The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) abruptly cancelled its months-long search for an operator of the Island Youth Center on January 27, following a week-long campaign by the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP) to garner support for their organization and shortly after the distribution of an inflammatory letter by RIYP-supporter Frank Farance accusing a competing organization of wrongdoing. The announcement came just days after RIOC had announced that two of the applicants had tied in the scoring of the proposals.
In a letter submitted to RIOC, the Island’s elected officials, and the Department of Education (DOE), Farance alleges “there is something wrong with the PTA, Island Kids, the monies they collect, and the funds RIOC distributes via Public Purpose Funds.”
Island Kids Director Nikki Leopold and PTA President Erin Olavesen say that the letters are littered with false statements and unfounded allegations. They point out that Farance did not reach out to either organization to ensure he had correct information or to give them an opportunity to respond.
In the letters, Farance points to the PTA’s 2014 Public Purpose Funds (PPF) application, which states that the PTA made $20,000 for the tables they rent at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Farance says that an unnamed former PTA President claims that amount should be “at least $50,000 and higher” and suggests that money has gone missing. In response, PTA President Erin Olavesen said, “We’ve never raised the rent on those guys, ever, so the income has been consistently the same since the beginning of time.”
Olavesen explained that, “Vesco Foods, Hoboken Farms, and Wengerd Farm provide the most rent.” The PTA charges $15 per table. “Two moms who have been doing this for years, collect the money and they keep a receipt book.” Olavesen also points out that the PTA gives Island groups one free table per year and doesn’t charge the compost group, saying “It’s a service to the community.”
Farance’s letter also said that when he entered the PTA’s Employer Indentification Number (EIN) in the Attorney General’s NYS Charities website, it produced a listing for Island Kids, not the PTA. Olavesen said, “When I was trying to get last year’s PPF from [RIOC Grant-writer] Sean Singh, he brought up the wrong EIN #. That issue was resolved back then.” Leopold said, “It was a mistake and it was corrected. RIOC has those records.”
Farance also alleges improper connections among Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation (SASF - Island Kids’ partner), Lewis “Skip” Hartman of New York Junior Tennis and Learning (NYJTL), the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club (RIRC), and an unnamed RIOC president.
Leopold says, “SASF and NYJTL happen to share space,” but that, “I would think it would be a positive if they (NYJTL) were also involved.” She also said that, “I don’t understand [Frank’s] complaint or [alleged] connection with a RIOC president.”
Olavesen says, “I don’t know why the PTA was brought up in the first place. We have nothing to do with this.”
Separately from Farance’s allegations, the Roosevelt Island Youth Program sent an email to Island parents accusing the other two Youth Center applicants of trying to strip programs from the Island, stating, “As many of you are aware, in the last several months there are other organizations that are trying to take funding away of [sic] our programing. If that happens, Roosevelt Island Youth Program will have to minimize or eliminate the amount of services and programming we provide to the youth and community on Roosevelt Island.”
The group also had a petition at the Beacon desk, and parents were asked to sign it at pick up.
According to Steven Kaufman, RIYP treasurer, “We asked the community to send letters of support to RIOC on behalf of the RIYP and its efforts to get the funding, and a lot of parents did.
But former RIYP employee Adib Mansour said, “The email is misleading. I’ve been stopped in the street by several parents who are very angry. They also said there is a petition going around and it says ‘These two entities are trying to take your budget.’” Mansour said, “When I asked [parents] if they signed the petition they all said they did because they were concerned about losing services for their kids.”
Leopold points out, however, “It’s a competitive bid that requires the contractor to provide free services. RIOC provides the money so the contractor can provide the programming. This idea that services will go away is incorrect; it will just be a different contractor providing the services.”
According to Kaufman though, “Some Beacon programs would be in jeopardy.” He says, “You have to raise other funding in order to make a Beacon work.” For example, he says the Department of Youth and Community Development, which funds the Beacon after-school program, does not pay the field costs, it is RIOC that pays those fees. In that way, all of the Beacon programs that take place on the Island’s fields would be impacted.
Dan Sadlier, executive director of Roosevelt Island Center of Community Development (RICCD) said, “As a competing entity, but also as an Island parent, I was saddened to see the misleading nature that RIYP took this past week with an email that was sent to families who have been connected to RIYP programming in the past.”
According to Sadlier, “For RIYP to suggest that the Island will lose all of that programming if the Youth Center bid is given to another entity is misleading and helps ensure minimal accountability to the current Youth Center.”
Sadlier said, “I’d love to see a clear and public distinction between the two initiatives (the Youth Center, and the Beacon Program) regardless of who leads them, so that Island residents can be certain we are receiving the best quality programming for the next generation from both Beacon and the Youth Center.”
Mansour said he told parents, “In truth, the money will still be there, it would just be new management running the youth center.”
Mansour was a soccer coach for the Beacon program for ten years and then wrote programming for the Beacon program from 2014-2015. He says he left because, “there was a lot of double dipping,” explaining that, “Beacon after school students are taken to the Youth Center and they sign their names there so it looks like these programs are done through the Youth Center, but they’re not.”
Kaufman said, “Every person who comes to the Youth Center signs in.” Importantly Kaufman clarified that unlike the Beacon program, “there is no counting requirement for RIOC.”
RICCD has mostly remained out of the fray. They say they do plan to reapply. Regarding the cancellation, they say “Transparency to the wider public will help residents trust that all Island organizations are concerned first and foremost for our children instead of our own agendas, and are even willing to work together to ensure effective programming for our children.”
RIOC CEO Susan Rosenthal confirmed that the original request for proposals had resulted in a tied score between two of the groups.
As to why the RFP was cancelled, Rosenthal said, “These communications, among other things, caused RIOC to withdraw the RFP on January 27, 2017,” explaining that, “All such communications attempting to influence the RIOC review committee while the RFP is pending, are inappropriate and are prohibited by State Finance Law.”
Next steps: Rosenthal said, “RIOC intends the new review committee to include members of other entities with expertise in child services to ensure the best operator for our children. Once the new review committee is constituted, RIOC will issue a new RFP for the operation of the Roosevelt Island Youth Center.”