[Editor’s note: The following letter was also submitted to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation. This version has been edited for space.]
To the Editor:
We are a group of parents writing to express our concern with the reported award of the Youth Center contract to the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP). We are dissatisfied with the lack of transparency in the bidding process and with the lack of opportunity for community stakeholders to provide input and feedback. We request that any vote by the RIOC Board, in furtherance of the award process, be delayed until the following issues are addressed.
To date, the community has yet to receive a detailed explanation for why the scoring for the Youth Center RFP [Request for Proposals] was performed by a group with little or no connection to the Island and the community. To the best of our knowledge, no parents, stakeholders, or users of the services were consulted or included in the process. None of the scorers should be direct competitors to those programs applying for the RFP. For example, Patricia Pell, the interim director of the Roosevelt Island Day Nursery, serves preschool-aged children, as does Island Kids, one of the applicants. This presents a clear conflict of interest, as Ms. Pell competes with Island Kids for clients and resources.
To this date, the community has not received any credible explanation for why the first scoring was deemed invalid. To the best of our knowledge, the original scoring was thrown out as a result of a single conspiracy theory complaint from a person closely associated with RIYP, who is not the parent of an Island child and does not use the services provided by the Youth Center.
Conversely, there have been multiple complaints from parents regarding the programming, facilities, and leadership of RIYP.
By all outward appearances and anecdotal evidence, the relationship between RIOC and RIYP is broken beyond repair. The constant complaints about “RIOC corruption” leveled by RIYP leadership at every opportunity and the extremely lax oversight of RIYP that RIOC provides are irrefutable evidence. It is inconceivable, given the open acrimony and rancor that marks the RIOC-RIYP relationship, that the community can have any realistic expectation that continuing with the status quo is viable.
Pattern of Dishonesty
The controversy over RIYP operating an unlicensed afterschool program, for which it was sent cease-and-desist orders from OCFS (Office of Children and Family Services) this past fall, is more than an example of administrative incompetence. At its core, this was about RIYP providing four different lies, one to the community, another to RIOC, a third to Council member Kallos, and yet another to OCFS, in order to cover-up their behavior.
Further, just within the last year, RIOC provided extension funding to RIYP with the explicit instruction, announced by RIOC CEO Susan Rosenthal publicly, that the money not be used for programming that was duplicative of that which is provided by the Beacon program. Despite this, RIYP openly and brazenly advertised, and ultimately started, a competing afterschool program. Throughout the controversy, RIOC professed its unawareness that RIYP was using the funding in direct contravention of the terms under which they accepted it.
Given the historic lack of oversight that RIOC has provided on behalf of the community (in all fairness, a history that preceded Rosenthal’s arrival on the Island) and the pattern of dishonesty exhibited by RIYP, the RFP provides little protection against similar problems in the future. Though criminal background checks are a requirement for “any staff/volunteer that rotates into Youth Center programs and activities,” this is no different from the current requirement which RIYP ignores. What guarantees do we have that the appropriate background checks will occur?
There is also no mechanism for soliciting community input on programming and no requirement that funding sources and expenditures be open for community review. RIYP has been unwilling to provide even the most basic level of engagement with the community. There is no website, no schedule posted, no information available at all.
This community is lucky enough to have a Youth Center, where there is supposed to be free, drop-in programming, and it sits empty for the most part because parents either have no idea that it is even an option or because they are afraid to send their children there.
It is not clear from reading the RFP what we are even paying for. RIYP’s youth sports program on the Island is in disarray. We now have a situation where public money is being spent to run competing and duplicative leagues, impacting the overall quality of the offerings. (It was expected that the Beacon would be running the youth sports leagues, as is custom for Beacon programs, and they have started with basketball). Why is RIYP also currently running a youth basketball league?
Again, the funding that was provided as an extension of the current contract was given under the explicit instruction that it was for RIYP to operate a drop-in program at the Youth Center. The community deserves to know how this has been allowed to continue and why RIOC believes that RIYP will suddenly adhere to the terms of the new contract when it is unwilling to adhere to the terms of the current agreement.
Despite its own self-congratulatory reviews, the past season of RIYP’s soccer program was plagued by easily avoidable problems caused by lack of organization and professionalism. Unpaid parent coaches spent their weeks communicating with parents to schedule practices, always on a different day and time than the previous week. The blame for this was laid squarely on “RIOC incompetence and corruption,” according to members of RIYP leadership.
Unpaid parent volunteers performed the vast majority of the work (including: designing, scheduling, and coaching practices, liaising with parents, and fielding complaints about the league.) Where did the money go? And this slipshod program is what RIYP touts as its crowning achievement.
This group of concerned parents requests that no further action be taken on this contract until the following occurs:
• RIOC convenes an open forum for the community to provide input on the programming we want our money to go to and to provide feedback to RIOC on the current programming offered by RIYP.
• RIOC provides an explanation for a) why the original scoring was invalidated, and b) the method by which RIOC decided how the second round of scoring would be performed.
• RIOC provides the results of RIYP’s most recent disciplinary disposition before OCFS and an answer to whether RIOC made the scorers aware of the violations, whether there was a hearing or any other disciplinary action.
• RIOC provides a detailed breakdown of what services are to be provided under the contract. There are now multiple examples of RIYP accepting money with specific requirements and then immediately ignoring those same requirements.
• RIOC provides the results of any audits of RIYP that it has performed in its oversight capacity. The community has no idea how our money is being spent, beyond the bare-bones filings required of non-profits under the law.
• RIOC releases the responses to the RFP, including the detailed breakdown of how RIYP intends to spend the $200,000 in community money.
We look forward to RIOC’s prompt response and stand ready to assist in organizing a community meeting where we can provide far more detailed feedback on our level of dissatisfaction with the current operator.
We similarly stand ready to request intervention from the courts if the RIOC Board goes forward with this deeply flawed process and maintains its intention to vote on the Youth Center contract at its upcoming meeting.
Susana del Campo Perea,
Amanda Baehr Fuller,
Khadijah Lucero James,
Jin Ah Longerbeam,
Esther Pan Sloan,