The Next Step Demands Additional F.O.I.L. Requests
The Yonkers Board of Education Truth
YONKERS, NY — December 2, 2018 — There are those of us who are currently employed by the district and are not pleased with what we see taking place. The district is led by a corrupt administration and Board of Education which is doing more harm than good for the members of the Yonkers community. The following information is being presented anonymously due to the fact that as current employees we fear that reprisal action will be taken against us were it known where the information came from. This is a pattern that has been utilized time and again in this district, that is, a pattern of intimidation, bullying and harassment aimed at preventing whistle blowers from bringing truth to light, with the ultimate goal of shutting people down. If you’re not willing to “play ball” and be a part of the culture deceit, you will be summarily terminated from your position.
The following information serves as just one more example of the corruption and unfair practices used by Yonkers City School District Superintendent, Edwin Quezada and his willing accomplices, which includes the Yonkers Board of Education Board of Trustees (YBoE Board of Trustees) membership, frontline clerks, and administrative assistants who knowingly and actively participate in the deceitful actions.
Aiding and abetting in the perpetuation of a culture of corruption are key players like Jerilynne “Jeri” Fierstein and Fenix Arias. In the person of Jeri Fierstein, a former art teacher now masquerading as a communications consultant for the district, you have a person most capable of helping the district hide the truth from the public. Having retired some time ago, she snaked her way into the position of “Communications Officer” by declaring that her years of experience in the district make her an invaluable asset, in that she knows the “culture” first hand and is better equipped to spin information coming from the district, more specifically from the superintendent’s office, in such a way as to cover up the many improprieties that have come to symbolize how the Yonkers School District does business. The evidence suggests that Fierstein is quite skilled at constructing fabrications and obfuscating the district’s true culture. Fenix Arias comes in as a close second to Fierstein, in that as a person new to the district, she willingly embraced her role as information obstructionist and harasser of employees on behalf of Edwin Quezada. Arias having recently failed the Civil Service exam points to a person who is less than qualified to hold the current position of Administrative Manager. Having failed the test, it puts into question how and why Quezada and YBoE Board of Trustees Members circumvented standard protocol and gave Fenix Arias a raise in the neighborhood of $29,000. One doesn’t have to dig too deep to find a plethora of improprieties tied to this current administration.
As a primary example of the corruption and institutionalized deceitful practices emanating from the superintendent’s office one only need look at the fiasco known as the “School Choice Balloting Process,” which is managed by the Department of Registration. Through this subjective process the public is led to believe that by selecting three (3) different schools on the ballot, they’ll have a chance to place their children in a school of their choosing. For the vast majority of the public, nothing further from the truth could be had. The online electronic balloting sheets used by parents contain a listing of the schools based on grade level. There are three groupings. Within each of the three groupings, the parent is asked to select one (1) school per group, which is then categorized as a first (or top choice), followed by their second and third choice in the remaining two groups.
Within the district there are several schools that are in high demand by parents. At the elementary level you have 5 schools that are consistently over-balloted by parents. The highly sought after schools are, School 8, known as The Pat DiChiaro School, Paideia 15, Pulaski, Montessori 27 and Yonkers Montessori Academy. At the middle and high school levels you have Saunders High School, Yonkers Middle School, Yonkers High School and Lincoln High School. The balloting categories are structured in such a way as to limit a parent’s ability to choose more than one of the highly sought after schools. In order to process the parent’s first choice, the parent is forced to submit the second and third choice although their interest is focused on schools unavailable in their second and third choices.
Additionally, even if the parent was sincerely interested in the second and third choices, their chances of having their child placed in those schools are severely hampered by the fact that their second and third choices are someone else’s first and second choice. With that as the process for student placement, the parent’s chances of getting the school they want for their child is quite limited and most often left to a randomized process that generally results in the student being placed in a school not of the parents choosing. Additionally, the superintendent made it a practice of placing general education students in classroom seats that should have been reserved for Special Education students, a practice that can easily be verified by reviewing the “Daily Capacity Reports” generated by members of the “Eschool Team.” This practice has resulted in the district being sued by parents of Special Education students for non-delivery of services, costing the district millions of dollars, and yet the practice continues to this day.
More importantly, within the “School Choice Balloting Process” there is an even more insidious practice that lends itself to unfairness, corruption and the placement of students by Quezada and Central Office officials in highly sought after schools over those students whose parents utilized the School Choice Process. The practice employed by the superintendent by way of the Department of Registration is the mandatory reservation of a certain number of seats in these highly sought after schools in order for the superintendent, YBoE Board of Trustees Members and others to do favors for special interest groups and friends.
The lead Registration Department clerk, Edna Lopez, a mentee of Edwin Quezada, has been reserving seats for the Superintendent, YBoE Board members and the Mayor’s Office for years. Saunders and Yonkers High Schools are the best examples where the reservations take place. In April after the “School Choice Process” is complete, the Registration Department’s Edna Lopez works closely with a high school administrator to determine which students qualify for the advanced programs in Saunders and Yonkers High. They utilize a matrix comprised of report card grades, previous courses studied, extracurricular activities and behavioral reports to determine who will or won’t get into these schools.
While at face value the process seems objective and disciplined, it is not. It is a highly subjective process controlled by a handful of people that lends itself to personal choices and placements of favored students over those that are much more qualified for entry into these schools. Additionally, towards the end of the placement process at the high school level, the Registration Department is asked how many seats should be reserved for Quezada? This reserve allows Quezada to dole out favors to board members, the mayor’s office and personal friends at his discretion, placing students in these highly sought after schools by circumventing the established process. By way of their involvement, the superintendent, board members and others have critically compromised and contaminated the entire placement process.
All placements requested by Quezada and others and manually entered into the computerized Eschool System are given a code that denotes who requested the placement. The system tracks the placement by way of the students ID number, grade level, section or classroom and school transferred from and to. Codes used by the Registration Department when making special placements for Quezada and others are now known. Those known and those yet to be learned will be requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Freedom of Information Legislation (FOIL) by the Yonkers Tribune. New York State’s Freedom of Information Law (Public Officers Law §87 et. seq., Yonkers Board of Education Policy 1120) also allows members of the public to access records of governmental agencies.
Included, please find evidence of the corruption of which we speak. The documents attached to this message expressly point to Edwin Quezada’s abusive use of power and the deceitful practices being perpetrated by his administration. The document shows his manual approval (denoted by a “Yes”) or denial (denoted by a “No”) of student placements throughout the district, more importantly, into many of the very popular schools.
This is but the tip of iceberg. There are codes for Directors and many others in Central Office and can be easily traced and verified. We also managed to download emails showing specific requests being made by Steve Lopez, the YBoE Board Trustee President, to have certain students placed in highly sought after schools in advance of other students whose parents utilized the School Choice Process. Follow up communication is anticipated upon our gleaning a response from the YBoE. As well as the emails already obtained.
As requested, the bottom-line is that a full investigation needs to be conducted of the “Student Placement Process” that leads to forceful action being taken to eradicate this system such as it is replaced by a more transparent process that allows for greater involvement on the part of the community.
The information presented can be easily corroborated by contacting former employees that worked in one capacity or another within the offices of the Board of Education. There are former administrators who might be willing to speak on the subject based on how they were treated by current and previous administrations.