JFK Case Study: What happens to NYC Dept of Education investigations?
Lynne Winderbaum was
JFK High School UFT Chapter Leader 1994 – 2003,
Bronx High School District Representative 2003 – 2009,
and has served on the UFT Executive Board since 2006.
She taught at JFK from 1989 until her retirement in 2009.
It is not surprising that it took the comptroller of the State of New York to finally do a legitimate audit and issue findings that show that Anthony Rotunno was primarily responsible for the misappropriation of $90,000 from the general fund treasury of Kennedy High School. (see article in today’s New York Daily News)
There have been at least four major investigations into allegations involving Mr. Rotunno since 2004 by the Department of Education’s investigatory arms, the Office of Special Investigations, the Special Commissioner of Investigations, and the Auditor General. Each time, the investigators returned with a finding of no guilt.
I do not know what it took to get the state comptroller’s office to finally step in, but it can reasonably be said that if the Department of Education’s investigators had conducted fair investigations, this principal’s wrongdoing could have been revealed years ago.
2003: Misappropriation of funds
In 2003, Chapter Leader Maria Colon alleged that Mr. Rotunno had stolen $70,000 from the school’s GO store. The allegation charged that receipts from the store were not deposited directly into the school treasury as the Chancellor’s Regulations require, but that the cash was sent to the principal’s office first where money was siphoned off.
The investigation found no guilt, but in order to rid himself of Ms. Colon, Rotunno dismantled the entire bilingual program so that she could be put in excess as a senior teacher. Then Ms. Colon was subsequently sent to the infamous rubber room for two years by Rotunno on bogus charges for which she would eventually be totally exonerated.
2004: Regents tampering
In 2004 there was an investigation into rampant test score changes on the English Regents.
As District Representative of the UFT, I sat with Special Representative Thomas Tallarini through five hours of interviews with English teachers. They all painstakingly described the process of grading the exams and all was in accordance with the state regulations.
However the papers of twenty students who had received the highest failing score had been converted to the lowest passing score when Assistant Principal Rashid Davis removed the graded exams and crossed out the scores in black, changing the grades on as many as three of the four essays, revising them upward, and initialing the change.
Investigators Barnes and Robert Smalls have never officially closed this investigation after six years, but a preliminary finding they issued said that Davis had the right to do this.
2005: Transcript tampering
In 2005 students who failed summer school classes made the unpleasant trip to their guidance counselors to register to repeat the classes they had failed. They were then sent to the program office to have the classes entered on their programs.
Suspicions were aroused when several of these students returned to their guidance counselors with the happy news that they now had not only passed these classes, but had actually graduated!! The assistant principal of programming who had authorized the changes was Rashid Davis.
The allegations of transcript tampering were reported to the Special Commissioner of Investigations of the Departament of Education by two counselors. They kicked it down to OSI and again investigators Barnes and Smalls were sent to Kennedy.
When Barnes and Smalls were assigned to this case, I asked then president of the UFT, Randi Weingarten, to intervene. She wrote a letter to the Department of Education demanding a fair and thorough investigation. Paul Egan and Rodney Grubiak sat in on the hearings for the UFT and saw guidance counselors produce clear evidence of transcript altering.
But the case is still not closed and no findings of wrongdoing were issued.
In order for Rotunno to rid himself of the two senior counselors who initially reported the tampering, he excessed four guidance counselors essentially removing them from the school to the regional office where they sat in a room doing nothing.
One of the counselors was a related service counselor who had a caseload of 135 special education students who were left unserved in her absence. Rotunno told the district that another related service provider had taken over her caseload. I spoke to that teacher personally and he responded, “No. I have my own caseload of 110.”
Two of the students were hospitalized for threatening suicide in the absence of their counselor. Mr. Rotunno remained on the job. Mr. Davis became a principal.
2008: APO guilty of $145K in illegal overtime
In 2008 the assistant principal of organization, Scott Arbuse, was found guilty of accepting $145,000 of overtime pay illegally from the Department of Education in his former job at Lehman High School.
Rotunno taught for many years at Lehman and they both coached the Lehman football team. Rotunno brought him to Kennedy. Arbuse was not removed and continues to work at the school.
Common theme: NYC DoE investigations find nothing!
All of these investigations were conducted by the New York City Department of Education.
Newspaper articles appearing in the New York press have repeatedly done the investigative work that the OSI and SCI should have done and printed more unbiased articles regarding these incidents. The OSI and the SCI have investigated many allegations of wrongdoing rarely finding misconduct on the part of principals, ignoring the testimony and evidence to let them get away with wrongdoing.
I have sat in on many of these interviews to protect the rights of the union witnesses. Their evidence and testimony carried little weight when there is a predisposition to find no guilt. The damage to the careers of these teachers and counselors, as well as to the school and its students is tragic and patently unfair.
No wonder teachers are afraid to report the wrongdoing they see. They know it will have little chance of a fair investigation and they know their careers and reputations will be jeopardized.
At long last, the state comptroller steps in and justice is done.
Perhaps we should just start turning over our allegations to the state.