“A thick, dank, fetid cloud…”
Yesterday, September 16, 2010, almost 100 teachers from throughout the Bronx rallied in front of the Theodore Roosevelt building on Fordham Road to protest a sexually-harassing principal and his protection by Joel Klein. Richard Bost, the principal of Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology was found to have sexually harassed a secretary in his school, has faced numerous other allegations. He was fired, and immediately reinstated by Tweed.
Eighteen months ago, March 13, 2009, 400 teachers from throughout the Bronx protested Iris Blige, another abusive principal in the same building, at Fordham HS of the Arts, for her outrageous actions against her employees. That time, students exiting the building watched the demonstration (some may have participated). This time, Bost called an unscheduled early dismissal of the whole building to prevent students from watching? joining? speaking? – we don’t know which he fears most.
Jose Vargas, UFT Bronx Borough Representative spoke, as did District Rep Annette Carlucci, Chapter Leader Novelette Foote, and Guidance Counselor Dianne Gallagher. Lynne Winderbaum, former UFT Bronx HS District Rep (now retired) dealt with these abusive principals almost every day. She spoke passionately back in ’09 at the Arts rally. And she spoke again yesterday:
Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology was a well-respected school when Leonard Wolff turned over the reins to Richard Bost. But a cloud has hung over the Fordham Leadership Academy since Richard Bost took over. It is a low, thick, dank, fetid cloud that reeks of allegations and findings of sexual misconduct, favoritism, intimidation, and misappropriation of school funds.
It is a cloud that envelops not only the hard-working staff of this school, but the students as well. They are not only aware of the publicity surrounding the misconduct of this individual who should be their role model, but they have also articulated the discomfort they feel in his presence. The fact that anyone at all from the staff of this school has had the courage and fortitude to stand up for relief today is a miracle in the face of Mr. Bost’s carrot and stick approach to discourage speaking out. Richard Bost has repeatedly been investigated for misconduct and repeatedly been reported for sexual harassment.
As far back as October of 2008, I had lunch with Elena Papaliberios, the superintendent, at Patricia’s on Tremont Avenue and among the many issues we discussed, I warned her that I had been receiving complaints of inappropriate sexual misconduct against Richard Bost. I told her that no one wants to go on record because they are afraid for their careers but informally, I warned her to intercede and make him desist before the matter became an embarrassment. But it continued. In April of 2009, while we were at the NYSUT convention in Buffalo, I called Marge Struk, the network leader of Bost’s school. I told her the behavior was continuing and it must stop. Last spring I had a conversation with Jerry Garfin. When he told me he was working with Bost, I asked him confidentially to tell him to keep his hands off the teachers. Garfin said it was only one. I told him that there was only one brave enough to file a complaint, but there were many more reports. Bost was found guilty of sexual misconduct in that sole investigation. He was not removed. He was returned to supervise the very same secretary who lodged the complaint!! Finally, it was his accuser who had to leave!!
Bost was also investigated by SCI for misappropriation of funds. A $7000 contribution from Con Edison which was supposed to be spent on materials for the school robotics team, instead was authorized by Bost to be paid to Francine Mullins and was deposited in her personal bank account. Mullins never spent a penny on robotics material. This was a violation of Chancellor’s regulations and when the investigation was initiated by Con Edison, Mullins hastily wrote two checks four months later from her personal bank account back to the school totaling $7000. The interest-free loan and violation of DOE policy was reported to the Special Commissioner of Investigations. The investigation resulted in a slap on Bost’s wrist–a simple file letter. We don’t need to imagine the fate of a teacher charged with similarly writing checks from a school account to a personal account with no receipts.
Students were also on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior. I received a report that Bost told a student who used foul language that if he ever heard such language again, “he would shove a baseball bat up his a–.” The Chancellor’s regulations forbid, “language that tends to threaten physical harm”. I immediately called Marc Pascente, the building manager at the time, to make sure there was an OSI report on a verbal abuse violation. He sent me an email attesting to the fact that the matter had indeed been reported to Michelle Johnson, the legal counsel of the district and to the Office of Special Investigations. I do not know of any disciplinary action that resulted from that investigation. But the insistence to this day by Papaliberios and others that there was no hard evidence, flies in the face of DOE practice and policy that removes employees from a building on the mere allegation of verbal abuse, pending an investigation, whether it was ultimately true or not. It did however succeed in sending a message to students and staff that nothing would happen to this principal, regardless of what he did or how he behaved.
One might say that the Department of Education would tolerate this type of if he were a great leader of an outstanding school. But Bost’s tenure has been defined by the decline of Fordham Leadership Academy and its placement on the Race to the Top list of persistently failing schools. Besides its academic decline, it has been characterized by poor attendance and disruptive atmosphere.
And then there is that fetid cloud that permeates everything and has impeded this school from being all that it was or could be.
We call for the immediate removal of this principal and ask that the chancellor impose appropriate consequences.
I support you and wish you good luck in your fight to restore your school and your dignity!