2010-07-29 / Front Page

‘PRINCIPAL FROM HELL’ UNDER PROBE BY DA

By Neil S. Friedman

Penaherrara in her office during interview for a 2005 Courier pofile. Dara Mormile       Penaherrara in her office during interview for a 2005 Courier pofile. Dara Mormile Less than two years after the Public School 114 principal was removed for alleged mismanagement, the city’s Special Commissioner of Investigations for the City’s school issued a report last week charging her with misconduct, including bid-rigging, leaving the school in debt and allowing a community activist to operate an after-school program on the premises without a permit.

Commissioner Richard Condon’s findings were subsequently turned over to the Brooklyn District Attorney and a spokesperson told the Courier on Tuesday that the case is now under investigation by that office.

Maria Penaherrera's tenure as principal of P.S. 114 on Remsen Avenue, Canarsie’s oldest public school, was less than five years, but in that period the report said she mismanaged the school’s budget and compiled hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Within months after Penaherrera was replaced in February 2009, many teachers, staff and parents said there was “a completely different atmosphere” and morale improved since the “principal from hell” was removed.

Despite complaints and suspicions of misconduct and other administrative shortcomings while Penaherrera was principal, the DOE allowed her to remain because the school’s progress reports “showed substantial improvement.” However, in the wake of Condon’s probe, the DOE said it would follow his recommendation to ban her from working in city schools.

The DOE finally dismissed her 18 months ago for what they referred to as “some issues in the school.” However, it came shortly after she failed to properly report an accidental carbon monoxide release during routine maintenance work. She was late for work that morning and no one was in charge, nor did she set up a safety plan for such emergencies. After that incident, teachers staged a protest at which time they said her leadership was “dysfunctional, incompetent and vindictive.”

In December 2008, the same group of educators, frustrated that their grievances were ignored for almost a year, along with members of the school’s PTA, paraprofessionals and some parents, picketed in below freezing conditions outside DOE headquarters, urging city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to take action.

After she was replaced at P.S. 114, Penaherrera was reported daily to a Staten Island Department of Education (DOE) reassignment center — at her full $128,000 annual salary. Reassignment centers, commonly referred to as a “rubber rooms,” were where tenured teachers and administrators were sent while allegations of misconduct or incompetence were investigated. The DOE eliminated rubber rooms, where those assigned did nothing all day, last spring. Beginning this September suspended educators will handle agency administrative chores.

The commissioner’s report also indicated that Penaherrera allowed Gardy Brazela, the president of the Friends United Block Association, to operate the Friends United after-school program at P.S. 114 without the mandatory space permit. He allegedly tried to resume the program, under the new principal, Anita Prashad, by offering her a suitcase with more than two-dozen counterfeit purses, but was rebuffed.

According to a report in the Daily News last week, when Prashad asked the school’s custodian why Brazela would offer her the purses, he told her “that’s the way he operates.”

Brazela said he could not comment when contacted on Tuesday, which could indicate that he, too, is being investigated, about how he got permission to run the program under the previous principal. His after-school program no longer operates at the school.

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