Roosevelt Island's Ugly Side

PTA Drags RI Parents' Network Into the Toilet But Refuses to Flush

Updated 38 weeks ago David Stone
RIYP's Popular Soccer Program
RIYP's Popular Soccer Program
Photo courtesy of RIYP

Opinion: For those of us who grew up believing that Parent Teacher Associations have better things to do, the shock from last year's antics hadn't faded before PS/IS 217 PTA's flawed leadership took another miserable turn, again twisting the RI Parents' Network into a self-serving cesspool. Unwilling to accept a favored vendor's losing out in a fair contest for rights to manage the Youth Center, PTA President Erin Olavesen publicly announced a plan to derail an award to the Roosevelt Island Youth Program. What followed is a disgrace to the community. Again.

In 2017, under Olavesen's guidance, PS/IS 217's PTA did much of what you'd expect, supporting the school's programs, raising funds and cheering on students, but its activities exposed an uglier underbelly rarely seen in similar organizations.

The local PTA lined up behind school Principal Mandana Beckman when she signed unauthorized parking permits that allowed teachers and other employees to clog an emergency access lane beside the building, endangering children as well as residents at a neighboring building, including a high percentage of disabled and a childcare center. The dangers ended when PSD begin ticketing cars parked with Beckman's permits still in their windows.

When a huge colony of rats thrived outside the school's cafeteria, eventually spreading into nearby housing complexes, largely as a result of poor trash handling by school employees, the PTA saw no problem in the Principal's refusal to take corrective action and, instead, falsely blaming whoever else was available, including the community at large, which she claimed is rat infested. Finally, embarrassed by publicity that went international, Mayor de Blasio sent in heavy equipment to bury the colony.

Late in the summer, when a group of residents unhappy with Beckman's continuing tenure as Principal put up posters suggesting that she leave, PTA activists took it upon themselves to deny others' their right to free speech by ripping down the posters. Olavesen added an angry quote for a published article about the incident suggesting that those openly opposed to Beckman were criminals and should, according to City Council Member Ben Kallos, who the PTA politically supported in violation of IRS guidelines, be reported to the police.

There was more - and possibly worse - but the PTA's conduct after learning that the Roosevelt Island Youth Program was the apparent highest scorer in the RFP for managing the Youth Center showed another strain of bitterness that may have more lasting effects.

Brutal and Personal Attack on Charlie DeFino

Soon after learning that an independent, third-party recruited by RIOC to analyze contenders for the contract determined RIYP as their best choice, Olavesen turned to the RI Parents' Network to pitch a strategy to overturn the results.

"RIOC giving a 3 year contract to RIYP to run our youth center is distressing and disappointing on so many levels," she wrote.

After the campaign to influence RIOC before a final award is made was exposed, Olavesen told The Daily as well as the Roosevelt Islander blog that her comments were made, not as PTA President, but as a mother with children attending the school.

But Olavesen made no such distinction when she posted, and more important, on the PS/IS 217 website, among other responsibilities, she is listed as the group's "RIOC liaison."

Hope that the attack would stop there or, at least, be limited vanished when another active PTA member - several roles are listed for her on the PTA website - Susana Del Campo Perea posted on the RI Parents Facebook Page that the Youth Program should be disqualified because, she claimed, years ago RIYP leader Charlie DeFino propositioned her in broad daylight in the presence of her husband and child.

DeFino categorically denies Del Campo Perea's accusation. There is no record of its being made previously.

As the attack continued, criticism of the Youth Program or its activities never really surfaced. It's all just personal. The accusers simply don't seem to like DeFino.

Another RI Parents contributor, Jax Schott, said her husband witnessed DeFino "PEEING ON THE SIDEWALK [caps hers] near the baseball field across from 217." This, she admitted, happened before her husband knew who DeFino was.

Because neither the Facebook Page not the Google Group's monitors allow apparent slanders and there is no option for the accused to defend himself, I asked DeFino about the accusation.

"I'll stand in a lineup," he volunteered.

When Yitza Martinez, who tells the group she's known DeFino for thirty years, longer than anyone else in the discussion, including time spent as a youngster at the Youth Center, stands up for him, saying, "I 100% trust my children in all of RIYP," she's shot down by Khadijah Lucero James who says DeFino is a "bigot" and an "addict," without evidence. Lucero James later goes on to blame DeFino for children crying in playgrounds last summer while their mothers stared at their cellphones, adding a bizarre twist that shows how far the sickness extends from the PTA into the Parents' Network.

Conclusion

None of DeFino's accusers offers enough evidence to convict anyone of anything, and being secondhand, much of it comes off as no more than malicious gossip.

In our opinion, not only should RIOC unanimously approve this fairly won award in favor of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, the State agency ought to reconsider its preferential treatment of the PS/IS 217 PTA. The PTA gets a no bid freebie to run the Farmers Market, each Saturday, without interference or competition, collecting from vendors in cash. That's wrong. Other groups should have a chance to participate and/or compete.

Because, as we argued earlier, the PTA repeatedly launches attacks on other nonprofits, instead of sticking to its own business, we strongly encourage RIOC to reconsider giving the group money out of limited Public Purpose Funds. That can only be seen as promoting more bad behavior.

Finally, while no one says Charlie DeFino is an angel, he has been publicly and unfairly vilified in unchecked statements on the Parents' Network and elsewhere. We hope the community at large will take a more elevated view than what we've seen from the PTA and the Parents' Network. The politics of personal destruction should have no home on Roosevelt Island.

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