Friday, February 25, 2005

Idiocy And Intrigue In The Yonkers, New York School System

Where can a 24-year-old young man with little or no experience find an accounting job in a public school system that pays $90,100 per year to start?

The answer is in the Yonkers, (pop. 200,000) New York public school system. The New York Times reports:

The hiring of a 24-year-old man with little accounting experience as a senior accountant for the Yonkers Board of Education violated state civil service laws and created "the strong appearance of impropriety," a report by the city's inspector general has concluded.

The report, released on Thursday, stops short of concluding that cronyism was the reason for the hiring of the man, Pietro Barberi, as a senior accountant at a salary of $90,100. Nor does it recommend that the Yonkers schools superintendent, Angelo Petrone, resign for his part in hiring the young man.

Maybe asking for Superintendent Angelo Petrone to resign from his post might have been a little extreme. But on the other hand:

The report says, "The overall circumstances surrounding Mr. Barberi's appointment suggest that the rules were ignored and that he was hired as a result of his connections rather than his qualifications."

Mr. Barberi's hiring set off a firestorm of criticism last November in a city known for turmoil and upheaval, particularly in its public schools. Days after questions were raised about his qualifications, his salary and any connections to Mr. Petrone, Mr. Barberi resigned his position, citing "personal reasons." But Mr. Murtagh [Ed. a city councilman] asked the inspector general, Philip A. Zisman, to look into the matter.

At least the young man honorably resigned, we wish him well. Truthfully, we can't blame Barberi for taking the job. After all, the starting pay of $90,100 is more cash than a classroom teacher with a Masters' Degree and 20 years service receives. And accountants never, ever, have to put up with this.

Still, we were curious to know exactly what expertise Mr. Barberi might have brought to the Yonkers School District. Maybe he had some special knowledge:

Mr. Barberi's only experience came from brief internships with accounting firms and unverified employment at his family's New Jersey construction company, the investigation found.

He was not a certified public accountant at the time of his hiring.

It is also unclear whether he ever lived in Yonkers. The address listed on his employment application is for an apartment in Mr. Petrone's sister's home. Although Mr. Petrone repeatedly denied that his daughter Laine was involved in a romantic relationship with Mr. Barberi, he later told officials from the inspector general's office that his daughter and Mr. Barberi had attended Fairfield University together.

Now we see. Barberi used the old tried-and-true, "I'll date the boss's daughter and get me a good job," trick. Works every time.

Well, almost every time:

In interviews with investigators, Laine Petrone, who is a permanent substitute in the Yonkers Public Schools, said she considered Mr. Barberi a "casual friend" and that they had not dated nor was he in her "inner circle of friends."

But the report cites phone records from May to December 2004 showing that Mr. Barberi and Ms. Petrone were in contact almost daily. When asked for her cellphone number during an interview for the investigation, Ms. Petrone gave the same number Mr. Barberi had listed as his phone number on his résumé, according to the report.

Superintendent Petrone's lawyer, Raymond G. Kuntz, said that Mr. Petrone was unaware of the nature of his daughter's relationship with Mr. Barberi and dismissed the frequent phone calls as a "generational thing."

We think that Nepotism can be safely added to Petrone's administrative experience. But perhaps we shouldn't judge the Superintendent TOO harshly. After all, what kind of daddy would he be if he didn't get a full-time permanent job in the district for his own daughter? (heh.)

Perhaps it would be prudent if Superintendent Petrone did not venture outdoors during any thunderstorms in the foreseeable future:

Petrone's lawyer, Raymond G. Kuntz, said that the Superintendent was unaware of the nature of his daughter's relationship with Mr. Barberi and dismissed the frequent phone calls as a "generational thing."
The School Board is elected by the people to oversee the school District on behalf of the taxpayers. Let's see what the report has to say about those guardians of the public's trust:

The report strongly implies that Mr. Petrone and other Board of Education officials were not forthcoming about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Barberi's hiring.

Indeed, after Mr. Barberi's resignation, board officials continued to insist that he was the most qualified person for the job.

As in so many other situations of this nature, this school board may be showing their fortitude by backing their superintendent "to the hilt," in a time of crisis. That would be a brave thing to do. On the other hand, maybe the members of the board are simply Petrone's Pets:

"I think the board members see a lot of the good things that have happened under his leadership," Mr. Ferrito said. (Ed. Ferrito is the Board President.)

Mr. Petrone, who is in the third year of his three-year contract, received an extremely positive evaluation at the January board meeting, Mr. Ferrito said.

We think that the word "Pets" would be more applicable. Or maybe Petrone's Idiots would be an even better descriptor of the Yonkers School Board.

Meanwhile, all this bickering and infighting cannot be good for the kids. The parents and children of Yonkers deserve better.

Maybe it's time for the Yonkers Board of Education to remember that they work for the community and not for Angelo Petrone.

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