David Stone
RIYP Wins Youth Center RFP... And Then, the Knives Come Out

No sooner was it confirmed that the Roosevelt Island Youth Program achieved the winning score in a request for proposals for managing the Youth Center than divisive forces unsheathed their knives and went on the attack. Hope for working together to resolve differences was swept aside when PS/IS 217 PTA President Erin Olavesen announced a drive to undermine RIOC's bid results.

Roosevelt island Youth Program Attacked

A group that's received preferential treatment from RIOC on multiple occasions and one usually more closely identified with community building through children, the PTA seems an odd group to launch an attack on another nonprofit with similar goals. But there it was, posted on the Roosevelt Island Parents Network's Google Group and Facebook Page.

"According to the WIRE," wrote PTA President Erin Olavesen, "RIOC has confirmed that the RIYP is the highest scorer for the Youth Center operator contract. The award requires approval from the RIOC board. This will be put to a vote on January 25, at their next board meeting."

She continued, "RIOC giving a 3 year contract to RIYP to run our youth center is distressing and disappointing on so many levels. I hear the talk and know many of you feel the same. I’m sending a letter to RIOC to express my concerns, and asking the WIRE to publish it. I know many of you feel the youth center leadership will never change, and it isn't worth giving it a second thought. I'd hope if enough of us raise concerns, RIOC will be forced to act."

Answering a request from The Daily - "Can you respond with your specific grievances and why you feel it's appropriate to attack the Youth Program in a place where they are unable to defend themselves?" - Olavesen wrote only that she'd posted on the RIPN Google Group and their Facebook Page as a parent of two children, not as PTA President.

That's a little like President Trump saying his Twitter posts are not done as the leader of a nation, but as a private citizen. That's not how being a public figure works. Readers can't be expected to automatically differentiate between roles.

When posting, Olavesen made no effort to distance herself from her role as PTA President.

Full Disclosure: The Roosevelt Island Daily discontinued posting RI Parents' Network events when we determined that the group had become politically contaminated and was being used to support the positions of one group of parents while disparaging others.

Asked for details and/or documentation about her complaints against the Youth Program, Olavesen declined comment.

Note: ethical questions are also raised when a public figure attempts to interfere with a legitimate bidding process before its conclusion

We searched the internet for complaints about the RIYP and found none.

RIOC has publicly assured residents that it takes all complaints or incidents getting the attention of the Public Safety Department seriously. To be sure, RIYP has been the focus of political disputes and has been challenged by a small group of disgruntled ex-employees, but neither RIOC nor The Daily has found any information that would disqualify the Youth Program from continuing its work after four decades.

A Possible Explanation for the Attack

It's no secret that the PTA has been closely aligned in support of embattled PS/IS 217 Principal Mandana Beckman, who has feuded with Youth Program Director Charlie DeFino, and has a longstanding relationship with one of the Youth Program's competitors for the RFP.

Last year, with the PTA participating, Beckman banned the Youth Program as well as Roosevelt Island based Island Kids from even bidding on the Beacon After School Program. Beckman did not explain her decision, but it's been reported that she resented DeFino's unwillingness to divert funds from children to benefit teacher training during previous contracts.

DeFino initially worked to bring Beacon funds to PS/IS 217, and the Youth Program has always administered the program until this year when Beckman brought in a Queens based operation.

The PTA has also backed Beckman's decision to encourage free employee parking that blocked emergency egress from school grounds while jeopardizing the safety of residents at 2 and 4 River Road and stood by her refusal to take action to combat a rat infestation spreading into neighboring complexes until an embarrassment of international publicity forced Mayor Bill de Blasio to step in.

In connection with the rat problems, the RI Parents Network was similarly used to attack parents worried about Beckman's handling of those situations.

As Conflict Stands Now Between the PTA and the Youth Program

The Daily is aware of further developments in this continuing story but is not yet ready to report.

The RI Parents Network did not respond to questions about why its administrators are allowing a turf war to be launched in a forum where the target of attacks has no opportunity to defend itself.

At its general Board Meeting on January 25th at 5:30 p.m., RIOC is expected to vote on a contract for managing the Youth Center with RFP results indicating RIYP as the winner. In the meantime, recent developments suggest that the dispute instigated by the PTA in partnership with the RI Parents Network will intensify. RIYP is considering legal action in retaliation.

There is more to come.