By KATIE HOOS
Tension was high at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting after discussion regarding board president David Lacher’s financial improprieties turned into a heated back and forth between the board.
News surfaced in April that Lacher, a 22-year veteran of the board, was delinquent on his medical insurance premium payments—insurance he receives through the school district’s group heath insurance program—and owed the district thousands of dollars in late payments.
Lacher and other members of the Board of Education are eligible to receive coverage under the district’s insurance plan, but, since they are not paid employees of the district, they are required to pay the unsubsidized full premium costs, which, for Lacher, is currently more than $1,700 per month.
Lacher has been enrolled in the district’s health insurance program since August 2012 and has been in arrears for the majority of the time since.
Through a series of Freedom of Information Law requests filed by Robert Cox, publisher of the New Rochelle Talk of the Sound blog, it was revealed the district was paying Lacher’s premiums and was seeking reimbursement for the payments while Lacher continued to be covered. The district repeatedly reached out to Lacher, requesting payment and threatening to terminate his policy.
Lacher eventually paid the balance of more than $13,000 through a series of payments between February and April of this year and is currently up to date on his payments.
“I deeply regret that I was unable to prevent myself from falling into this situation that I did,” Lacher said in an April 22 statement. “Had I been able to make my payments on time, I surely would have done so. I am embarrassed for myself and I am sorry that my family should be dragged through this humiliating muck.”
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, board member Jeffrey Hastie motioned for the board to request state Commissioner of Education John King launch an investigation into Lacher’s financial lapse.
“We as a district do not have the capability to do an investigation on our own, so we need someone outside New Rochelle to handle it,” Hastie said. “The state department of education makes the most sense to do the investigation.”
Hastie’s motion was supported by board member Naomi Brickle, but was ultimately shot down in a board vote of 4 to 2. Board member Rachel Relkin abstained from the vote and Valerie Orellana was not in attendance.
Lacher, who was present, did not vote and was not part of the discussion.
Hastie then made a second motion to immediately remove Lacher as board president, but the motion was not supported by any other board members, and therefore could not be carried into a vote.
“I’m looking out for the taxpayer,” Hastie said. “I’m making sure their money is used wisely and efficiently. Not only is this a misuse of taxpayer dollars, it breaks the board code of ethics.”
But after Hastie’s motions failed, some board members criticized his actions, saying his behavior undermines the board’s ability to govern.
Deirdre Polow, a 25-year veteran of the board who has chosen not to run for re-election once her term expires this year, said Hastie’s behavior “has caused a climate of mistrust within the board” and she does not support his attempt to remove Lacher as president of the board.
“Mr. Hastie’s actions over the last several years have been antagonistic and have interfered with and have compromised the board’s ability to function as a leadership team,” Polow said.
She mentioned a January 2014 incident in which Hastie forwarded a Board of Education email to the media Polow claims was confidential.
Reflecting on Tuesday’s meeting, Lacher said in his 22 years on the board, he never experienced such conflict. “It’s regrettable that in more recent times the situation has deteriorated so much so that we’d have a meeting like we did last night,” he said. “It’s embarrassing for everyone who was there and it was not a way a board should conduct business.”
Meanwhile, Hastie said he will continue to hold his colleagues accountable for their actions and encourage transparency within the board.
“Has anything [the Board of Education] accused me of doing caused financial gains on my part or caused the district to lose money? No,” he said. “Have I embarrassed some folks on the board? Yes, and that’s part of the issue.”