making by Moselhi, Hastie, Ryan and others for Ryan’s failures in delivery a completed budget (which he has still not done) on the grounds that Ryan was not hired until December 17th, did not have a full staff, that his predecessor had left a month before he arrived, and according to Ryan no work had been done to collect the requests for teachers and programming from Principals or run the salary projections (which account for about 70% of the budget).
The truth is that the requests for teachers and programming from Principals were initiated in October (the earliest ever) and completed on December 17th. The salary projections were completed in November.
As a reminder, when Jeff White was hired in 2015, he started in January (later than Ryan), his predecessor (John Quinn) had been fired the previous June (a 6 month gap not one), no work at all had been done to collect the requests for teachers and programming from Principals or run the salary projections. On top of that Quinn left a complete mess. The budget was not balanced, the reserves were depleted, and Moody’s and S&P had the District on a negative credit watch. The staff White inherited were incompetent (ultimately he fired all of them) and the Board was demanding a switch to zero-based budgeting. Despite this, White delivered a complete budget prior to the March line-by-line review, he implemented zero-based budgeting and submitted a balanced budget for the first time in many years. He began to restore the depleted reserves and worked the phones with the rating agencies and managed to convince them not to downgrade the District’s debt.
Ryan took over a balanced budget, with strong reserves, a positive report from the outside auditors and an improved credit rating despite taking on $106.5 mm in debt through the largest capital bond ever passed in the history of New Rochelle, the budget work already well underway and a gap of four weeks not twenty four weeks from when his predecessor left.
Ryan failed on the budget because he is retired, lives in Florida, does not work full-time in New Rochelle, has not worked in a public school district since 2007 and as he admitted last night does not how to work computers. To put that in context, when Ryan last worked on a public school budget there was no iPhone, there still more Harry Potter books not yet published, the Spice Girls were preparing to go on tour.
What Ryan turned in last night was an utter joke. The document was “thin” and left out sections without placeholder pages so at first glance it was not clear what was missing.
The first section went from roman numeral I to X but failed to note that pages II, III, IV, V, VIII, IX were missing.
- II Revenue Summary and Graph
- III Expenditure Summary and Graph
- IV Enrollment Analysis Graph & Comparison
- V Per-Pupil Ranking
- VIII Expenditure by Category
- IX Expenditure by Category
Page I listed fund balance without indicating the split between undesignated fund balance and designated fund balance and what the designated portion was designated for.
At the end of the section on line item expenses there should be 15-20 pages on Federal and State Grants. That section is missing entirely.
There was an Appendix G, I, and J but not Appendix A, B, C, D, E, F or H and no explanation for what those might be. We looked it up from past budgets.
- Appendix A School District Budget Notice
- Appendix B NYS Required Budget Format
- Appendix C Superintendent’s and Administrator Compensation Information
- Appendix D Fiscal Accountability Summary & District-Wide Academic Report Card
- Appendix E Property Tax Report Card
- Appendix F City of New Rochelle Tax Exemption (CURRENT) Budget Year
- Appendix H Tax Cert Summary
Appendix J, Estimated Tax Rate Calculation, is new.
As to the rest, there was no discussion at all about any of the line items. As the document was only made available as the meeting began there was no opportunity for board members or the public to even glance through it before Ryan launched into his presentation. Jeffrey Hastie, looming over the board dais like the giant floating head of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon, via Skype on a TV monitor, did not have a copy of the budget document at all. Hastie is back in Italy once again where word is he plans to spend a good part of the budget season.
In a rather depressing side note, few were on hand to witness the debacle. Only 5 board members were present. Hastie was in Italy. Sal Fernandez, Christopher Daniello and Paul Warhit had more important things to do than question Ryan about a budget they had not seen but which they will be voting to adopt in 5 school days. Just five people rose to address the board. Only one of the 6 or 7 school board candidates bothered to attend.
In any case, here is the email I sent to the Clerk today both documenting the misinformation I have been provided and requesting a complete accounting of the records I have sought for seven months.
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Robert Cox <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Apr 10, 2019, 2:33 PM -0400
To: Liz Saraiva <email@example.com>
Cc: Dr Magda Parvey <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Jeffrey Hastie <email@example.com>, Amy Moselhi <firstname.lastname@example.org>, New Rochelle Board of Education <email@example.com>
Subject: FOIL T&M
I am asking that the following request below be considered as having been filed on October 25, 2018 and that fulfilling this request be given the highest priority given my discussion last might with Dr. Parvey and Amy Moselhi.
