NEW ROCHELLE, NY — For anyone who has witnessed a meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education lately, you do not need me to explain that Board meetings have gotten completely out of control. They did not get that way by accident. In the wake of the rash of student-on-student violence in January 2018, some Board Members took it upon themselves to get directly involved in day to day operations of the school district. Other Board Members, knowing the proper role of a School Board, sat idly by and said nothing as Jeffrey Hastie ran hog-wild, acting as de facto Superintendent upon being elected by the Board as their President in July 2018.
The New York State School Board Association (NYSBBA) defined the powers and duties of the board in its guidebook for new members:
The New York Education Law defines a school board’s general powers and duties. Generally a school board oversees the district’s affairs (students’ education), personnel and properties. The board has specific responsibilities to approve curriculum, employ a superintendent and submit a proposed budget to the district voters for their approval.
1:3. What exactly do school boards do?
A school board:
• Sets the district’s direction with performance-based goals.
• Ensures alignment of strategies, resources (including the approved budget), policies, programs, and processes with district goals.
• Assesses and accounts for student achievement using comprehensive data, thorough deliberation, and open communication.
• Conducts performance evaluations of the superintendent to continuously set standards of improvement.
• Leads the district, accentuating and reinforcing the positive while correcting the negative.
Keep in mind the school board’s job is to focus on the ends, while the superintendent focuses on the ways and means to attain the ends.
NYSBBA closes by saying “In other words, the board oversees the education of students and is responsible for school district operations, but does not directly run the district’s day-to-day operations.”
The role of the Board is (1) setting goals, establishing policies to achieve those goals, overall accountability for performance in achieving those goals; (2) submitting a budget to voters to achieve this; (3) employing a Superintendent to deliver this.
Before every Public Comment period at a Board meeting, the Chairperson reads a statement:
“If you have an issue which you would like addressed regarding a particular School District employee or student, we ask that you bring that directly to the Superintendent of Schools…”
Ironically, having done more than any Board member to defend the hiring of Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo, it is Board President Amy Moselhi who has done more than anyone to undermine Feijóo’s authority.
Because individual Board members have taken it upon themselves to bypass the Superintendent and administrative chain-of-command and get directly involved in day-to-day operations they, not the Superintendent, are now perceived by the public and District employees as the authorities to which they must address their concerns. This is why Board members are shouted at during Board meetings, corralled afterwards by angry mobs or button-holed by employees as they roam hallways and classrooms in the schools.
Having sowed the seeds of chaos Board members are now reaping the whirlwind.
A little over a week ago, I asked a simple question: on what legal basis was a board member present in a school during regular school hours. A simple question deserves a simple answer. I have yet to get one. In the meantime, I have been subject to all manner of attack and criticism ever since — falsehoods, misrepresentations and lies — by the District’s outside counsel and the General Counsel for the largest association of school boards in the State of New York.
I asked my simple question because Board members wandering around schools, in and out of classrooms, engaging with administrators, teachers and non-instructional staff on hiring decisions, promotions, tenure decisions, policy issues and even intervening in interpersonal disputes among employees — unthinkable two years ago — has become the new normal in a post-Hastie world. It needs to stop.
Legal citations provided to me by NYSBBA General Counsel Jay Worona, General Construction Law § 41, supported by Appeals Decisions by the SED Commissioner and courts, describe the limits on board members individual authority (short version, they have none) and how that applies to being present in a school during the regular school day:
“Individual school board members have no inherent powers by reason of holding office.”
“Absent a specific delegation of authority by the school board to act as the representative of the board for a particular purpose, individual board members have no greater rights or authority than any other qualified voter of the district.”
“Individual school board members have the same right as parents or district residents to visit the schools in accordance with the procedures that apply to the public in general. They need board authorization to enter schools for official purposes.” (Appeal of Silano, 33 Ed Dept Rep 20 (1993); Matter of Bruno, 4 Ed Dept Rep 14 (1964)).
