A Few Words on the New Rochelle Board of Education in 2020 and Transparency

Written By: Robert Cox

A few words on the New Rochelle Board of Education in 2020 and Transparency.

Since January, it has been the position of the Board that Freedom of Information Requests need not be complied with. In January, the pretext for this was that the School Business Office was working on the Budget. In March that changed to saying schools were closed due to COVID-19. On that basis, as school are closed at least until July but possibly until December, that may mean a full year without access to public records. Note that most records are electronic, that the District has not ceased to function and everyone is getting paid to work.

The Board and Administration have stopped responding to Media Inquiries. Instead, the public is fed a steady diet of email blasts.

Since March meetings have been held on Zoom without a public comment period. Before that meetings were held at City Hall but the public was barred. The board has discussed this and agreed to bar the public from commenting at meetings. The public was told questions could be asked via an online form. I asked 2 questions for the 5/5 meeting (on status of Adofo Muhammad contract and the new process to run for school board) neither question was read into the record nor answered. The board said the public could email questions but they would choose which were appropriate and which were “crazy”.

The recently released announcement for the special meeting on May 19th says “This meeting will be accessible to the public through Zoom at the designated time (time approximate) on the evening of the meeting. There will be a segment for public speakers at this meeting.”

The law requires public comment on the budget so this is not the board changing its mind.

This puts the lie to the idea that there is a technical or legal reason to bar public comment.

The videos from the Zoom meetings are not being published in a timely manner even though it is easier to publish them.

The zoom videos do not have a “title” embedded in them to indicate the date of the meeting. The date beneath the video on the BOE Home Page is the “published on” date. When the meetings are called to order neither the BOE President or Board Clerk states the date of the meeting. In other words, there is no way for the public to know which meetings have published videos nor the dates of the meetings that are published. With the various special meetings and budget review meetings and regular meetings it is not possible to simply pick the date (and type) of a particular meeting and watch it. The public is put on a wild goose chase.

The stonewalling on FOIL requests goes back to the fall of 2019 and appears set to continue until mid to late 2020. The stonewalling on Adofo Muhammad is of the same sort. Barring public comment when it is Board Policy to allow public comment may be illegal but it is certainly a deliberate effort to deny residents, parents, employs and taxpayers a venue to raise concerns in a public forum as has been the practice in New Rochelle for decades.

The Board engaged it what appears to be deliberate obstruction in getting information about the school board elections out to prospective candidates. After 18 emails, I never got answers to questions going back to May 1st as to qualified for the ballot by the original deadline and answers on how the process to get on the ballot was supposed to work under the extended deadline. Governor Cuomo changed the school and library election process late Friday May 1st. The District’s law firm provided legal guidance to the Board on Sunday, May 3rd but withheld that information until the end of day on Wednesday May 6th, and then changed the rules yet again on May 11th, the new deadline, causing some prospective candidates to drop out.

It is my view that this a deliberate effort to undermine transparency and accountability. It is NOT due to the Budget or Coronavirus because it began months BEFORE the coronavirus was an issue in the United States.

It is in keeping with the general attitude of Dr. Feijóo who comes from a culture that abhors transparency and accountability. The Board under Amy Moselhi and Paul Warhit have gleefully embraced Dr. Feijóo’s politburo style.

They have had their say. The rest of us get to have our say on June 9 with the school budget vote.

You know what to do.