More Comments by Leonie Haimson, who savages the coverage of Rotunno by the NY Times:
Anthony Rotunno, who retired as principal of Kennedy HS last month, apparently stole money from student bake sales, among other financial improprieties, according to a new audit from the State Comptroller. See full article from Daily news below.
Not mentioned in the article is how Rotunno was a long favorite of DOE, whose job was protected by them, despite questionable practices of long standing.
Here is an excerpt from a 2004 puff piece about him by Elissa Gootman of the NY Times, lauding his “tough guy” approach to turning around this long-struggling school:
Behind this makeover was Mr. Rotunno and his formula for fixing a school of 5,000, a mix of infusing fun and school spirit into the school day and a determined effort to weed out students standing in the way of improvement…. teachers -- some of them Kennedy graduates still cherishing memories of the school's glory days of science awards and Ivy League acceptance letters in the 1970's and 80's -- generally agree: the school has turned the corner.
But actually teachers despised Rotunno, and in 2005 charges were made by many English teachers that he had improperly student Regents scores to passing. When the DOE finally finished their “investigation” they concluded that he did change scores, but that this was perfectly okay. So much for accountability at DOE!
Here is an excerpt about this from a 2006 column of the much missed former NY Times education columnist, Michael Winerip:
com/2006/ 02/08/education/ 08education. html
[David Cantor] said that the inquiry had looked only into whether the principal, Anthony Rotunno, had the right to change the Regents grades and found that he did….
So far, only one person has been punished, Maria Colon, Kennedy's union representative, who was the first to speak out publicly about the changed scores. She was removed from Kennedy and assigned to a holding room pending a hearing on her case. Her crime? She allegedly used a school fax to send a Newsday reporter documents revealing the scoring changes.
Here is a follow up piece by Winerip, about new accusations from JFK HS guidance counselors that Rotunno had allowed kids to graduate without the proper credits.
Ms. Werner said, "They started giving out credits like candy." Global history is a four-term course spread over two years, and Ms. Diaz and Ms. Werner say they saw transcripts for students who had failed four terms of global history and were given credit for all four courses after passing the global Regents exam.
This reporter obtained copies of transcripts (with names blanked out) from a teacher who requested anonymity for fear of retribution. In one case, a student who failed three semesters of global history classes starting in January 2003 was given credit for those courses after passing the state global history Regents exam with a 65 in January 2005. A student who failed freshman English 1 and 2 in 2002-03 was given credit for those courses after passing the English Regents with a 68 in January 2005.
In an interview in February, Mr. Rotunno said the policy was not new, just a clarification of an existing policy that went back to the school's beginning.
Despite these new allegations, Rotunno stayed, and the guidance counselors who spoke up in defense of standards lost their jobs.
The culture of so-called “accountability” at DOE, meaning principals can basically do anything as long as they produce better test scores and higher graduation rates, may have made Rotunno believe he was invulnerable in other ways as well.
Unfortunately, a policy of nearly unregulated credit recovery has been instituted throughout the city; and giving out credits “like candy” is now encouraged as the primary means to improve your school’s statistics, save your own job, and possibly get a bonus besides.
This new audit is just one more in a growing list of reports from the State Comptroller, the City Comptroller, and the Special Investigators office showing millions of dollars of stolen and misused funds by schools because of lax financial oversight by DOE, the results of Tweed’s “anything goes” attitude towards principal “empowerment”.
John F. Kennedy High School staffers swipe nearly $90G, even kids' bake sale money
Friday, June 25th 2010, 4:00 AM
Chu for News
Anthony Rotunno (b.) made a hasty exit from his job as principal of John F. Kennedy HS in the Bronx after state investigators began looking into an alleged ripoff of some $90,000.
Schwartz for News
Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? The grownups at John F. Kennedy High School, that's who - a new state report says.
Principal Anthony Rotunno resigned after probers uncovered the sugary swindle - the latest black eye for a school facing possible closure.
In a particularly egregious abuse, Kennedy staffers blew more than $7,000 on four retirement parties at suburban eateries, the audit found.
"This was the students' money," DiNapoli said. "They raised it selling cupcakes and asking for donations. The students worked hard to raise this money. Whoever is responsible should be punished."
The audit, covering the period July 2007 to June 2009, found that Kennedy staffers misused or stole $91,216.
That money was pooled in what's known as a general school fund, an account used to pay for student activities such as trips and proms. The cash comes from student bake sales, candy sales, other fund-raisers and proceeds from the school store.
The teachers used a chunk of the money to party at Live @ the Falcon, a popular concert hall in Marlboro, N.Y., in September 2007, sources said.
In June 2008, they celebrated at Yonkers eateries Dunwoodie Pizzeria & Restaurant and Tombolino Ristorante. And they dined at Pasta Amore, an Italian restaurant in Piermont, with sweeping views of the Hudson River.
"Kennedy officials told us that they reimbursed the account for $7,114 [for the teacher parties]; however, they were unable to provide any evidence to indicate that this had occurred," DiNapoli's report says.