Board Resolution No. 20-37, adopted on July 2, 2019 is offered by the Board and their outside counsel as justification for Board member Christopher Daniello posting photos of other people’s children and school employees at work in an art class at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School on December 13th as a “BOE School Buddy Update”.￼ It is not.
Board Resolution 20-37 is limited to “events” which are public occasions examples of which are listed in the resolution: Meet-the-Teacher-Night, award ceremonies, concerts, PTA events, and so forth. Board members do not require Board authorization to attend events at schools. 20-37 is describing the School Buddy program’s purpose, intent and schedule; it is not authorizing any new powers to Board members so Silano and Bruno do not apply.
An art class during regular school day is not a public occasion so 20-37 does not apply. Silano and Bruno does apply. Daniello has no more right to be in that art class than any other resident (i.e., none) hence my question: on what legal basis is Daniello present in that classroom?
I am still waiting for an answer.
The failure to provide an answer but continue the practice anyway is part of a much bigger, far more important issue, that speaks to the precipitous decline in the New Rochelle school system over the past two years and the riotous, disruptive behavior at Board meetings by Board members and the public alike.
For more than a year I have been raising concerns about Board governance issues as New Rochelle school board members have grown increasingly aggressive in getting directly involved in the day to day operations of the District.
In a cringe-worthy, unprecedented “State of the District” speech delivered on January 29, 2019, the school board president made a statement that would have been unthinkable just a year earlier.
“The Board has taken on a critical hands-on role with the District’s administration in the past year that was necessary in a time of such transition,” said Board President Jeffrey Hastie. “As Board members, we have mobilized to become more involved.”
Having taken a lead role in creating the chaos that has engulfed the school community in the two years since the violence and mayhem in January 2018,, what he euphemistically calls “transition”, Hastie shamelessly justified his egomaniacal power grab on the need to solve the disorder he created in the first place. At one point almost all of the top 15 positions in the District were either vacant or filled by “interims”.
Not surprisingly, it has become increasingly difficult to recruit top-tier talent to New Rochelle where recent hires have come from among the few Districts left that have a worse reputation than New Rochelle — Newburgh, New York City and East Ramapo — and the top job at the high school has gone begging for a year and a half.
The disorder includes the resignation of a Board Vice President in the middle of her Board term and her term as VP, Board members working openly to undermine the Board President and working to defeat proposed school budget (Hastie and Moselhi), the Apex grade-fixing scandal, ousting the Superintendent, failing to accept the resignation of the high school principal thus requiring a $200,000 buy out (Hastie and Moselhi), buying out the deposed Superintendent for $300,000, abruptly getting rid of the Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration at the start of the budget season, churning through a Chief Academic Officer, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, IT Director, Chief Information Officer, multiple Treasurers, and a game of musical chairs with lower-level administrative positions like House Principals and Assistant Principals — all capped off by the most poorly run Superintendent Search in living memory (Hastie) which resulted in the Board signing a candidate 10 days after first hearing her name, a deal signed hours before the end of Hastie’s disastrous one-year Fukushima Tsunami of a board presidency.
In 2011, a tidal wave flooded the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan causing three nuclear meltdowns, three hydrogen explosions, and the release of radioactive contamination which will take many years to clean up.
Recent examples of Board Governance issues include holding an illegal unannounced employees-only Board meeting inside the high school in an area not accessible to the public, Board members entering schools to inspect facilities and interview house principal candidates, accessing personnel files, reading employee emails, running private investigations against employees, threatening and harassing employees, getting involved in interpersonal squabbles among employees, listening to employee grievances then and acting upon them as an advocate, drafting RFPs, negotiating contracts with vendors, contacting State Education Department investigators directly during an active investigation of the District, effectively hiring and firing staff, making public confidential intra-agency material, leaking highly confidential school security assessments to the media, failing to address significant conflicts of interest, unauthorized use of a District mobile phone while traveling on a cruise ship and in Europe and Africa, and much more.
