The Hezitorial: The Trick to Political Survival is Unembarrassability
Government has a repertoire of ingredients that permit its viability. A little bit of this, that and the other. Too often, the public forgets or is dismissive of the subtlety of purpose underfoot. While there are many who eschew the recent debacle that has beset Paideia School 15 of Yonkers, all that was revealed was the mold infestation, water logged roof, and the evident and recognizable lack of planning by the Yonkers Public School District’s response to concerns known for months, even years. Almost all was dismissed with the shrug of the shoulders by Yonkers Public School District Superintendent Dr. Edwin Quezada. Similarly verbose, the denier of circumstances that brought this long pending crisis was none other than Yonkers Board of Education Trustee President Rev. Steve Lopez. Their tandem and corroborating lies and deceitful conduct were heard at a special meeting conducted by Yonkers City Council Majority Leader (D-District 3) and Education Chair Michael Sabatino this past week.
From the onset Sabatino permitted Quezada and Lopez to regurgitate their often heard excuses, that is, that the Yonkers Board of Education (YBoE), now a department of the City of Yonkers, designated as such under Mayor Mike Spano, asserted that YBoE funding allocations were deficien. They had abrogated their fiduciary responsibility to sustain and maintain the school buildings already built, presently noted to average 77 years of age.
Forgive me for not recollecting who among the city council membership expressed the allegory not specifically ascribed to any member of the military brass. The admonition informed the representatives of the Yonkers Public School District that while the military brass can and does contemplate the needs for all future eventuality, they must conduct their planning based on their present capacity as opposed to that which they should like to have. Juxtaposed to such fiscally prudent conduct, Dr. Quezada advised that they have been robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is such debauched standards that exacerbate the lack of financial wherewithal available to the City of Yonkers (CoY).
Upon passage of Mayor Mike Spano’s FY2018-2019 Budget, it was learned that the fund balance, a/k/a the “rainy day fund”, valued at $24 million, was expunged from the ledger and absorbed into the approved budget. It did not take too long for calamity to shock the “City of Hills, where little is on the Level”. Yonkersites were shocked because they have been collectively kept unaware of the culture of the YBoE. The Yonkers Board of Education Department of the City of Yonkers has fooled the taxpayer into believing that yearly budget allocations would be used in the respective calendar year for which they were approved. So while allocations specific to a project are authorized every year, disbursement of those funds are not spent as requested nor for the year they were intended. The takeaway is simple. The City of Yonkers annual fiscal year budget has become nothing more than a smokescreen that exposes the backroom ploys to engage in spin-ups, that is borrowing funds allocated for future purpose and spent without yearly approval for emergency purposes among other maligned and suspicious purposes, even appropriated for items not appropriated.
YBoE fiscal conduct suggests that CoY is therefore sitting on a lot of money, borrowed and not yet used for the purposes intended. What is the total valuation of allocated funds robbed from their intended purposes; that has been spent for projects other than that to which they were intended? The cost to repair Paideia School 15 is over $3 million dollars, with an additional $45,000 monthly rental from the Archdiocese for the St. Bart’s school with an option to buy. The school is not fully outfitted. Special Needs students languish on the gym floor with no chairs or desks, and no writing material. It is even questionable if the the teachers can teach without the chalk that Quezada advised was all that teachers required to teach.
The Yonkers City Council Education Committee meeting was a snow job that revealed a city council membership incapable of asking pertinent questions. Such as why only floors one and two were permitted and available for students’ and teachers’ use at Paideia School 15 but not the third floor. Why is there no specific timetable for remedy to be realized? At first it was a few days, then a couple of weeks, now an uncertainty that may take months.
Since Paideia School 15 is only 20 years old, was the firm engaged to build the school, its workmanship now in question, as are materials used, specifically the roof, who and why was the project given the go-ahead? Who scrutinized the project? When the project was approved, did the companies who engaged in its being built take out an insurance bond for some 50 years to contend with any fiscal eventuality, crisis or bankruptcy of the firms involved that presently besets CoY today? Such insurance bonds are demanded throughout the world; why does CoY not demand this insurance bond process?
Inquiry for the purpose of learning of past deficiencies for future best practices does not seem to be of interest to the Yonkers Public School District. The conduct of and by Quezada and Lopez is dismissive of the health and safety of students, teachers, and workers. Will Yonkers City Hall step up and clean up this mess? Placating the public is not good enough. Hearings must be immediately engaged to assuage this specific crisis, as well as other school buildings that are even two three or four times older.
Lest anyone forget, a successful school district embellishes housing values. This crisis will likely diminish housing stock valuations throughout the city which also reduces the city’s borrowing capacity.
The bottom line is for the Executive and Legislative branches of government to scrutinize what happened, if it could have been avoided, and how Yonkers can move ahead. Lest Executive and Legislative branches of government intend to move forward without insight and guidance from Corporation Counsel, this crisis will not be solved based on CoY’s capacity to do so. A financial control board will not salvage CoY from this crisis or any other. Why should Governor Andrew Cuomo take the fiscally and morbidly ill City of Yonkers and save it from itself? Yonkers has been saved from a lack of fiscal prudence twice before. No one in Albany has any interest to salvage Yonkers from its self-induced crisis. Yonkers has squandered over almost 23 years informing those who heard the harangue that CoY has been shortchanged. What did Yonkers do about it? I suggest Yonkers did nothing because it believes it will be saved. Fat chance. In the meanwhile CoY’s coffers are at or near collapse.
Yonkers must confront the truth of CoY’s making and move with deliberate purpose toward remedy rather than the failed blame game engaged for over two decades. Perhaps convincing the likes of New York State Democratic Conference Leader Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Shelley Mayer, and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow for a fair and commensurate allocation of funds for the City of Yonkers is timely and prudent. How long before they deliver the money as opposed to saying they have. But despite their saying so, the funds have yet to arrive. The political truisms are that politician’s survival is based on unembarrassability.
Which begs the question, who among the City of Yonkers’ leadership is undeterred by being unembarrassed by their collective failure? Will our elected officials be left standing or will ‘The People” demand this crisis be shepherded from the politically debilitating, craggily shoals ahead?