District employees operating private business on District time in New Rochelle schools
We reported previously on non-profit companies with direct relationships to District employees operating within New Rochelle schools, charging a fee for access to taxpayer-funded facilities while turning a handsome profit for themselves. We did a deep dive into records obtained under a Freedom of Information Request for the New Rochelle Aquatics Club and have a pending Freedom of Information Request for the same information for Badger Swim Club; expect a similar deep dive into their records in the coming weeks.
Today we turn our attention to a related topic, school district employees who operate their own for-profit business within the schools, while being paid by the District to do a job, all while turning a handsome profit.
Yes, we are aware that there are District employees who conduct personal business on the telephone or on their computer or at the desk when they are on the clock. We know about real estate brokers operating out of offices at some of our schools. We also know about certain employees over the years dealing drugs, both to fellow employees and students. These sorts of things are clearly wrong but they are each different in their own way; one is a school principal looking the other way while an employee talks on the phone whereas the other is an overtly illegal act subject to criminal prosecution.
We are also aware of loose financial controls at the building level including past complaints about failure to document the disbursement of petty cash funds in a New York State Comptroller audit. Isaac E. Young Middle School was cited in the audit. In one case, at Columbus Elementary School, an unauthorized bank account was discovered as part of the investigation into former Principal Sonya Nuñez who was arrested and charged with Grand Larceny for stealing about $5,000. She later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and made restitution. The money was stolen from the unauthorized bank account, according to one source with direct knowledge of the investigation.
We want to focus this installment of our series on people who devote a great deal of their time as District employees operating otherwise legal businesses illegally, in plain sight, in the hallways and offices of New Rochelle Schools. These are people who transact cash business with students -- as well as other employees and visitors to the schools -- without receipts or other records, financial disclosure forms, sales tax withholding or any other paperwork and for which the District Business Office and Building Treasurers say they have no records.
There is something especially pernicious (not to mention illegal) about exploiting children to make money inside a public school building. Unlike in most any other setting, children in a public school are legally required to attend school. They are a captive audience and minors to boot. Selling products or services or soliciting for charity without the approval of the Superintendent is prohibited in public schools in New York.
We are going to focus on two cases, one at Isaac E. Young Middle School and one at New Rochelle High School. In each case, building leaders are well aware of the operation of these side businesses and do nothing to stop it.
Linda Frasca is employed as a security guard at Isaac E. Young Middle School. She spends most of her day in front of a desk immediately outside the auditorium. In addition to her salary as a security guard, she makes extra money while being paid to work as a security guard in three ways.
Frasca sells jewelry. She has catalogs in the drawers of her desk. Visitors, parents, and staff sit at her desk and pick out what they want. Frasca transacts business at the desk, places orders and makes deliveries at her desk.
Frasca sells pizza. On a typical day, she sells 10 large pies at $2.00 a slice for total daily revenue of $160 a day. A cheese pizza costs about $10. She sells pizza 3-4 times a week for revenue of about $500-600 a week; with 36 weeks in a school year that comes out to between $18,000 and $22,000 in pizza sales with a net profit of $9,000 to $11,000 a year. All payments are in cash, no receipts are issued and no formal accounting is done.
All of this takes place in plain sight and, as the photo above shows, senior building leadership is well aware of Frasca's cash cow. There is a video surveillance camera pointed at her desk so her business dealings are all captured on tape. These business operations were reported to the Business Office in 2016 following an investigation, including a Freedom of Information request, by Talk of the Sound in 2015. No action was taken.
We first became aware of questions about Frasca's pizza business in 2015 when an incoming PTA president discovered that the PTA treasury was empty. She complained that money that was supposed to be going to the PTA was not getting there. She said Frasca's pizza sales were supposed to be for the benefit of the PTA but the PTA was not receiving any of the money. A review of the Treasurer Report for Extracurricular Activity Funds for 2015 shows no mention of pizza sales revenue (or expenses) and no transfers to the Isaac PTA of any kind.
Frasca is paid a stipend as a fundraiser. At the time of our initial investigation, we confirmed that Frasca was paid a stipend of $1,604 as Coordinator of Fund Raising for the 2014-15 school year.