The School Buddy program, created in 2018, has become a Board governance issue with Board members routinely entering schools outside of what is permitted without explicit Board permission — public events or visits regarding their children as parents/guardians. Principals, staff and non-instructional staff have expressed to me that the unauthorized visits by Board members are intrusive, disruptive and unwelcome.
The School Buddy program was first adopted on August 7, 2018 by Board Resolution No. 19-114:
“RESOLVED, that each Board of Education Member is encouraged to be in contact with his or her “buddy” school’s Principal and/or PTA President throughout the scheduled quarter in order to make the best effort to attend as many events (Meet-the-Teacher-Night, award ceremonies, concerts, PTA events, etc.) as possible at his or her “buddy” school in order to learn about the school’s culture and climate as well as its students and their parents or guardians, and its faculty and staff.”
The Board resolution limiting the School Buddy program to public occasions was quickly exploited by Hastie (and other Board members) to justify involving himself in every imaginable aspect of day-to-day operations starting with entering schools to inspect facilities on August 27-28 which included the A/C issue at Jefferson.
In his 2019 “State of the District” speech Hastie described the School Buddy program as primarily non-public events to evaluate teachers and administrators and their interactions with students. In other words, Board members were doing performance evaluations.
“Each Board member is assigned to a different school each quarter, and gets to know that school better by attending student performances, parent meetings and innovative classes. We’ve been doing that all year, and we found what we expected to find – dedicated teachers and administrators who love their students. Still, it has been an eye-opening experience to see just how devoted they all are to our 11,000 students – and how well the students respond.”
There is nothing in the resolution that speaks to sitting in on parent meetings or observing teachers and students in classrooms.
Not surprisingly, in renewing the program in July, the Board self-indulgently assessed the program as “well received” by administrators , staff, and themselves, oblivious to the fear among employees who are unlikely to tell Board members what they really think of a program created by the Board for the Board.
I have raised my concerns about Board governance many times privately with Board members and publicly in speeches to the Board, on social media, on the radio and in articles on Talk of the Sound in the context of all of the examples cited above including but not exclusively the School Buddy program which is an illustration of the problem of an out-of-control board, a symptom of the larger breakdown in proper Board governance, not the totality of the problem.
I raised my concerns to Jay Worona last Spring because, first and foremost, he is General Counsel of the New York State School Board Association and, in the past, he has advised the New Rochelle Board of Education on Board governance issues raised by the behavior of Jeffrey Hastie (if memory serves, at a Board retreat at Doral Arrowwood in Rye during the 2013-14 school year). The entire purpose of my call was to ask questions and get information pertaining specifically to Hastie’s conduct not the Board generally or other Board members and having nothing to do with the School Buddy program. The context for my call was my preparing a series of stories on Hastie to expose his past misconduct in the 30 days leading up to the school elections on May 21, 2019 after learning Hastie was collecting petition signatures and telling people he intended to run for a third term. After Hastie failed to file to be a candidate by the May 1st deadline, I shelved my series of exposés.
During an hour long telephone interview on April 22, 2019, Worona told me a board member had no more right to enter a school building than any other “qualified voter” which was limited to attending public events or as a parent/guardian meeting with staff about their child. He said the Board would have to vote to approve a Board member entering a building on any specific occasion and that approval would be for a specific visit, was not open-ended, that there were no “blank checks”. I drilled down on that point as it went to the heart of my concern with Hastie’s behavior. I asked if the Board could vote to grant Mr. Hastie unfettered access to schools during his term as President. Mr. Worona said “no”. He said the Board would have to approve each specific visit to a school.
Although I have been raising Board governance issues for 10 years, Hastie poured gasoline on the long-smoldering mess and then dropped a lit match on it.