As context, please recall I made a FOIL request on 10/25/18 for T&M invoices. I was repeatedly lied to and deceived which resulted in my expanding my request to cover not only the T&M invoices but the T&M contract and BSK invoices going back to May 1, 2018.
I was told variously that the District had no invoices that BSK had the invoices, then I was told that BSK did not have the invoices, then I was told the District did have the invoices. I was sent records I had not requested and not sent records I had requested. Dr. Parvey violated NYS Law by failing to respond to my Appeal on 11/6/18 within 10 days. I am not aware she sent her response to the New York State Committee on Open Government as required under the law.
On 11/1/18 you responded to my FOIL request on 10/25/18:
“The records you are seeking are not in the possession of the City School District of New Rochelle. The private investigative firm was hired by our attorneys, Bond Schoeneck & King, not the School District, to investigate the APEX complaints.”
I replied immediately on 11/1/18:
“Don’t be ridiculous. You all know perfectly well if the records are possessed by some other entity you have to go get them. Do you not recall we went through this baloney regarding financial records possessed by O’Connor Davies. I want the records immediately and I am not paying for them either.”
After 5 days with no response from you I filed an appeal to Dr. Parvey on 11/6/18:
The district has unsuccessfully adopted this absurd position before (below). If there are public records in the possession of a third party (previously it was financial records at O’Connor Davies) the District must obtain those records and provide them to me. This is not even a question; the law is quite clear on this point. In the previous case, the District claimed its cost to obtain the records was $800+. I successfully refuted that absurd claim as well and was ultimately provide the financial records at no cost. So please do not come back and tell me anything about paying for the records. I want you to instruct BSK to deliver the records to you and for you to deliver them to me. I would like that to happen today. Under NYS Law you have 10 days to respond to my appeal and must notify NYS COOG.”
I filed an additional, supplemental FOIL request with you on 11/6/18 requesting:
“For the period May 1 2018 until the present, all invoices from and payments to Bond, Schoeneck & King including all supporting documents such as, but not exclusively, invoices from T&M Protection and payments to T&M Protection, any agreements with T&M Protection, and beyond just T&M, any and all time sheets, records of billable hours, travel & entertainment forms including related invoices and receipts and any other document submitted by BSK for purposes of billing the District during that period.”
On 11/9/18, you ignored that I had filed an appeal to the denial of my 10/25/18 FOIL request and by way of justifying the false claim that the District did not possess any T&M invoices you sent me the T&M Agreement which was either an attempt to respond to my 10/25/18 FOIL or a very partial fill of my 11/6/18 FOIL for BSK records but without indicating that it was a partial fill, not responding on any of the other BSK records I requested or even acknowledging that request.
“In reference to your Freedom of Information Law requests dated 10/25/2018 and 11/6/2018, and further to our e-mail exchange, attached please find a copy of the executed agreement between Bond Schoeneck & King, PLLC and T&M Protection Resources, LLC, dated May 23, 2018. There is no signature by representative of our School District because the agreement was between BSK and T&M. There are no invoices from T&M or payments made to them by Bond Schoeneck & King pertaining to this agreement.”
There are no invoices from T&M?
But you eventually sent me T&M invoices so this was untrue.
No payments to T&M by BSK?
This is what Dr. Parvey and Mr. Hastie have stated at public meetings over and over again since February but here your statement contradicts them.
In more than a decade of making FOIL requests to you I cannot recall a single instance of you “explaining” the lack of something in a record. It is highly unusual.
In reviewing the T&M Agreement, I noted there is a signature line in the contract for a representative of the District to sign but the line is blank. There is language in the contract which states “If the Agreement is acceptable, please have it executed on behalf of Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC and on behalf of New Rochelle City School District and return a copy to me.”
TO BE SIGNED BY “New Rochelle City School District”?
Regarding invoices and payment, the contract states “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.”
Paid BY THE CLIENT?
On 11/14/18 for reasons that are unclear you sent me the same T&M Agreement, writing “I acknowledge receipt of your Freedom of Information Law request dated 11/6/2018, received via e-mail on same date. Attached is the agreement between T&M Protection Resources, LLC and Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC.”