Her fundraising was ostensibly the pizza sales. She sold pizza while being paid to work as a security guard (during the times when she wasn't selling jewelry) but there is no accounting in the Isaac E. Young Middle School Treasurer's report for the tens of thousands of dollars in cash she took in from the pizza sales and the PTA said none of the money went to them. So, where is it?
All of this is to say nothing of the health code violations inherent in serving food in a hallway without proper sanitary precautions. Dozens of slices of pizza are placed on paper plates spread out on Frasca's desk as student's line up, standing over the exposed food as they breathe, cough and sneeze just inches about the desk covered in pizza slices.
Frasca handles the food without a hairnet or gloves or any sort of sanitary protective gear. Pizza boxes are stacked up on the floor. As the photos we obtained show, there are just too many sanitary code violations to count. Needless to say, Frasca does not have a food preparation license from the Westchester County Department of Health.
Frasca does all of this from a desk in front of the auditorium under a ceiling fan. She requested the ceiling fan be installed above her desk because she said she felt warm at her desk. She wanted to be more comfortable while she ran her pizza sales and jewelry sales business from her desk.
The other case is at New Rochelle High School.
Two months ago we made a Freedom of Information request for all records related to food and beverage sales at New Rochelle High School except for those related to the company that has the food services contract for the cafeteria.
This request went from the Clerk to the Business Office and the Treasurer at New Rochelle High School. The Treasurer did not appear to be particularly anxious to respond to our record request which dragged on for weeks. Finally, last Friday, we got an answer to our records request: the Clerk said there were only two sets of records pertaining to our request, one for bake sales and one for purchases of Gatorade. Neither related to our reporting on food and beverage sales at the high school.
The Director of Continuing Education or "night school principal" is Maureen Maire. She has operated a food sales operation out of her office for the past several years after she took over the position from Tom Walsh who was Director of Continuing Education for decades. Walsh did not operate a food sales business like Maire. He did arrange for the installation of vending machines years ago (they are still there) but that is a different story for another day.
Moire sells sandwiches, soup, and packaged food. She also sells pencils and notebooks.
Food items for sale include Kelloggs Pop-Tarts, Entenmann's Little Bites Snacks, Maruchan Instant Lunch (i.e. Cup O' Noodles) and Sandwiches (Ham & Cheese, Turkey & Cheese, Peanut Butter & Jelly).
It is a cash business where receipts are not issued. All food items are priced at $1.00. The District has no record of the purchase or sale of these items but sources tell Talk of the Sound Moire takes in $50 to $100 a night during the regular school year and more over the summer.
If she takes in $50 a night for 200 nights that would be $10,000 a year. The actual figure is said to be higher. She is selling products at a massive markup so her profit on the food sales is likely somewhere between $6,000 and $12,000 a year or more.
For example, the cost of a 48-count box of Pop-Tarts at Costco is $10 or about 42 cents for a package of 2, roughly a 250% markup. A 24-count box of Maruchan Instant Lunch costs $12 at Office Depot or 50 cents per cup, a markup of 100%.
The sandwiches are, by far, the most disturbing part of this story.
During certain parts of the year, when regular school is not in session, Moire purchases pre-made sandwiches from Costco. When regular school is in session, the sandwiches are made by hand at the school.
The sandwich-makers are students with intellectual disabilities and perhaps some with autism. These are among the most vulnerable children in our community being exploited by District employees for their own profit.
Room 138 is a rudimentary, and definitely not-to-code, kitchen. It is just down the hallway from the Night School office. The kitchen has a table with a few chairs, a refrigerator, 2 oven/ranges, 2 microwave ovens, 2 toaster-ovens, a toaster, a dishwashing machine and a washer and dryer. There is no signage indicating that the kitchen has been approved as a commercial kitchen by the Westchester County Department of Health.
Maire purchases bread, peanut butter, jelly and cold cuts. The students sit at the table and make sandwiches from these ingredients and wrap them. Maire then sells the sandwiches at the Night School office. There are no records on file with the District for this sandwich-making operation including expenses such as paying students to make the sandwiches. These are just two examples of District employees who have set up shop in our schools to exploit the captive audience of students. There are many others.
NEXT: New Rochelle Board of Education: Criminal Enterprise Masquerading as an Educational Institution Part XXIV