At the end of the call, Worona offered to send a “legal citations” document he said he had prepared for the Newburgh School District. He sent the email soon after the call.
In phone calls in September and October and November I spoke on the telephone with Amy Moselhi to express my concerns with Board members engaging disruptive members of the community during Board meetings and violations of Open Meeting Law, in particular, coming out of Executive Session. I wrote articles about these and other Board governance issues and discussed them on social media and in radio interviews.
On December 3rd, Amy Moselhi called to tell me she had heard me on the radio talking about Board governance. After a long chat, I forwarded her the “legal citations” email and encouraged her to call Jay Worona.
On December 13, 2019 at 11:40 a.m., Board member Christopher Daniello published a Facebook post of what appears to be his visit to an art class at Jefferson School. There are 11 photos of what appears to be students, teachers/aides and student art work. There is note which reads “BOE Board Buddy update…. The creativity of the children is amazing!”
As a follow on to our discussion on Board governance issues a few days earlier, I sent Moselhi a link to Daniello’s “BOE Board Buddy update” which appeared to show Daniello at a non-public event inside a school building.
Below the link to Daniello’s “BOE Board Buddy update” post, I wrote:
“You said you were going to look into the concerns I have been raising for a while now but I have heard nothing back and see again today the misguided (in my view) school buddy program continues unabated.”
“My understanding from my conversation with Jay Worona of NYSSBA and the information he sent me a few months ago is that a board member has no more right to be in a school for a non-public event that any other person so on what legal basis was Chris Daniello in that classroom today?”
I have yet to get an answer to this question.
Mr. Worona has claimed I “quoted” him saying that the School Buddy program was illegal, that in my email to Moselhi I made a “direct link” between him and my view that the School Buddy program is illegal. That is utter nonsense.
As is clear from the quote above, the only legal opinion I have associated with Jay Worona is that my understanding of what he told me is that “a board member has no more right to be in a school for a non-public event that any other person”,
He may not recall our one hour telephone conversation but he does recall sending his “legal citations” email which makes that very point:
“Individual school board members have the same right as parents or district residents to visit the schools in accordance with the procedures that apply to the public in general. They need board authorization to enter schools for official purposes.”
I go on to say, “my concerns about this and other inappropriate conduct by board members” and “you and other boards (sic) just want to do stuff like this” where “like this” is a reference to the various board governance issues I have been raising for more than a year where the School Buddy program is just one of many examples. I then list examples, “wandering in and out of classrooms, getting involved in interpersonal squabbles among employees, listening to employee grievances (and acting upon them as advocate), holding employee-only board meetings inside school buildings in areas closed to the public and so on.” and “the issue of board member William Ianuzzi” (conflict of interest, working in the schools under a vendor contract ) and “the Sara Richmond problem” (conflict of interest, leaving the Board to work for a vendor, giving legal advice on matters pertaining to her time on the Board). The main part of the email ends with a statement not about the school buddy program but Board governance where I say “This is the swamp you find yourself in when board governance breaks down as it has in New Rochelle. I would urge you and the board to educate yourselves on proper board governance which has been completely abandoned over the past two years. You have several board members who have never been on a properly run school board so have no idea what I am even talking about. I would encourage you to reach out to Mr. Worona.”
I am not telling them to talk to Worona about the School Buddy program but about getting educated on Board governance and the idea that NYSBBA can be a resource of training board members on proper Board governance.
I then made requests of Moselhi until she talks to Jay Worona: suspend the School Buddy program, cease and desist with board members using young children as props to promote themselves and their school board candidacies, do not allow William Ianuzzi into any school buildings until his many conflicts have been sorted and done so publicly, prohibit Board members from publishing images of children captured during these unauthorized visits on the Internet. The email ends with a statement on Board governance (the proper role of board members and the function of a school board):
“So far my concerns have fallen on deaf ears. I am afraid this board is so convinced of their good intentions it has lost all sense of proportion as to the proper role of board members and the function of a school board. It is time you learn. I hope you will consider the possibility that I know just a little of what I speak and give my concerns some thought.”
