Government Lies, Corruption and Mismanagement

Education Officials of the Rochester City School District Spend $240,000 on Restaurants and Catering While the Deficit Grows

As the Rochester City School District was building a $61 million deficit, district officials were dining out and getting meals catered.

The RCSD spent $270 here this year. (Rochester, N.Y.) – As the Rochester City School District was building a $61 million deficit, district officials were dining out and getting meals catered.

Data obtained by 13WHAM News through the Freedom of Information Law shows the district spent nearly $240,000 on restaurants and caterers since the beginning of the 2007-08 school year.

The catering expenses included more than $18,000 at Mr. Dominick’s Italian restaurant, more than $60,000 at Wegmans, more than $1,800 at Salvatore’s pizza and sub shop, $1,700 at Dinosaur Barbeque, $500 at E.J. Del Monte, and $270 at the Penfield Country Club.

The catering information did not include the specific events or participants.

“In today's economic times, taxpayers shouldn't be buying food for people,” said Mayor Robert Duffy.

The information also included dozens of restaurant purchases that added up to thousands of dollars. The district did not name the restaurants, the people who ate, or the city in which they dined. A spokesman said the district would have had to create a new document to name the restaurants, something not required under the law. 13WHAM News requested the credit card statements, but did not get a response. 13WHAM News has since filed a new request for all credit card statements.

Bob Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said the district did not have to create a new document to reveal the restaurant information.

“It’s impossible to say, ‘Sorry, we can give you the credit card statements,’” Freeman said, adding 13WHAM News should not have had to file a new request.

“Wow those are big bills,” said Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski, who said the district didn’t spend that money in schools.

“When it comes to school functions they won't even provide a cup of coffee,” Urbanksi said. “Apparently that rule doesn't apply to Central Office bureaucrats.”

Mayor Duffy said the city has cut back on catering. He said he rarely bills the city for meals.

“I have a city credit card and the only time I use it is trips to Albany. Usually when I go out to lunch I pay my own way,” he said.

Diane Clume, a parent of three students, has tried to get the district to prepare healthier, more appealing lunches.

“I'm told there's no money in the district to do certain things and then you see something like this and you really wonder,” she said. “It’s really frustrating.”

District spokesman Tom Petronio said the district has frozen restaurant and catering expenses.

“Meal expense lines have been frozen as we work on reducing our deficit and building a responsible 2009-10 budget. This is a priority for the Superintendent,” Petronio said.

The district did not provide data on any purchases that took place after November 25, 2008, a short time after our request was filed. “The report was created in November, following your initial request, hence no purchases listed for after November,” Petronio said in an email. However, 13WHAM News did not get the catering and restaurant data until early March.

The school board did not have to approve the purchases, as each individual item was less than $25,000. The school board’s policy for such purchases is that they be a “prudent and economical use of public monies, in the best interests of the taxpayers…at the lowest possible cost under the circumstances.”

RCSD Restaurant Bills
RCSD Restaurant and Catering Expenses 08-09 (95.9KB)
RCSD Restaurant and Catering Expenses 07-08 (146.7KB)


RCSD Withholding Info on Restaurant Purchases
Posted by: Rachel Barnhart, Email:
Last Update: 3/18 5:50 pm

The Rochester City School District is withholding information about meals purchased at restaurants by district employees with district credit cards.

I filed a FOIL request in November for all catering and restaurant purchases covering the years 2007-08 and 2008-09.

In November, district spokesman Tom Petronio said he had compiled a list of the caterers, but needed to get the vendors for the credit card purchases. Apparently, when the district enters these expenses into its computer system, there’s no mechanism identifying the restaurant.

Four months later, Petronio told me he can’t get me the names of the specific restaurants, because he would have to create a new document, which governments do not have to do under the law. So he gave me a list of dozens of purchases with items like “JP Morgan Chase - $235.87.” That doesn’t tell me much (except that the district has one or more credit cards floating around, and people like to use them.) Furthermore, the information he gave me stopped at November.

Two HUGE problems here:

1. The district would not have to create a new document. How about giving me the credit card statements themselves? This is a position that Bob Freeman of the New York Committee on Open Government agrees with me on. He said there’s no way the district doesn’t have documents indicating where those purchases were made. He also said my original FOIL should cover those items, and I shouldn’t have to file a new one.