The Education Department is investigating how the rest of the money disappeared.
Among the audit's other alarming findings:
- The Kingsbridge school owes $60,559 to a vendor for yearbooks, caps, gowns and championship rings purchased from 2004 to 2007.
- Kennedy is also on the hook for $22,790 to a vending machine company for supplies bought for the school store.
- The school spent $713 of the students' cash on teachers' keys.
- The school's treasurer bounced 15 checks worth a total of $28,825 because she didn't even know the accounts were depleted.
The report pins blame squarely on Rotunno's shoulders.
"The Kennedy principal did not establish basic accountability for student funds," the report says.
Rotunno stepped down in May, officials said.
Reached on his cell phone, Rotunno said only, "That's something that would have to be handled by the Department of Education."
A department supervisor has taken control of the finances of the troubled school, which is one of 34 facing possible closure by the state.
DiNAPOLI: MORE THAN $90,000 IN STUDENT FUNDS
AT JOHN F. KENNEDY SCHOOL CAMPUS MISUSED OR STOLEN
More than $83,000 in student funds was either misused or stolen at the Bronx’s John F. Kennedy High School, according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Auditors found that most of this money was owed to vendors dating back to 2004, but the vendors were never paid and the money cannot be accounted for. Additionally, the school spent more than $7,000 of the student funds for four separate teacher retirement celebrations, which is not authorized. DiNapoli’s auditors also found that the school’s treasurer bounced tens of thousands of dollars in checks because she did not know there wasn’t enough money in the account.
Because DiNapoli’s auditors suspect money was missing or stolen from the John F. Kennedy High School, the findings were immediately referred to the Office of the Auditor General within the Department of Education (DoE) who contacted the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the DoE. DiNapoli noted that the DoE was quick to act on the findings.
“This was the students’ money,” DiNapoli said. “They raised it selling cupcakes and asking for donations. The students worked hard to raise this money. Whoever is responsible should be punished.”
The Kennedy audit was conducted in conjunction with audits of other NYC schools and how they expended General School Funds (GSF). The audit covered the period July 2007 to June 2009.
The breakdown of the missing or misused funds, which auditors have totaled at $83,389, is as follows:
- The school owes $60,599 to a vendor for yearbooks, caps, gowns, and championship rings purchased for prior school years 2004-05, 2005-06, and 2006-07; and
- The school owes $22,790 to a vending machine company for supplies purchased for the school store. This same company provided at least a $1,500 in monthly credit to the school as a commission on vending machine sales. School officials said they used the credit to purchase merchandise for the school store, but auditors found that the store’s shelves were virtually empty.
Additional findings in DiNapoli’s audit include the following:
- The school spent $7,827 on items unrelated to students’ needs including $7,114 for four separate teacher retirement parties at restaurants and $713 in locksmith expenses (for teacher keys);
- The Kennedy treasurer bounced 15 checks totaling $28,825 because she was unaware that there were insufficient funds in the GSF account;
- Kennedy officials did not maintain basic accounting records to document GSF activity and that DoE-required approval processes were routinely circumvented and ignored; and
- There were no records kept for sales at the school store. Cash register tapes were not used when ringing up sales; there were no records to indicate the total daily cash intake before the proceeds were taken to the treasurer for deposit.
In a related audit issued on May 25, 2010 Report 2009-N-11, DiNapoli’s auditors examined the use of GSF accounts at the other high schools located on the John F. Kennedy school campus: Marble Hill High School for International Studies (Marble Hill), Bronx Theater High School (Bronx Theater), Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy (Bronx Engineering)
- Poor accounting records prevented the auditors from fully accounting for GSF funds.
- At Bronx Law and Finance, the principal used GSF funds to pay for 80 credit card charges totaling $5,312; $4,060 of which were unrelated to student activities.
- At Marble Hill and Bronx Theatre, principals had unauthorized debit cards that were sometimes used to make cash withdrawals, including over $1,260 that was ostensibly used to pay for certain senior prom costs, but not supported by either invoices or receipts.
- All GSF accounts must be approved by DoE, yet the principals at Bronx Engineering or Bronx Law and Finance opened GSF accounts without the DoE’s approval.
DiNapoli recommended that the NYC DoE:
- Ensures that the GSF accounts are reimbursed for the inappropriate expenditures;
- Conduct a detailed review of the remaining untested GSF expenditures;
- Provide training to DoE principals on the Kennedy campus regarding their responsibilities in overseeing student funds; and
- Ensure GSF funds at the Kennedy campus are used only for appropriate purposes.
School officials have 90 days from the release of DiNapoli’s report to develop a corrective action plan.
The full audit can be found here: http://osc.state.
NOTE: GSF bank accounts are the accumulated funds donated to and/or raised by the students and/or school organizations to support extracurricular and co-curricular student activities. This includes funds raised for senior year activities, such as the senior prom and yearbook; funds raised by students from bake sales; and other fund raising activities undertaken to offset extracurricular expenses.