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P.S. 31 principal earns overtime “per session” pay for work she did not perform

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Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City school district Richard J. Condon released a report on Wednesday, January 11, which detailed the findings of an investigation concluding that the principal of P.S. 31, Liza Cruz Diaz, left school at the end of her regular Department of Education work day, on a regular basis, but directed secretary Melissa Carey to punch out her per session activity time card several hours later.

Per session activities, as defined by the United Federation of Teachers web site, are activities such as sports or clubs that students can participate under the supervision of faculty members. The teachers are compensated at a rate of $41.98 per hour in addition to their regular salary. Cruz Diaz’s per session rate at the time was recorded as $43.94.

As a result of the hours punched on Diaz’s time card, the principal earned thousands of dollars in per session pay for hours she did not work, Condon said. Since 2008, when Carey began the time-keeping practice for the principal, Daiz claimed to have worked more than 900 per session activity hours and earned more than $40,000 in gross per session pay.

Condon’s investigation also revealed that Diaz used Department of Education funds to pay for items for her daughter’s sweet 16 party and asked budget manager John Blackman to falsify Department of Education records to show that she had reimbursed the school for expenditures.

As stated in the report, in January 2011, a source told investigators that Diaz made personal purchases for her daughter’s party using a Department of Education purchase order.

Deputy director of Accounts Payable Kim Lowry provided investigators with a printout of a P.S. 31 purchase order for the purchase of metallic sunglasses and bead necklaces from the Oriental Trading Company, Inc. The purchase order was entered by Blackman and authorized by Diaz on December 1,2010.

Lowry also provided a copy of the Oriental Trading Company, Inc. invoice for the purchase of eight dozen metallic sunglasses at $7.99 per dozen, totaling $63.92, and one “mega metallic bead necklace assortment” for $19.99.

The total amount of the transaction was $91.70, which included shipping.

According to the report, the assigned investigator visited the web site for Oriental Trading Company, Inc. and reviewed explanations and pictures of the purchased items. The posting suggested that the sunglasses could be added “to goody bags at your next beach party!” The metallic bead assortment included 144 necklaces described as “the perfect favor for a birthday bash or other colorful celebration. Fun for Mardi Gras, too!”

During the investigation, surveillance was conducted at Daiz’ home, as well as P.S. 31, which determined that at the times she punched out her time card, she had already been home for one to two hours, making it impossible for her to have been at the per session activities.

It was also revealed in the report that Diaz removed official Department of Education records from the school in an attempt to conceal evidence of her misconduct, when she was seen by a source on June 16, 2011 gathering per session activity time cards and time sheets and carrying the documents out of the school in a bag.

In an interview with her union representative and the office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation, Diaz admitted to knowing her payroll secretary was punching out her time card at the same time she was punching out her own. Diaz said she did not direct the secretary to do so, but she did not directly ask her not to either.

Condon recommended that Diaz’ employment be terminated and that she be made ineligible for future work with the Department of Education.

“We are referring our findings to Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson for whatever action he deems appropriate,” the report stated. “We are forwarding a copy of this letter and of our report concerning this investigation to the office of legal services. We are also sending our findings to the New York State Education Department for whatever action it deems appropriate.”

Marge Feinberg, a representative for the Department of Education, said Diaz remains reassigned.

“We are seeking her termination,” she said. “And we are seeking to recoup her per session pay.”

Condon is also recommending disciplinary action be taken concerning Carey.

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