I already had the T&M Agreement which I did NOT request on 10/25/18. So by this point you had twice sent me a document and were now acknowledging my 11/6/18 FOIL request (late) on 11/14/18 but not at all addressing the totality of my request for BSK records just this one record which supposedly explained and justified your denying my 10/25/18 FOIL request for T&M invoices while ignoring I had already appealed that denial to Dr. Parvey; my appeal superseded any further communication from you regarding the T&M invoices which should only come from Dr. Parvey as head of agency.
The T&M Agreement obligates the District alone to pay for T&M services and requires the District to sign and return an executed copy of the agreement. I consulted with my attorney who confirmed my common sense understanding that despite claims by you to the contrary, the District was a party to the T&M Agreement regardless of whether a representative of the District signed the document. Because the logic of your claim is that BSK had the power to bind the District to a “blank check” contract where the District was responsible to pay an unspecified, unlimited amount I sought to know the basis for the unusual authority supposedly granted by the District to BSK to obligate the District to pay any and all fees for an unspecified, unrestricted sum under a contract which the District has claimed it was not a party to. Obviously this makes no sense.
On 11/16/18, I made a new, supplemental, FOIL request for “Current contract between City School District of New Rochelle and Bond, Schoeneck & King.”
On 11/26/18 Dr. Parvey responded to my FOIL appeal (late) filed on 11/6/18.
“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 which has been redacted to protect personally identifiable information. Bond Schoeneck and King’s bills contain personally identifiable and otherwise protected information and will need to be reviewed and redacted before they can be released pursuant to your request. There are approximately 200 pages that will need to reviewed. We anticipate that this process will take a minimum of one month to complete. Once it is complete we will forward you the redacted documents that you have requested. Should there be any fees associated with this review, we will apprise you immediately.”
For the third time, I was provided the T&M Agreement but this time after a month of denials I was finally provided the T&M invoices, the ones no one had or did not exist.
Those invoices were sent to Dr. Osborne. They are dated 9/21/18 which suggests they were in possession of the District when I made my FOIL request on 10/25/18 hence my belief I was repeatedly lied to about the T&M invoices.
Inexplicably, in her reply to my appeal, Dr. Parvey addresses the BSK invoices and related documents I requested of you on 11/6/18 but were not denied and were not part of my appeal to her.
On 11/28/18, I replied to Dr. Parvey with a series of questions to which I have yet to receive answers.
Thank you for your reply. I am pleased to see you have granted my appeal. I look forward to getting the BSK records.
Having reviewed the records you sent last night I cannot help but note the invoice date is 9/21/18 and that the invoice was billed to Dr. Osborne at City Hall in New Rochelle.
Why was I told that the District did not have any invoices in response to my FOIL on 10/25 when clearly they had them the entire time?
Why was I told BSK had the invoices when the contract states the District is responsible to pay all invoices and the invoice was, in fact, sent to the District and only the District two months ago?
Why was I told that the District was not a party to the T&M contract despite all evidence to the contrary?
T&M is, apparently, continuing to do work for the District yet the T&M contract remains unsigned. Are there any plans to rectify that.
Looking through all of this and knowing what I know about these matters (which is quite a bit as I am the one who first broke this story) I still fail to understand both why anyone would believe that the District was not a party to the T&M contract and, conversely, why BSK was and is a party to the T&M contract. The whole thing strikes me as flipped on its head – the District should have hired T&M directly and on its own and BSK could play a role advising the District under the contract between the District and BSK. I see no reason for BSK to be mentioned at all in the T&M contract. Can you explain that?”
On 11/28/18, you responded (late) to my 11/16/18 FOIL request for “Current contract between City School District of New Rochelle and Bond, Schoeneck & King.”
“I acknowledge receipt of your Freedom of Information Law request dated November 16, 2018, received via e-mail on same date.”
You and I then exchanged emails and had discussions in your office in which you told me that you were unable to locate any contract between the District and BSK, that Sara Richmond of BSK told you that BSK could not locate any such contract, you told me at one point you had gone back to 1999 in the District files and could not find any contract with BSK or Jeff Kehl’s previous law firm, Kehl, Katzive and Simon (KKS).
On 11/29/18, I followed up on my questions to Dr. Parvey:
Again, thank you for granting my appeal. I hope you will take some time to provide answers to my questions as it appears that someone illegally withheld public records. I would like to believe that was not your decision and that you were genuinely unaware that I was being repeatedly lied to by the District.
If you fail to provide answes I can only take that to mean that you knew or even directed this illegal conduct. I hope you will consider providing answers. The public has a right to know why I was improperly denied public records and who was responsible.”
