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JFK Case Study: What happens to NYC Dept of Education investigations?

June 25, 2010 pm30 4:44 pm

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.

Finally!

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.

Another way

At long last, the state comptroller steps in and justice is done.

Perhaps we should just start turning over our allegations to the state.

Lynne Winderbaum
June, 2010

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2010 pm30 8:04 pm 8:04 pm

    It is so important to always seek the Truth no matter how long or whatever injustice is put in our path. This mendacity will not prevail. The Rotunno’s of the world cannot win. Shame on him and that he has brought disgrace to his family. Stay the course and the correct winds will get you to the harbor safely. In the end, the big bad wolf will blow his own house down.
    Lynne, you are always fighting for the little guy and there are a lot of us that will go to bat with you,
    God Bless.
    Regards,
    Richard Pero

  2. Zulma Villalba permalink
    June 25, 2010 pm30 9:51 pm 9:51 pm

    As a high school chapter leader in a small school in the Bronx, I will always be grateful to Lynne for constantly advocating and protecting the members’ rights. In every meeting she listened to the chapter leaders’ concerns especially if these concerns dealt with some form of impropriety by an administrator and would, without hesitation, investigate the matter. Her message was very clear to the administrators – there’s no room for corruption and deceit where children are affected and teachers are disrespected.

    Her passion to fight the good fight against unethical, corrupted administrators is why I and other chapter leaders are not afraid to blow the whistle if necessary. There’s no fear if you are fighting for justice.

    Thank you Lynne!

  3. June 26, 2010 am30 2:07 am 2:07 am

    tank,for your info

  4. June 26, 2010 am30 7:29 am 7:29 am

    Lynne saw this close up. This is not second-hand reporting.

    And she fought like hell.

    But all four investigations got buried. We need to figure out how NOT to let that happen. And step 1 – just what Lynne does here – expose it.

  5. June 26, 2010 am30 10:57 am 10:57 am

    I admire the individuals staffers who fight, and told them so.

    My problem is that the UFT is not using its enormous weight to expose all the levels of misconduct that has become commonplace in the DoE at this time. How many hundreds of professional educators have to lose their careers before the UFT plants its feet on the ground and says: Not on our watch.

    • TeacherHusband permalink
      June 27, 2010 pm30 2:56 pm 2:56 pm

      I absolutely agree. I find it disgusting that when a teacher reports notable problems to the UFT, they shrug their shoulders unless every teacher in the school speaks up. It ignores the fact that many teachers may be complicit in anti-union activities or prefer to keep their own heads down than stand up for their fellow teachers.

  6. Rick Mangone permalink
    June 26, 2010 pm30 12:26 pm 12:26 pm

    Lynne who replaced my good friend David Shulman was an excellent DR and advocate for our members and public education. The UFT has repeatedly fought the DOE and complained in the media and in court about the unfair practices by the DOE when needed. What this case really shows is the contempt by the administration of rule and reason to justify their bogus claims of reform and improvement. That is why some administrators are allowed to get away with illegal actions. The DOE protects their data the individuals merely facilitate this fraud with their blessings. Kudos to Lynne.

    • June 26, 2010 pm30 2:08 pm 2:08 pm

      It’s one thing to complain about the DoE’s unfair practices – we do do that, though less than we should. Those happen at the school level, and centrally.

      It is quite another to expose the anti-teacher bias of the investigative units, which Lynne has done here. Lynne documents a pattern of ignoring misconduct. Some might conclude that that pattern was in and of itself misconduct.

      We need to speak openly about the conduct of the investigators. Thank you, Lynne.

  7. June 26, 2010 pm30 3:45 pm 3:45 pm

    Again, when you say “We need to speak openly about the conduct of the investigators,” who is the “We” ?

    Whistleblowers have certainly spoken out, and so have a number of brave CLs and DRs. The opposition caucuses and practically all of the edblog community has been consistently, comprehensively and tirelessly speaking out.

    The great big missing “We” that has most certainly NOT been speaking out is the entire leadership: Randi Weingarten then, Michael Mulgrew now, plus most members on the union’s successive executive boards.

    They couldn’t because their strategy — top-down from the getgo — has always been clandestine deal-making and preemptive participation.

    As long as they stay this course, we’re going down.

    • June 26, 2010 pm30 11:35 pm 11:35 pm

      I don’t think it’s a clarifying request. We adopted a horrendous contract in 2005, and we should make sure we don’t do that again. I think the “we”s are quite clear.

      In any event, your main point is well-taken.

      Jonathan

  8. WATCHDOG permalink
    June 26, 2010 pm30 10:13 pm 10:13 pm

    TIME FOR SOMEONE TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK —

    It may be time again to investigate the investigations that are being conducted by the NYC Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigations (SCI) and, for that matter, the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) of the Department of Education. More than ten (10) years ago, the UFT hired a private firm to look into the fairness and accuracy of an investigative report completed, at that time, by the Special Commissioner of Investigation. After conducting their own complete and proper investigation, the private firm headed by a former assistant district attorney, issued their findings entitled, “Setting the Record Straight: Anatomy of a Failed Investigation”, and concluded, in part, that the investigation conducted by SCI was, “flawed, unreliable, and unfair”. Over the past decade, we have continued to see investigations that we believe may have been flawed with findings that certainly have not been in keeping with the facts. The time may be now and the time may be right for the writing of a sequel, ” Setting the Record Straight: The Truth About Fairness.” What do you think?

