Monday, November 4, 2013






Mount Vernon City officials have been negligent in their handling of district finances according to an audit conducted in 2002.  The audit covered the period of July 1, 1999 through March 31, 2001.  Many of the problems noted in the audit over 10 years ago still exist to this day and have gone unaddressed and uncorrected.

The Mount Vernon City School district served about 10,200 students in 16 Schools and spent about $102.5 million in the 1999-00 school year.  Today, the Mount Vernon City School district serves about 8,500 students and spends about $215.5 million per year. 25 years ago the school budget was $23.5 Million.   Where did all the money go?

Mount Vernon school chief Judith Johnson has been a disaster for the Mount Vernon City School district.  Several board trustees have also joined Judith Johnson in her attempts to hide fraudulent and reckless spending of public monies.  School board trustees Len Sarver, Frances Wynn, and Elias Gootzeit are three persons identified by Mount Vernon Exposed as agents against change.  These three individuals are joined at the hip and always support each and every corrupt act committed by Johnson.  If Johnson told these three individuals to go jump off a bridge, these three would respond by saying “which bridge”? 

The Mount Vernon City School District did not fall into financial ruin until the takeover or intrusion by the Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee and several prominent black churches in the City of Mount Vernon. 

Many school trustees over the years have become fed up with the corruption that extends to Albany and beyond.  For example, another audit conducted by Thomas DiNapoli in 2010 failed to address any financial shortcoming but instead focused on other matters to keep the focus off of misused and mismanaged public funds.  As a result, of Mr. DiNapoli’s intentional oversight, Mount Vernon City Schools are the 2nd worst in Westchester.  Only Judith Johnson’s former place of employment, Peekskill City Schools, trails Mount Vernon. 

The audit in 2002 was conducted by The State Education Department, Office of Audit Services, while the audit in 2010 was conducted by the Comptroller’s office. Many feel the audit in 2010 was political in nature and was spearheaded by Assemblyman James Gary Pretlow, a career politician and a personal friend to many of the school board members that were involved in the pilfering of over $100 mil from the Mount Vernon City School district.   Pretlow has been in Albany over 20 years and has done nothing to control the spending in the Mount Vernon City Schools.  Pretlow encourages and promotes wasteful spending. 

Bishop W. Darin Moore, formerly the Pastor at Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion church, was the school board president at the time of the audit in 2002.   School board trustees Carol Ben-Reuben, Gerald Coleman, Gloria Coleman, Marleen Dandrige, Lynn McBride, Diane Munro, and Frances Wynn joined him in solidarity.  Many cannot understand the return of Frances Wynn to the school board, especially when Wynn had been a lame duck during her previous tenure serving as a school board trustee.

Auditors stated that improvements could be made related to Board governance and oversight including the control environment, fiscal oversight, written policies, and Board meetings and minutes.  Auditors also stated that the Board needs to stress the importance of controls and hold mangers accountable, to better monitor Mount Vernon’s financial condition, and to ensure written policies and procedures are complete and distributed to appropriate staff.  Auditors also addressed issues related to inventory control and segregation of duties in the business office. 

Inventory control and the tracking of assets are a major concern and problem within the Mount Vernon City School District.  Mount Vernon Exposed recently revealed that School Board Trustee Len Sarver is alleged to have taken tools to use for his private electrical business that was paid for by taxpayers.  Former buildings and ground foremen John Zambelli is also alleged to have pilfered the district out of tens of thousands of dollars of tools that were sold for profit to friends of Zambelli who are private contractors.

The audit in 2002 also noted that improvements are needed with Mount Vernon’s systems and activities for collecting and reporting data for State aid and grants.  Without these improvements, critical data will continue to be incomplete and inaccurate and will negatively impact Mount Vernon.  In fact, due to the negligence of city school officials, Mount Vernon was at risk of loosing $12 million in State aid and grants. 

The true dropout rate cannot be properly calculated because city school officials were too busy stealing from taxpayers.  During the period of the audit, Mount Vernon school officials calculated the dropout rate to be 1.2% however auditors founds the dropout rate to be 6.7% or between 5 and 6 times higher than initially reported by school officials.

One of the responsibilities of a school district’s board and superintendent is to establish adequate internal controls including the control environment.  A school board can set the overall tone by establishing overall policies, communicating them to school district mangers, and holding the managers accountable for the results.  However the board has not always done this, according to the audit report.  For example, the Board has not provided the necessary fiscal oversight to appropriately monitor the budget and expenditures and also has not instituted comprehensive policies and procedures.  According to the audit report, the Board allowed numerous accounts to be overspent, including the Board’s own conference account, and also did not review all claims for payment.

Auditors stated that a school board needs accurate and timely budget status and other reports to monitor the financial condition of the school district and to enable timely corrections to the budget plan.  Auditors also stated that a school board has the ultimate responsibility for the fiscal health and stability of a school district.  The report indicated that board members did not routinely receive required information such as monthly budget status reports, cash reports, bank account reconciliations, or the Extra classroom Activity Fund reports.  Auditors stated that without these reports, the Board couldn’t effectively monitor the financial condition of Mount Vernon.  In addition, the Board did not use the budget to effectively control expenditures.  Mount Vernon’s budget status report indicated numerous accounts with negative balances. 

During School Board trustee France Wynn’s previous stint with the school district, auditors found many questionable expenses, including $225.00 for three people to attend a wine tasting event.  The board at the time of Wynn’s tenure did not have written policies for the Board and Superintendent travel and conference expenses or for the use of district credit cards. 

Mount Vernon did not have a written policy concerning the usage of postage meters and to make sure that the meters are used for appropriate purposes.  According to the report, Mount Vernon used its meters to mail more that 3,200 pieces of mail unrelated to district business.   Mount Vernon Superintendent Judith Johnson recently authorized the printing of thousands of fliers at taxpayers’ expense.  The fliers in question were placed in children’s backpacks and urged their parents to vote yes for the budget in violation on New York State laws.

History tends to always repeat itself.  Many of the policies and recommendations set forth in the auditors report have not been implemented to this very day.  Reports are still being hidden for board members and wasteful spending is still out of control.  The school budget is $115 million more than it was ten years ago, yet children still have to go into street and beg strangers for money to save the sports program. 


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