The December 13th email is one of many examples of my raising concerns about Board governance, this time in the context of what appears to be Christopher Daniello being present at a non-public event offering what he calls a “BOE Board Buddy update”.
Mr. Worona’s claim that I “quoted” him or a made a “direct link” to him or inferred or implied or insinuated anything about his offering a legal opinion on the School Buddy program is baseless.
In his email to John Gross of Ingerman Smith sent December 16, 2019, Worona makes three points:
- He never discussed the School Buddy program with me.
- The extent of my communications with NYSSBA is the “legal citations” email.
- The School Buddy program is legal.
I addressed the first point in my Open Letter to the New Rochelle BOE on Falsehoods Regarding my Concerns with the School Buddy Program.
“I have no recollection of asking about or discussing the School Buddy program with Mr. Worona as it was not relevant to my concerns with Mr. Hastie; he certainly did not offer legal opinions about the School Buddy program. And I never said he did.”
I have never stated or implied or even thought Mr. Worona offered a legal opinion about the School Buddy program (until his email of December 16th).
I also addressed the second point where he effectively denied speaking with me by characterizing my communications with NYSSBA as nothing more than his office responding to an “inquiry” with “excerpts of outlines of the law regarding Board member presence in school buildings during school hours”.
That is false as demonstrated in great detail in my open letter to the Board where I also addressed his dismissing my concern as a minor point.
In an Opinion Letter dated December 16, 2019 from City School District of New Rochelle outside counsel John Gross of Ingerman Smith to New Rochelle Board of Education President Amy Moselhi, Mr. Gross states:
This opinion letter has been requested in response to the following series of events. Jay Worona (“Mr. Worona”), Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel for the New York State School Boards Association, Inc., received an inquiry from Robert Cox (“Mr. Cox”), Editor of Talk of the Sound, regarding school board members’ access to schools. Subsequently, Mr. Worona responded to this inquiry with “boilerplate” legal authority pertaining to school board members. Mr. Worona’s communication advised that absent specific delegation of authority by a school board to act as the representative of the board for a particular purpose, individual board members have no greater rights or authority than any other qualified voter of the district. Mr. Cox relied upon this information incorrectly asserting that the Buddy Program was illegal and board members are improperly entering schools. In doing so Mr. Cox overlooked the fact that the City School District of New Rochelle Board of Education (the “Board”) has provided specific delegation of authority for board members to enter the schools on behalf of the Buddy Program.
This statement is not only false and misleading in many ways but, taking it point by point, is the faulty keystone of Gross’s reply to Moselhi and the Board:
GROSS: Worona received an inquiry from Robert Cox, Editor of Talk of the Sound, regarding school board members’ access to schools.
FALSE: I contacted Mr. Worona to get answers to questions on a range of issues pertaining to the behavior of then-Board President Jefferey Hastie only one of which was Mr. Hastie being present in schools without Board authorization.
GROSS: Mr. Worona responded to this inquiry with “boilerplate” legal authority pertaining to school board members.
FALSE: Mr. Worona responded to my request for an interview by talking with me on the telephone for about an hour. At the end of the call, he said he had prepared a document with legal citations for the Newburgh School District which covered some of what we had discussed during the interview. He sent the email shortly after the call ended.
GROSS: Mr. Worona’s communication advised that absent specific delegation of authority by a school board to act as the representative of the board for a particular purpose, individual board members have no greater rights or authority than any other qualified voter of the district.