    • Anonymous permalink
      February 18, 2013 am28 7:15 am 7:15 am

      I agree as I’m living through this now. OSI and SCI have whitewashed some investigations in my school. Not mine though. They are still actively investigating me after I blew the whistle on corruption.

      Jonathan, I’d like to repost this on Protectportelos.org

      • majorpero permalink
        February 18, 2013 am28 11:41 am 11:41 am

        The real truth is that the DOE controls more than you think, Find out what Rotunno is doing now at the DOE…. is he an outside or inside consultant for this SS group ? Was he an Assistant Principal at some school in the Bronx recently ?

  9. June 29, 2010 am30 9:00 am 9:00 am

    An article from lohud.com that I thought everyone should know about.

    PLEASANTVILLE — Pleasantville school officials are trying to figure out how to proceed since finding out that their newly hired high school principal — set to start his $174,000-a-year job Aug. 1 — was forced to resign in late May after state auditors revealed that staffers at his Bronx high school raided some $90,000 in student-raised funds.

    It’s not clear whether Anthony Rotunno, a Hawthorne resident, will keep his new job leading the 620-student high school.

    • Dan Cultice permalink
      June 30, 2010 am30 10:53 am 10:53 am

      As a Pleasantville resident, I plan on exposing all of the faces, connections and motivations that lead up to the hiring of this unqualified candidate. When $250k/year superintendents hire $170k/year principals with this kind of background, you have to wonder.

      • June 30, 2010 am30 11:47 am 11:47 am

        I am a Pleasantville resident too and I would like to join you at next meeting I believe will be July 6th. Please time and place.
        Thanks

  10. June 29, 2010 am30 10:08 am 10:08 am

    John F. Kennedy is slated for closing. This is Rotunno’s legacy.

  11. Jayne s...happily retired teacher, loved jfk permalink
    June 29, 2010 pm30 7:55 pm 7:55 pm

    Yes, yes, yes and yes..i saw it with my own eyes….it has taken too long for this to be acted upon
    careers were destroyed at kennedy because of this greed….the union was constant; thanks lynne and true thanks to maria colon…years in the rubber room…a jfk graduate ; wonderful teacher ..plucked from the classroom ,,,
    perhaps you can contact channel 12 news also and give all this info
    jfk family
    jayne

  12. Retiree! permalink
    July 1, 2010 am31 10:52 am 10:52 am

    Pleasantville needs lessons in vetting their employees! Rotunno’s name could have been found on google for the last 5 years!!! How difficult of a search is that to do??? It reminds me of the Andre Hornsby case….. superintendent of Yonkers (problems in Texas before that), asked to leave Yonkers and promptly got a job in NYC B of E (BIG job!)… left that and went to Maryland as a superintendent (big trouble there) and was investigated by the FBI.

    • KMTMB permalink
      July 1, 2010 pm31 9:02 pm 9:02 pm

      Not just investigated but found guilty in Federal court and sentenced. I don’t remember the specifics. It had something to do with the vendor of Leapfrog software and a girlfriend and his receiving “gifts”. Mail or wire fraud maybe?

      Of course Yonkers also had its own homegrown felon super…Angelo Petrone; found guilty and sentenced to serving community service.

      • Retiree! permalink
        July 2, 2010 am31 7:12 am 7:12 am

        And once again… any district interested in Andre Hornsby only had to google the name! Some search committees are more gifted than others, I guess! Wasn’t that a nice way to put it?!

  13. Diane Gallagher permalink
    July 2, 2010 am31 11:52 am 11:52 am

    The light is shining on the cockroaches. Principals’ unbridled power enables them to run schools as though they exist outside of a democracy. This is done in the “name” of Children First rhetoric. Read White Chalk Crime by Horwitz and you will see we are in a national abuse scandal that is starting to make public the tyranny many teachers are forced to work under and the ensuing stressful environment that is not humane for any, especially our children.
    Shame on former JFK principal. It gives new meaning to the cliche: stealing candy form a baby.
    Shame on a system that de-values educators and protects the abusers.
    Is the DOE following in the Catholic Church’s footsteps?
    We need to be more of a WE. UFT needs to exercise more protection of its members.
    We need an army of Lynne Winderbaums.

  14. Anyone permalink
    July 20, 2010 pm31 8:52 pm 8:52 pm

    It should also be noted that, under Mr Rotunno’s so-called leadership, teachers from John F. Kennedy HS were FORCED to turn over their $200+ teacher’s choice checks to the school. Of couse this is illegal but teacher’s were coaxed with daily notes from the administration.

    A RETIRED TEACHER WROTE THIS:

    How did he get away with this for so many years? Mr Rotunno was a great actor who could talk his way out of anything. The fact is he was all talk with no substance. He completely failed to help teachers or students who needed it. Instead he would put on a show and PRETEND to help. The fact is he did nothing except allow the students to misbehave and run the school to the ground. Why did he get away with this for so many years? Why is the DOE (dopes Of Education) still ruining our schools, teachers and kids? Sooner or later the complete truth will come out.

    THE TRUTH TELLER!

  15. John permalink
    July 20, 2010 pm31 8:57 pm 8:57 pm

    You’re so correct TRUTH TELLER. I’d like to add that the system is ruining kids in America by letting them use calculators to learn math. This is a case where technology has hurt society!!

  16. September 12, 2011 am30 4:29 am 4:29 am

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