On 12/17/18, you acknowledged in writing what you told me in person – that there was no contract between the District and BSK. You also stated in person you had gone back decades and found no contract with BSK or KKS. What you had mailed me were board resolutions “extending” contracts that did not exist so could not be “extended”.
“In reference to your FOIL request dated 11/16/2018, and further to my e-mail of 11/30/2018, please be advised that we could not locate any additional documents pertaining to a contract and/or agreement between Bond Schoeneck & King, PLLC and our School District, other than copies of the documents which I already e-mailed to you.
On 1/9/19, I made a supplemental FOIL request to my 10/25/18 FOIL request for any additional T&M invoices.
“I would like follow up on my previous FOIL request to get all T&M invoices other than the ones I already received. It appears that the invoices I have are from May until July 31 2018.
So I need all invoices from T&M other than those.”
On 1/16/19, you fulfilled my 1/9/19 FOIL request.
“I acknowledge receipt of your FOIL request dated 1/9/2019. Attached is a copy of the record you requested – the additional invoice from T&M.”
The invoice you sent on 1/16/19 is dated 12/18/18 and addressed to Dr. Parvey.
This is significant because Dr. Parvey told me last night that the reason she stated at the 2/25/19 Town Hall that the District did not pay T&M is because the T&M invoices were rejected somehow and T&M was told to invoice BSK which she says paid T&M and that BSK then invoiced the District and the District paid BSK.
I specifically asked for such records in November.
So, on 1/16/19, I am getting a T&M invoice but at the Town Hall on 2/25/19 and the Board meeting on 4/2/19 and the Budget Review meeting on 4/9/19 I am being told that payments to T&M from the District were washed through BSK. But during this period in mid-January the Board had selected Ingerman Smith as the new law firm which was announced in a press release on 1/18/19 and acted upon by the board on 1/22/18. So when exactly were T&M invoices being bounced back to BSK? Why was I being given T&M invoices that were “rejected” by the District and bounced over to BSK? If this was true on 9/21/18 when the first T&M invoice was dated why did T&M send a second invoice to the District on 12/18/18.
I see no reason why if ANY of what Dr. Parvey said last night was true that the first I heard about it was on 4/9/19 when my original FOIL request was 10/25/18.
It is my sense that there is a deliberate effort to obfuscate and deceive me, acting in my capacity as a journalist, and therefore to deceive the public.
So now I want E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G and I want it immediately.
I want all BSK invoices from the last batch I received until the present.
I want all communications that reference T&M from the beginning of time until the end of days.
I want all records in which T&M invoices were “rejected” or “redirected back” to T&M.
I want any BSK documents that reference T&M from the beginning of time until the end of days.
I want to see the BSK invoices that include the costs of the T&M investigation.
And I want this on an expedited basis and I want any fees or costs waived.
This is a public records request.
I would like the fulfillment of my records request to adhere to the new standards required under recent amendments to the New York State Freedom of Information Law which were intended to bring FOIL into the digital era.
Whenever and wherever possible I would like records provided pertaining to my records request to be converted to and delivered in standard, cross-platform, non-proprietary electronic/digital formats. For paper records that must be duplicated I would like them duplicated by scanning not photocopying and saved in Adobe Acrobat PDF (i.e., pdf). For audio records, I would like them exported/saved into standard audio format (i.e., .mp3). For video records, I would like them exported/saved into standard video format (i.e., .mp4). For electronic database records, I would like them converted into Microsoft Excel (i.e., .xls) I would like all communications including the delivery of documents to take place via email as much as is possible based on the nature and size of the available records. Other online digital delivery methods such as Dropbox are also acceptable.
I willing to pay any necessary, required statutory costs but for any costs that exceeds $20.00 I would like prior notification of the estimated cost to comply with this records request so I do not get any big surprises. I am willing to entertain any reasonable request to tailor or narrow my request to make compliance easier. I can be charged for the time required to “prepare” records at the lowest hourly rate for the lowest paid person capable of doing the work but I cannot charged for “search” time or for any costs related to work done by a machine (e.g., a machine that scans and converts paper documents to PDF files, exporting a digital video file from a video surveillance system, duplicating an audio cassette recording, burning files onto a CD) or for any costs not specified under statute.
I would like the Records Access Officer to certify that the records are genuine.
Publisher and Managing Editor
Talk of the Sound