FALSE/MISLEADING. Mr. Worona did not send an email “advising” me of anything. He sent an email that contained a previously prepared list of legal citations. There was no accompanying “advice”. His email covered a wide variety of topics that related to board governance not simply the issue of delegation of “absent specific delegation of authority by a school board to act as the representative of the board for a particular purpose, individual board members have no greater rights or authority than any other qualified voter of the district”. The topics were broken into two main categories: Legal Authorities of Board Members and Board Member Access to Personnel Records. The specific topics included some that we discussed (individual board members have no greater rights or authority than any other qualified voter of the district, that there must be a specific delegation of authority by the school board to act as the representative of the board for a particular purpose, that board authorization is required to enter schools for official purposes, such as for building inspection or interviewing staff, school board members may examine personnel records, but only in executive session and in limited circumstances which are then detailed in the email) and others that we did not discuss (school board members have a right to express their own personal views on school district issues but must clearly distinguish their personal views from those of the board, not use district funds, facilities or channels of communication to encourage voters to vote in support of or against the school budget or any proposition, that board members are empowered to call a special meeting of the school board).
He offered to (and did later) send the email because during the interview with Mr. Worona I listed some of my concerns with the conduct of then-Board President Hastie acting outside his authority as a board member among them (1) Mr. Hastie had entered Jefferson School to inspect a problem with air conditioning units based on a complaint to him from two teachers bypassing the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration, Facilities Manager; and the Principal of Jefferson School; (2) Mr. Hastie had entered New Rochelle High School to interview candidates for the position of House Principal bypassing the Interim Superintendent/Chief Academic Officer and New Rochelle High School Interim Principal. I mention these two specifically because Mr. Worona pointed them as two examples of limits on board member powers (inspecting a building, interviewing job candidates). Mr. Worona said during the interview that he had a document that he had prepared for the Newburgh School District that addressed some of the points we had discussed and in the email he sent SED Commissioner’s opinion, Appeal of Balen, 40 Ed Dept Rep 479 (2001), is referenced.
GROSS: Mr. Cox relied upon this information incorrectly asserting that the Buddy Program was illegal and board members are improperly entering schools.
FALSE: I never relied on Worona’s email to form an opinion on the School Buddy Program, I relied on what Mr. Worona stated in my interview, that there was no “blank check” from a school board that would give a board member unfettered access, that for each and every instance a board member entered a school building other than for a public event or as a parent or guardian the board would have to give approval for that specific visit. I pressed down on the “blank check” comment because it went to the heart of my one of my main concerns about Mr. Hastie so we discussed that point for a substantial amount of time and he confirmed my understanding, that the school board could not authorize Mr. Hastie to enter buildings for his entire term as Board President but only to enter buildings for a specific purpose at a specific date and time. He could not get approval for Tuesday at 10 a.m. then return on Thursday at 10 a.m. without a separate board authorization.
GROSS: In doing so Mr. Cox overlooked the fact that the City School District of New Rochelle Board of Education (the “Board”) has provided specific delegation of authority for board members to enter the schools on behalf of the Buddy Program.
FALSE: There is no “in doing so” because I did not rely on the email from Worona to form my opinion on the School Buddy Program. Further, I am well aware that the board believes it can give the sort of “blank check” which is one of the reasons I asked Amy Moselhi to call Jay Worona; the board’s understanding differs from my understanding of what Mr. Worona said about “blank checks” during my interview of him in April 22, 2019.
My Open Letter concludes with making the same point I first made publicly on July 2, 2019 when I addressed the Board, that “I continue to believe the School Buddy program is a bad idea” but “most of my concerns with the ill-conceived School Buddy program could easily be resolved by limiting the School Buddy program to public events”.
Soon after publishing my Open Letter on December 17, Jay Worona called me. On the 36-minute call was NYSBBA Communications Manager Al Marlin and NYSBBA Director of Communications, Marketing and Research David Albert.
Mr. Worona spent most of his call filibustering to keep the conversation on the one topic on which we agree: that we never spoke about the school buddy program prior to that moment.
He repeatedly turned the conversation back to the first paragraph of his email when my primary concern is with his second paragraph.