2. The information stops in November. If you’re going to make me wait this long for the information, it better be up to date.

I emailed Petronio a week ago and told him I was going to do a story on how the district is holding back information on restaurant purchases (the catering stuff definitely raises eyebrows), unless he got back to me about the credit card statements.

I decided to first post a blog that I hope will spur the district into action.

But if they don’t respond, the next time you hear from me on this issue, it will be in the form of an actual news story, telling you what we know already, and what the district doesn’t want you to know. And I won't make you wait long.

RCSD Top Officials' Pay Rising

Rachel Barnhart (Rochester, N.Y.) – Former Rochester Superintendent Dr. Clifford Janey was forced out of office in 2002 amid budget controversies that included the size and payroll of his cabinet.

When it comes to the Rochester City School District’s top-level staff, not much has changed under Dr. Manuel Rivera.

An analysis of data obtained by 13WHAM News through the Freedom of Information Law shows Rivera increased the size of his non-secretarial appointed staff by six positions, to 36. The payroll for this group also increased by 45 percent, to $4.02 million during Rivera’s five-year tenure.

The cabinet-level positions are part of the Superintendent Employee Group, a non-unionized category of workers that includes confidential secretaries and high-level officials. The superintendent negotiates their salaries, which are then approved by the school board.

Among the highest paid SEG members:

• James R. Cooney, Chief Financial Officer -- $162,000
• C. Michael Robinson, Chief of Operations -- $147,250
• Michael J. Looby, Chief Legal Counsel -- $146,250
• Ford C. Greene, Chief Information Officer -- $145,750
• David S. Silver, Associate Chief of Program Management -- $144,500
• Joanne Giuffrida, Chief Human Resources Officer -- $139,250
• Marilyn P. Grant, Chief of Small School Partnerships -- $135,000

Rivera earns $230,000.

Rivera maintains the compensation for his staff is fair, because the jobs are complex and carry a large amount of responsibility. He also said the pay must be competitive, or he risks losing qualified officials to the private sector or larger school districts.

Rivera added that SEG members deserve more compensation, because many have given up union protections to join his staff.

“There are tremendous needs in our school system and huge responsibilities that we have. Trying to find great people means that we have to be prepared to offer the kind of salaries to attract them,” he said.

Rivera said it’s not fair to compare his cabinet to Janey’s, because he has restructured his staff. Also, in the last five years, it’s become harder to recruit school executives.

It took the district about a year to find a chief financial officer, and the district had to hire a search firm.

"It's a phenomenon that's affecting urban districts and school systems nationwide," Rivera said.

In addition, Rivera said the salaries for top RCSD officials are comparable to local suburban districts.

Adam Urbanksi, president of the Rochester Teachers Association said, “It's discouraging that salaries for Central Office bureaucrats are increasing at a much higher pace than salaries for everyone else in the system, especially teachers.”

Urbanski has long been a critic of Central Office salaries.

“They should be competitive, as the teachers’ salaries are competitive, but they should not be as exorbitant as some of them are," he said.

The 2006-07 budget for the Buffalo school system shows the payroll for the superintendent’s staff is $1.8 million, less than half what it is in Rochester. Buffalo has a similar student population with similar test results.

When asked about Buffalo's smaller payroll, Rivera said school districts each structure their administrations differently, and some top officials in Buffalo may be part of bargaining units not reflected in the budget figure.

At City Hall, only the mayor makes more than $120,000 a year, at $124,337. Fourteen members of Rivera’s cabinet earn more than $120,000.

Mayor Robert Duffy said he’s aware of the disparity between the district and the city in terms of the salaries of top officials.

“I don't care about programs, projects, efforts, speeches, or anything. I care about results. And the one thing I know is that half our kids graduate,” Duffy said.

Rivera said he can hold his cabinet members accountable, because he can fire them with or without cause. He also pointed to improved test scores at the elementary level, and acknowledged frustration with high school results.

Duffy would not comment on whether he will weigh the SEG payroll when deciding how much money to give the school district next school year.

To look up salaries of RCSD cabinet members in the final school years of the Janey and Rivera administrations, click on the links below.


Janey’s Cabinet 2/15/02

Rivera’s Cabinet 11/06

RCSD Annual Accountability Report