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Columbia Secondary School Principal Jose Maldanato-Rivera Was Involved In Fraudulent Tax Evasion Scheme When Nicole Suriel Drowned
From the New York Times: "The kids begged in the way that only 12-year-olds can, like drill bits spinning at 3,000 tireless revolutions a minute. The principal had promised a trip to the beach for the class that raised the most money in a walk-a-thon. And the sixth graders in the House of Einstein — their school, Columbia Secondary, groups students into houses — had tied for first." From Betsy Combier: thus started the exposure of a huge tax evasion scandal that will rock the books of all PA/PTA associations in the city of New York. Parent "Mary Brady" - anonymous by choice - has sent New York State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli and Parentadvocates' Editor Betsy Combier her amazing research into the setting up of 501 C 3 parent associations in New York City, Columbia Secondary School being one of them. The Principal and AP are both members on the Board of Directors of a 501 C 3 separate from the Parents Association for which the students raise money.
July 16, 2010
How a Reward Led to a Tragedy at the Beach

The kids begged in the way that only 12-year-olds can, like drill bits spinning at 3,000 tireless revolutions a minute. The principal had promised a trip to the beach for the class that raised the most money in a walk-a-thon. And the sixth graders in the House of Einstein — their school, Columbia Secondary, groups students into houses — had tied for first.

It was nearly the end of the year. In June, Columbia Secondary, a public school in Harlem that opened in 2007, sends classes on trips to study subjects like technology, politics and the environment. Strictly speaking, going to the beach did not pertain to anyone’s schoolwork, but it was a reward promised and undelivered.

On June 21, Andrew Stillman, the assistant principal, who was at home, got in touch with the principal, Jose Maldonado-Rivera. They agreed on a trip to Long Beach. “We’re headed to the beach tomorrow,” Mr. Stillman wrote in an e-mail message to the students and their parents.

By noon, disaster had struck. The water was rough. There were no lifeguards and just three adults with the 24 students. A few minutes after the kids got in, Nicole Suriel, 12, went under the waves. An hour later, she was pulled out, but could not be revived.

Last week, a report by the city’s special commissioner of investigation recounted the details of the trip and the unfortunate judgments by a young teacher and the people who oversaw her. The schools chancellor fired the teacher, demoted the assistant principal and put the principal on probation.

Woven into the narrative, but largely unremarked on, is a shadow world: the private fund-raising that is now part of many public school budgets. Accountability for individuals who have made terrible mistakes is, if not simple, then reasonably straightforward. But figuring out the equities of private fund-raising in public schools would require the invention of an ethical supercomputer. Relentless fund-raising, nonetheless, is surely part of the chain of events that led to Nicole’s death.

In some schools, families raise tens of thousands of dollars through auctions, concerts and dinners prepared by four-star chefs. Others hold bake sales that raise tens of dollars. Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering is associated with a foundation that has brought in well over $100,000 since 2008 to bulk up the school’s resources. The school maintains that it receives less public support on a per-pupil basis than average, largely because it does not have many students from low-income homes who prompt extra allocations. To enhance programs, the school aggressively seeks financial support from its families.

In a letter to parents of new students, Dr. Maldonado-Rivera said they could “donate to our Foundation for Educational Excellence” because Columbia Secondary would then come closer to matching opportunities enjoyed by children in private schools. Parents were urged to contribute at least $500 each.

Teachers said they were pressed by the principal to make sure the families responded to the pledge drives. “There’s this incessant push that you accrue money from your constituency,” said Dee Martin, an architect who teaches at the school. “We’re not a wealthy school, and all the bells and whistles are done with a lot of maneuvering.”

The school provided $12,000 to take 30 students to Washington for 10 days, and the class raised an additional $15,000 to $20,000 for that trip, according to Chance Nalley, a math teacher.

One day in April, the school held a walk-a-thon in Morningside Park. The nine students who got the most in pledges would have dinner with Dr. Maldonado-Rivera. He also announced that the house that raised the most in pledges would go to Orchard Beach. He told investigators that he had mostly forgotten about it until he heard from Mr. Stillman that the students were clamoring for him to make good.