He said the extent of his communications with Mr. Gross was a phone call in which Gross claimed I said Worona offered a legal opinion on the School Buddy Program. He said he told Gross he did not know what he was talking about and would not offer a legal opinion on a program he knew nothing about.
Despite this, in the third paragraph of his email to Gross, he manages to not only describe the program but the intention of the program and even quote directly from the July 2, 2019 board resolution from the New Rochelle Board of Education formalizing the School Buddy program for the 2019-20 school year.
That is quite a feat for someone who began his call with Gross asserting he knew nothing about the program and comical in that he was now telling me quite indignantly he would never offer a legal opinion on a program he knew nothing about. He concludes his email to Gross by doing precisely that:
I assure you I did not comment regarding the District’s “Buddy” program, which I understand has each Board member partner with a participating school in the District on a quarterly basis. The intention of the “buddy” program is to enable each Board member to “. . .learn about the school culture and climate, as well as its students and their parents or guardians and its facility and staff . . .”
There is absolutely no legal impediment to a Board adopting such a program. As noted above, a Board member may be present in a school building during the school day if authorized by the entire Board of Education. The “Buddy” program accomplishes this.
Setting aside the “blank check” issue, he tellingly does not quote the entire paragraph of a board resolution he suddenly knows so well that he can quote it from memory.
The entire paragraph of Board Resolution No. 20-37 authorizing the School Buddy Program for the 2019-2020 school year reads:
RESOLVED, that each Board of Education Member is encouraged to be in contact with his or her “buddy” school’s Principal and/or PTA President throughout the scheduled quarter in order to make the best effort to attend as many events (Meet-the-Teacher-Night, award ceremonies, concerts, PTA events, etc.) as possible at his or her “buddy” school in order to learn about the school’s culture and climate as well as its students and their parents or guardians, and its faculty and staff…
The word “events” here refers to “a planned public or social occasion” as is made clear as the resolution then explicitly describes “events” to be “Meet-the-Teacher-Night, award ceremonies, concerts, PTA events, etc.” If all Board members were doing was attending the sorts of events described in the resolution, I would have not raised the issue about board authorization to go into schools for non-public events.
The whole point of my concern about Daniello’s visit is that he is in a classroom for what does not appear to be a public event hence my question asking on what legal basis is he in that classroom?
Daniello was not in the school for a planned public or social occasion such as Meet-the-Teacher-Night, award ceremonies, concerts, or PTA events.
In his call to me on December 17th, Worona said John Gross called him on the phone to ask why Worona would have made statements that the District’s School Buddy program was “problematic” and why Worona was being quoted saying that the school buddy program was illegal. Worona said Gross led him to believe the District was under the impression he had asserted “illegality” on a program that he knew nothing about. Worona said he told Gross he had “no idea what he was talking about” and “quickly wrote a response” back to Gross.
Having said the basis for his email reply to Gross was the phone call from Gross — and not mentioning my emails at all in his email to Gross — Worona claimed later in his call to me that he was not responding to what Gross said on the phone but what I wrote in my email to Amy Moselhi on December 13th. Worona states repeatedly that he saw all of the emails back and forth with Moselhi, that he was cc’d on all the emails, that he read a “flurry of emails” over the weekend between me and board members, that he read my email on Sunday.
What Worona failed to explain is why he would tell Gross that he had “no idea” what Gross was talking about one day after he says he read a series of emails referencing the New Rochelle Board of Education School Buddy program. In that case, he knew exactly what Gross was talking about.
Worona attempted to sidestep this by incongruously claiming that “copying” someone on an email is not sending an email “to” someone . A distinction without a difference for someone who repeatedly acknowledged he read the emails.
Worona tap-danced around the meaning of the second paragraph of his email to Gross which is clearly intended to convey that I never spoke with Worona or anyone at NYSBBA as is made abundantly clear in Gross’s letter to Moselhi dated December 16th which features Worona’s response to him as a transparent attempt to discredit me without directly addressing my original question about the legal basis for Daniello being in Jefferson Elementary School on December 13th.
