Questionable contract?

If you want to volunteer for our Citizens Contract Oversight Committee, or have a tip to share, please email us at

Friday, June 25, 2010

Anthony Rotunno, and the culture of "accountability" at Tweed: read "anything goes"

Today's Daily News reports that Anthony Rotunno, who retired as principal of Kennedy HS last month, allowed staffers to improperly spend money from student bake sales on parties, among other financial improprieties, according to a new audit from State Comptroller DiNapoli:

In a particularly egregious abuse, Kennedy staffers blew more than $7,000 on four retirement parties at suburban eateries, the audit found.

"This was the students' money," DiNapoli said. "They raised it selling cupcakes and asking for donations. The students worked hard to raise this money. Whoever is responsible should be punished."

The audit, covering the period July 2007 to June 2009, found that Kennedy staffers misused or stole $91,216.

The report pins blame squarely on Rotunno's shoulders. "The Kennedy principal did not establish basic accountability for student funds," the report says.

Not mentioned in the article is how Rotunno was a long favorite of DOE, whose job was protected by them, despite questionable practices of long standing. Here is an excerpt from a 2004 puff piece in the NY Times, lauding his “tough guy” approach to turning

Behind this makeover was Mr. Rotunno and his formula for fixing a school of 5,000, a mix of infusing fun and school spirit into the school day and a determined effort to weed out students standing in the way of improvement…. teachers -- some of them Kennedy graduates still cherishing memories of the school's glory days of science awards and Ivy League acceptance letters in the 1970's and 80's -- generally agree: the school has turned the corner.

But actually teachers despised Rotunno, and in 2005 charges were made by many English teachers at the school that he had improperly student Regents scores to passing. When the DOE finally finished their “investigation” they concluded that he did change scores, but that this was perfectly okay. So much for accountability at DOE!

Here is what the much-missed former education columnist Michael Winerip wrote in 2006 about the resolution of these allegations, backed up by written evidence of changed scores:

[David Cantor] said that the inquiry had looked only into whether the principal, Anthony Rotunno, had the right to change the Regents grades and found that he did….

So far, only one person has been punished, Maria Colon, Kennedy's union representative, who was the first to speak out publicly about the changed scores. She was removed from Kennedy and assigned to a holding room pending a hearing on her case. Her crime? She allegedly used a school fax to send a Newsday reporter documents revealing the scoring changes.

A few months later, Winerip wrote a follow-up column, called "Cheapening the Cap and Gown," about new accusations made by guidance counselors that Rotunno had allowed kids to graduate without the required credits:

Ms. Werner [a guidance counselor] said, "They started giving out credits like candy." Global history is a four-term course spread over two years, and Ms. Diaz and Ms. Werner say they saw transcripts for students who had failed four terms of global history and were given credit for all four courses after passing the global Regents exam.

This reporter obtained copies of transcripts (with names blanked out) from a teacher who requested anonymity for fear of retribution. In one case, a student who failed three semesters of global history classes starting in January 2003 was given credit for those courses after passing the state global history Regents exam with a 65 in January 2005. A student who failed freshman English 1 and 2 in 2002-03 was given credit for those courses after passing the English Regents with a 68 in January 2005.

In an interview in February, Mr. Rotunno said the policy was not new, just a clarification of an existing policy that went back to the school's beginning.

Despite these new allegations, Rotunno stayed on, and the guidance counselors who spoke up in defense of standards lost their jobs.

The culture of so-called “accountability” at DOE, meaning principals can basically do anything as long as they produce better test scores and higher graduation rates, may have made Rotunno believe he was invulnerable in other ways as well.

Unfortunately, a policy of nearly unregulated credit recovery has been instituted throughout the city; and giving out credits “like candy” is now encouraged as the primary means to improve your school’s statistics, save your own job, and possibly get a bonus besides. (See this article about credit recovery as practiced at Tilden HS, which is closing.)

The new audit is just one more in a growing list of revelations from the State Comptroller, the City Comptroller, and the Special Commissioner of Investigation Condon, showing millions of dollars of stolen and misused funds because of lax financial oversight by DOE, the results of Tweed’s “anything goes” attitude towards principal “empowerment”.


Anonymous said...

God, this is the tip of the iceberg. Cheating is systemic. A principal has to kill a student before he/she is removed. When will this madness end?

Anonymous said...

What even funnier, I attend Pleasantville High, where Anthony Rotunno has just gotten another job as OUR principal... oh boy

Anonymous said...