Not realizing that Orchard Beach had been promised, Mr. Stillman quickly arranged a trip to Long Beach, and decided to go along. At the last minute, he decided to stay behind, he told investigators, when the class teacher said her boyfriend was willing to come along. Mr. Stillman said he was hurrying to spend $26,000 in city funds before the end of the term.

That left the teacher, Erin Bailey, her boyfriend and an intern at the beach. She told the students that those who could not swim should stay in the shallow water. There were no lifeguards, but the chancellor’s current rules that govern field trips make no mention of them.

However, some things being simpler than others to legislate, there are rules that prohibit the selling of cupcakes at bake sales more than once a month.


After Student's Drowning, Teachers Slam Principal's Disdain for Regulation
By JOY RESMOVITS, Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2010

Teachers at the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, & Engineering have blasted Principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera for circumventing Department of Education regulations, calling his behavior cavalier.

Mr. Maldonado, principal of the school, may be put on two years probation following the drowning of 12-year-old Harlem sixth grader Nicole Suriel on a June 22 field trip to an unguarded beach. Angry teachers who criticized his leadership said that the first-year teacher on the trip, Erin Bailey, received too harsh a punishment when fired by the Department of Education following the release of a damning report about the incident.

Now, an e-mail message—sent from Dr. Maldonado to teachers on March 16—illustrates the principal's thinking with regard to the Chancellor's Regulations. The e-mail, verified by three teachers copied on the memo, was sent in response to grievances that came out at a meeting.

"Let's not confuse regulations and policies, many of which are known to be inefficient, ineffective, counter educative and misdirected - by DOE or any institution, as equivalent to what's best for education or for children," Mr. Maldonado wrote. "I for one wish this were the case, but 23 years in education (including being faculty head for 6 of them) have shown me that most often you need to break rules and policies to do great things in education.")," the e-mail continued.

The report on the city's investigation into the drowning found that parents did not receive permission slips specific to the field trip to Long Beach. The Chancellor's Regulations state if the trip could include risky activities—such as swimming—the required consent form "must contain specific requests for parent permission to engage in those activities."

The regulations place the principal responsible for all field trip activities. The Department of Education has said it will scrutinize these regulations in light of the report's findings.

Mr. Maldonado's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Letter to New York State Education Commissioner Steiner from "Mary Brady":

Hi Dr. Steiner

I ask that you initiate a proceeding under NYS Education Law section 310 against the New York City Department of Education and remove Chancellor Klein from office under section 306 as this is a matter of public concern. You should strongly consider filing a complaint against Michael Best, as I feel he should be disbarred for many reasons.

I also ask that you empanel an independent investigator to conduct an investigation into defacto DOE policy of involving children in the solicitation of funds which in this case resulted in the drowning of the CSS student.

The investigation referred to as SCI Case # 2010-3226 is flawed. It fails to state, "But for the fundraising activity, no trip to the beach would have occurred during school hours." There was an impermissible solicitation of funds by the school from the children.

The report of the SCI is attached. It states in part (with footnotes omitted),

"Re: Columbia Secondary School
SCI Case #2010-3226

The Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation (“SCI”) has concluded an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Nicole Suriel, a 12-year old female student at the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering (“Columbia Secondary School”) in Manhattan, who drowned during a class trip to Long Beach in Nassau County . . . classes are broken into “houses” named for great minds.

This year, the 6th Grade houses were Edison, Einstein, and Hypatia. The month of June is a “Mini Semester,” known as “J-Term.”

The investigators met with Assistant Principal Andrew Stillman who turned over the original “Universal” trip and swim forms, other documents already provided to SCI by the DOE, additional relevant e- mail messages, and information about the Walk-AThon fundraising activity which gave rise to the trip. . . .

