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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rochester City School District Is Rocked By Scandal When Damaging Audit Information is Leaked to the Press

Robert Freeman, Executive Director, Committee on Open Government

The Rochester Board of Education is shocked at the leak of an audit that has damaging information of the City School District financial practices over the past seven years.

Hmmmm...[the BOE members] "doth protest too much, methinks" (Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III, Sc. 2)

Can this person who leaked the information please come to New York City? We need some leaking here.

Betsy Combier

Malik Evans, President of the Rochester Board of Education

December 4, 2009
Rochester school board seeks probe of audit leak
Nestor Ramos, Staff writer, Democrat and Chronicle

Rochester school board members will request a state investigation into how a draft of a damaging audit landed in the hands of the Democrat and Chronicle.

The board will send two letters to top state officials urging them to find out who leaked the audit, which includes broad criticisms of City School District financial practices over the past seven years. If the breach was a board member's, one letter read, it constitutes an act of official misconduct.

But the executive director for the state Committee on Open Government said much of the audit report was likely public under state law anyway, and scoffed at the notion that any laws were broken.

Board members Thursday expressed dismay over the leak.

"I was shocked to see that a report that I had received within the last 24 hours was already in the headlines," said board member Van White(pictured at left).

"If the actions were those of a board member, we believe your office must be involved," the board's letter to state education Commissioner

David Steiner Takes Oath as Education Commissioner at Albany's Pine Hills Elementary School

David Steiner reads. The other letter, to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, requests that he provide any information available about who leaked the report.

White and Willa Powell, along with board President Malik Evans and Melisza Campos, voted to send the letters and to discuss the matter with the district's outside lawyers. Cynthia Elliott voted against both motions.

Details of the audit were first reported Tuesday afternoon by the Democrat and Chronicle.

White said whoever leaked the audit was "violating, at the very least, what the comptroller asked us to do, and possibly ... violating the law."

But Robert Freeman, executive director for the state Committee on Open Government, said much of the draft audit would have been required to be disclosed under the state freedom of information law anyway.

"There is little in this document that could justifiably have been withheld," Freeman said. "There's nothing in the law that makes any aspect of this confidential."

Lawrence Tenenbaum, a partner at Jaspan Schlesinger LLP in Garden City who has experience with New York education law, said the state education commissioner has the ability to remove a board member for misconduct.

"There was a decision by the commission of education a few years ago ... where the commissioner chastised a board member for disclosing information that was confidential and (arose) during an executive session," said Tenenbaum, who noted that he was unfamiliar with the specifics of the Rochester situation or local regulations.

While Freeman agreed that there are some circumstances where disclosing information constitutes a crime, he said this isn't one of them.

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