Principals are regularly ordering altering of Regents test papers and scrubbing of transcripts by their subordinates who do their bidding or lose their jobs. Subordinates parrot the "official" policy:"it's illegal".....

Anonymous said...

How could Pleasantville's board of ed hire this guy?? Great due diligence. Even before the latest charges, there was enough smoke surrounding this guy to know that he was bad news.

Nathan said...

I am a retired teacher who worked with Mr Anthony Rotunno at John F. Kennedy High school. Since I knew him very well I will briefly post the absolute 100% truth about him.

Mr Rotunno was a great actor who could talk his way out of anything. The fact is he was all talk with no substance. He completely failed to help teachers or students who needed it. Instead he would put on a show and PRETEND to help. The fact is he did nothing except allow the students to misbehave and run the school to the ground. Why did he get away with this for so many years? Why is the DOE (dopes Of Education) still ruining our schools, teachers and kids? Sooner or later the complete truth will come out.

Meanwhile should Mr Rotunno now be rewarded by going to Pleasantville High school???

Anonymous said...

How could the Pleasantville School District hire someone for the position of principal of the Pleasantville High School who, as pincipal of Kennedy High School, has been investigated by the NYCDOE over the past 7 years for transcript tampering, regents tampering, and twice for mismanagement of school funds?

The sad answer is that the Pleasantville School District has long been infected with a pervasive culture of cronyism. It's all about who you know. Presumably, Mr. Rotunno, a town resident, was friendly with someone in high places, such as a member of the school board, the outgoing superintendent, or the incoming superintendent. Cronyism only thrives when leaders lack integrity and honesty.

Maybe now district residents will realize how serious the problem is and will be willing to demand that the culture of cronyism be eliminated once and for all.

Anonymous said...

A few notes...

In 2005 (as Chapter leader) I informed the state about a NY State Regents Cheating scandal at John F. Kennedy High School. For my advocacy and leadership I was sent to the infamous Bronx rubberroom with trumped up charges... A year and a half later I was exonnerated-

Let us not forget that...
The teachers from the English Department, Guidance Counselors and the A.P of the English Department(who retired)should be commended and not forgotten for their continuing acts of courage against injustices that affected safety, education and progress.

From 2003 through 2006 many grievances were petitioned, voiced and legally processed against the Rotunno reign of terror. It was known...

So as another episode of injustice at JFK H.S unravels let us be cautious not to celebrate too quickly- many have suffered...

We have an obligation to protect and safeguard the education of "the children" and hold the culprits responsible for "negligence" and "an intent to miseducate"



Nathan said...

Let us also not forget that taxpayers like all of YOU paid for Maria Colon's false charges. Every action has a reaction. What exactly will be the reaction when everyone involved finds out that their new principal is actually a mafia leader?

Nathan said...

It should also be noted that teachers from John F. Kennedy HS were FORCED to turn over their $200+ teacher's choice checks to the school. Of couse this is illegal but teacher's were coaxed with daily notes from the administration.

Anonymous said...

NYS is complicit in all the cheating. Why not randomly take test papers from selected schools as soon as the test is over and mark them centrally? Scores would go down drastically. Regents' test scores are being changed throughout the system.

Nathan said...

They always say that what goes around comes around. Now justice has been served at last because Pleasantville finally fired Rotunno before he started. Here's a link. There's also many more all over the internet.

and also

Anonymous said...

Maria Colon was a rebel without a cause! Her regents results were horrific at best. She was a legend in her own mind. She also left out the fact that she the girl's softball coach at the time whom often did a great job in covering up her advances toward the girl's softball team. She is far from innocent!! Don't let her fool you. She loves "young high school girls". I co-taught with her and I was always skeptical as to why certain young girls were always asking her if she were able to spend some private time to talk alone. Do I hear red flag? I really question her credibility!

Anonymous said...

This anonymous comment (above) must be from Mr. Rotunno without a doubt. Don't you dare to talk about Maria Colon who was the best teacher in HS and helped students as much as she could. She was my teacher for many years while I was a student at JFK and she helped everyone to have a better education there. I am a witness of how much she helped students and much she liked her job. However, Mr. Rotunno, a racist man by the way, made her life impossible there. I hope He can never work in BOE again and enjoy the rest of the money very much bc I am sure there is not much left. Mr. Rotunno, you never got the students respect and you will never have it. Unlike Ms. Colon who cared about her students and gave everything for them. Thank you Ms. Colon!

generation of 2005/ Ms. Flores