Those who would like to believe in and support Newburgh schools should be grateful for what is being described as an investigation by the county district attorney into “academics, athletic participation and attendance.”
Perhaps now the school board and administration will have to confront their failures.
The first failure was the worst. Star players on the all-star Newburgh Free Academy boys basketball team cut classes at will as long as they excelled on the court. Players who were never going to make it in college or the pros were used until they were used up, cast aside with tokens of victories but no high school degree.
The adults who claimed they did not know about the worst-kept secret at NFA did not suffer. They either kept their jobs or snuck away to collect generous pensions. The superintendent did even better, receiving a 9-percent unscheduled raise which then was made retroactive to the start of that school year, inflating the salary that in turn inflated the pension.
Even the coach of the championship teams, Frank Dinnocenzio, suffered only a temporary setback, replaced as head coach but staying on at the school and coaching other sports. And when enough time had elapsed for the raw memories to heal, when the board and administration had convinced the community that there were procedures in place to prevent another scandal, Dinnocenzio made his comeback.
The board ejected the coach who had replaced him, a man who had an admirable won-loss record on the court and in the classroom, who truly served the scholar-athletes in his charge. But he obviously did not have the right friends in the right places. The board and the administration claimed to have investigated and claimed to have concluded that Dinnocenzio did not know anything about the 1,000 or so classes his players had cut while they were winning games.
No one knows what sort of investigation the board and administration pursued but their conclusion was, to put it politely, unbelievable.
Players cut 1,000 or more classes and the coach did not know? The first question, which this new probe may answer, is how that is possible. The second, which only the board and administration can answer, is how they could reward someone who at best was so out of touch.
Caught in the middle is the new superintendent, a son of Newburgh who came back home with the street cred and academic resume that the city schools need. But he has been content to watch and do nothing as the board once again ignored the trauma that had been inflicted on its students.
His response to the idea that the coach in charge during the scandal would be back on the bench?
“We have a process in place.”
And it stinks.
By passively allowing the board to ignore this history, Roberto Padilla runs the risk of undoing much of the good he has overseen. He runs the risk of joining so many of his predecessors in the administration and the faculty who did nothing when the situation clearly cried out for someone to stand up and do what was right.