The Walk-A-Thon consisted of several laps around Morningside Park. A student obtained monetary pledges from those who sponsored him or her. Although some witnesses believed that Nicole’s class raised the most funds, apparently they tied with another house in fundraising for the Walk-A-Thon. However, the other 6th Grade class, the house of Hypatia, was slated to go on a two-weekJ-term trip to Puerto Rico to study Island Biodiversity and the beach trip went to Nicole’s class. Principal Maldonado-Rivera headed the trip to Puerto Rico which took place from June 5 through June 19, 2010. . . .

The trip to Long Beach, though at the water, was not an educational trip; it was a fun day meant as a reward. . . .

Regarding the Walk-A-Thon reward, Stillman said that he was not present at the assembly where Principal Maldonado-Rivera made the original offer of an incentive trip . . .When the house of Einstein tied with another house in raising the most money, Stillman was “caught off guard” as students started inquiring about the promised beach trip. The children told him that the principal had made the promise and Stillman said he would look into it.

Stillman sent a reminder e- mail message to Maldonado-Rivera about his promise of a “beach” trip for raising money at the Walk-A-Thon. "

Regents Rule 19.6 prohibits the school from involving students in the direct solicitation of funds. NYSED decision #14033 is an excellent reference regarding the prohibition on intertwining fund raising with education which the CSS principal did.

According to the SCI report, the Principal during school hours and on school property informed all students that the school will involve the group of students (class) which raises the most amount of funds in a class trip during school hours. Because the fundraising activity included prizes in the form of school activities during school hours, the Principal impermissibly intertwined fundraising with education. The "prize" in this case for student fundraising is a field trip as a curricular activity which occurs during school hours. The specter of prizes for fundraising causes peer pressure among students of each class to collect the most amount money and the prize itself involved students during instructional time. But for the fundraiser, the class trip would not have occurred.

About a month ago, a similar problem at my son's school. The school involved my son in a fundraising activity in which prizes were to be distributed depending on the amount of money collected the student collected. A student who collected $5 got a prize. One who collects $11 got two prizes. Students had the opportunity to receive up to ten prizes.

I objected to the "prize" scheme as coercive and unlawful and involving the coercive solicitation of funds from my son. The principal ran it by the Legal Counsel of the DOE, who verified that this scheme is illegal. The principal then informed all parents by notice that the fundraiser is illegal in violation of regents rule 19.6.

How is it that the DOE or the SCI fail to acknowledge that the Principal unlawfully involved children in the solicitation of funds at CSS?

2. The SCI condemns the principal for failing to fingerprint a staff member, but ignores the fact that the third chaperone, a staff member's boyfriend, a "frequent volunteer" for CSS according to SCI, was not fingerprinted either.

Eighteen months ago, the DOE involved my kindergarten daughter in a class activity at the school in the presence of persons who may have been violent or pedophiles (they were not fingerprinted) without my knowledge or consent.

Under FERPA, my daughter's name on her desk, her school work posted for display, and her likeness are all student identifiers and are protected as confidential. The volunteers at the class activity were neither fingerprinted nor did they sign confidentiality agreements assuring to protect my child's privacy.

After that incident, I prohibited the DOE from involving my daughter in any activity involving persons not screened for criminal backgrounds without my knowledge and informed consent. As it turns out, a pedophile (he pled guilty recently to exposing himself to three girls) had volunteered at my daughter's school on more than one occasion.

I have repeatedly requested a copy of chancellor regulation A845 and have been repeatedly stonewalled by the DOE. The DOE initially informed me that the regulation is for volunteers only. I informed the DOE that it is for the public, not for volunteers. The DOE then informed me that the regulation is under review for revision, as are numerous laws, rules and regulations currently in effect throughout the state. That is not a reason to withhold public information.

The DOE refuses to screen its volunteer chaperones, even those for overnight trips. This endangers students as chaperones may be pedophiles, who may be violent, and may have criminal histories.

In summary, I ask that you compel the DOE adopt an official policy prohibiting schools from involving children in the solicitation of funds, as prohibited by Regents Rule 19.6, and I request that you compel the DOE to publicize and enforce its regulation A845 requiring screening of volunteers.

I expect a response by email

Also from "Mary":

educational organizations are an entirely different entity than charitable organizations, and parents associations are Charitable and NOT educational in nature.

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation