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Deputy Mayor Did Not Pull Strings to Get Kids Into Brooklyn Schools: Report

By Caroline Spivack | September 28, 2017 4:29pm
 City investigators cleared Richard Buery on allegations that he pulled strings to get his two sons into District 15 schools in Brooklyn.
City investigators cleared Richard Buery on allegations that he pulled strings to get his two sons into District 15 schools in Brooklyn.
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NYC Mayor's Office

BROOKLYN — A city investigation has cleared Deputy Mayor Richard Buery of allegations that he called in special favors to get his children into a pair of Brooklyn schools, despite the fact that higher-ups at the Department of Education fast-tracked the enrollments, a new report says.

After a news report revealed that DOE officials pulled strings to place Buery's son at M.S. 51 in Park Slope, an investigation was launched into the 2014 enrollment process for both of Buery's elementary and middle school students at two schools in District 15, which spans from Cobble Hill to Sunset Park, according to a report from the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation.  

Investigators exonerated Buery and the department in a Wednesday report after interviewing several education officials who assisted him during the placement process.

"After careful review of this matter, SCI has determined that there was no intent by Richard Buery to seek inappropriate special considerations regarding the enrollment of his children in DOE District 15 schools," said Commissioner Richard Condon. "Further, SCI has concluded that DOE personnel acted appropriately in assisting and supporting the Buery family in their search for educational options for their children in 2014." 

In a series of email exchanges beginning in February 2014, Buery discussed potential public school options for his sons with DOE officials.

At the time, Buery was the president and CEO of the Children’s Aid Society and was living in New Rochelle with his wife and children. He and his family were in the process of relocating to Park Slope, where he was to become New York City's deputy mayor for strategic policy initiative, according to the commissioner's report.

Buery contacted the then-special assistant to Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Sayde Campoamor — who is now DOE's director of community affairs — for help scheduling visits to seven schools within District 15.

Campoamor explained that she was contacted by the Mayor’s Office of Legislative Affairs at the time and asked to help the Buery family select and enroll the two students, which she said was not an uncommon request and one she had performed before, investigators found.  

"Campoamor stressed that she was not asked to get Student A or Student B enrolled in any specific school, but rather to help shepherd the family through an unfamiliar system so as to speed up the process for them," Cordon wrote. 

In early May, the Buery​s decided on an elementary school for their youngest son and submitted several documents to the city proving their intent to move to District 15 before the start of the 2014-'15 school year.

A spokeswoman with the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation declined to release the specific elementary and middle schools Buery's sons enrolled in. 

"Principal A told investigators that as long as a parent provided two pieces of verifiable proof of residency documents prior to the beginning of a school year, she would admit the child," Condon explained.

Come late May, Buery and his eldest son met with DOE officials, including Campoamor and Deputy of Middle School Administration Andrew Ferguson — who is now the deputy chief executive officer for admissions — to discuss enrollment at a District 15 middle school. 

Buery's eldest son was not guaranteed a seat at the middle school, Ferguson explained at the meeting, but he did admit to telling Campoamor that the child's enrollment at the school was a "done deal," according to the report. 

Ferguson said that the student was an "excellent candidate" for the school due to his academic record and interview. After the meeting, he placed a call to the principal to relay his assessment of the student, the report said. 

"Ferguson explained that, although he did not give 'special treatment' to the Buerys, he had hoped to 'expedite' their enrollment process as a 'courtesy' because of Buery’s position in City government," Condon said. 

Ferguson "insisted" that the student be admitted, but said the placement was based solely on the student's academic record and residency within the district.

He has provided the same courtesy to other city officials in the past, but declined to share their names with investigators, the report said.