Worona said on the phone with me that he could understand why I would be upset if he said that we never spoke but he never said that.
“I am just saying we never had any such conversation about a School Buddy program,” said Worona.
We spoke in April for an hour, I told many people about it including almost every Board member, so when he writes an email saying only that someone sent me an email after I made an inquiry he is denying that we spoke and effectively calling me a liar in the process.
I asked Worona why, if I never interviewed him, his PR guy sent me an email on April 24, 2019 asking me to send him a link to my planned story “with Jay Worona quotes” when I posted it online. After several minutes of fumbling he said NYSSBA has a clipping service and they like to send all the districts articles where NYSBBA is quoted. That may be but it not only does not address why his PR guy is asking me about “Jay Worona quotes” unless I interviewed Jay Worona there would be no need to make a request of me when they pay a service to do it for them.
Confronted about all this on the phone Worona started up with more tap-dancing; that he only said we did not talk about the School Buddy program, that he “honestly” does not recall ever speaking to me, he does not recall a phone call, and numerous other versions of “I do not recall a phone call with you”.
I asked about an email from Al Marlin, his PR guy, who was on the April 22nd call, where Marlin offered his contact information and said all future inquiries should go through him. Does that not suggest I spoke to Worona without going through Marlin?
Worona said NYSBBA had a protocol that the people from the communications department (both on the call as he said this) log all calls, especially press calls.
Worona failed to explain why he was not saying there was no record of my call in the call logs for April 22nd. Perhaps because there was a record of my call but he had not only not asked Marlin about it but told his communications staff not to tell him anything. Maybe because “plausible deniability” is a well-known lawyer’s trick.
When I reminded Worona that he told me that the “legal citations” email was something he had previously prepared for someone in the Newburgh School District, he said that he never worked with anyone from the Newburgh School District then claimed I misunderstood him, that he did not say “Newburgh”, he said “New School Board Member Training” and accused me of writing what he said down wrong. That is some selective memory on a call he claims not to remember and not the sort of transposition error any sentient person would make: “Newburgh” does not sound like “New School Board Member”.
He went further, saying “If you are going to consider yourself a journalist”, then proceeded to explain how I should do my job, saying another reporter would not quote me in an article about a conversation we had several months ago they would would call me back to address a new set of facts then they could cite me in that respect.
Maybe if he is going to consider himself a lawyer, he should note that as I had not written an article about my interview I did not cite him or quote him in an article.
After repeatedly saying he did not want to argue, to fight, to disagree or variations of “agree to disagree,” he admits many times over that I never said he said anything about the School Buddy program:
“You don’t directly say I advised you on the school buddy program. You are correct on that. You don’t directly say that”.
“You are right Robert, you didn’t say that”.
“Did you say directly Jay Worona and I spoke about this issue? No. You are right about that.”
But he hangs on to the canard that Gross has accurately portrayed my words:
“The implication to anybody reading this email is there is a direct connection to Jay Worona and me commenting negatively on the legality of their ongoing program.”
There is no such implication.
“I think the board members were drawing that conclusion (saying) where does Worona get off castigating us for something he doesn’t know anything about”.
There are no such conclusions being drawn by Board members.
Eventually, he admitted he did not read the email carefully and that I did not say or imply that he and I spoke about the School Buddy program yet he blamed me for his own failures saying I somehow placed him in a position of being “misled” by Gross.
If he was misled by John Gross that is on Gross and his firm, Ingerman Smith.
“My interpretation of your email on Sunday – you said we had spoken about the school buddy program your right you did not directly say that but when I read it quickly that’s what I thought you said but you cleared that up.”
It was clear from the beginning.
The question is when will Worona do as I asked and take appropriate corrective action. Like our question on the legal basis for a board to be in a school during regular school hours without Board authorization, I am still waiting.