NYC principals caught plugging software from for-profit vendor

At least 12 NYC principals have lent their names and schools to be used in…

At least 12 NYC principals have lent their names and schools to be used in promotional materials for a software vendor, which raked in more than $1.1 million from the Department of Education this year.

The school chiefs may have violated ethics rules by helping plug Operoo, a for-profit company that sells a system to remotely manage paperwork and communicate with parents, numerous materials show.

In one instance, an April 14 webinar titled “Live Principal Panel: COVID-19, One Year On,” and viewed by The Post, took place at 2 p.m. on a school day. Widely advertised online, It featured six principals, including Mark Erlenwein of elite Staten Island Tech, and was hosted by Phil Weinberg, a former DOE deputy chancellor.

Weinberg, who hung up on The Post when called about the event, asked the principals “how they’ve harnessed technology to both survive and lead the transformation.” Each of the principals praised Operoo, one calling it “a godsend.”

“It’s outrageous that these principals are promoting a for-profit product like Operoo, and during the school day no less,” said Leonie Haimson, a DOE watchdog and executive director of Class Size Matters.

Phil Weinberg, a former DOE deputy chancellor
Phil Weinberg, a former DOE deputy chancellor, hosted the Operoo webinar.
Brigitte Stelzer for NY Post

“During a very challenging and difficult year, they should be focused on ensuring kids are getting all the support and services they need, rather than acting as sales reps for the ed-tech industry.”

Other principals involved in the promotions included Karen Ditolla, Mark Twain IS for the Gifted and Talented; Deirdre DeAngelis, New Dorp HS; Trish Peterson, PS 8; Tiffany Hicks, Magnet School of the Arts; Moses Ojeda, Thomas Edison HS; and Nora deRosa, IS 7.  None returned messages.

The school bosses also let their institutions be used in glowing case studies,  “sponsored content” on the education news site Chalkbeat, and a press release for the Australia-based company.

Operoo posted a nine-page pitch quoting principals and other staffers at six DOE schools in all five boroughs. They gushed about Operoo in quotes such as “a blessing,” “a part of our lives,” and  “thank goodness for Operoo.” Viewers are invited to  “book a demo.”

In response to questions from The Post, the DOE said it reported the principals’ conduct to the Special  Commissioner of Investigation for city schools. 

The Conflicts of Interest Board forbids city employees to let vendors use their NYC titles without written permission by their agencies. Penalties for city employees include fines of up to $25,000 per violation and being required to repay the value of any benefit obtained as a result of the violation.

Nora deRosa, principal at IS 7 in Staten Island
Nora deRosa, principal at IS 7 in Staten Island, is one of the principals involved in Operoo promotions.
Stephen Yang for NY Post
Mose Ojeda, principal of Thomas Edison High School
Moses Ojeda, principal of Thomas Edison High School, also has been involved in Operoo promotions.
Jenny Anderson/Getty Images

The principals did not ask permission, according to the DOE. Ethics officer Samantha Biletsky “reached out to remind them of the COIB rules,” said spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon.

The principals were not compensated by Operoo, O’Hanlon said. While getting paid their DOE salaries, they are free to attend “education-relevant conferences” during work hours and “share their wisdom.” 

Operoo, formerly named Caremonkey, has collected $1.1 million from the DOE since July 1 — up from $258,000 last school year. The company claims “hundreds” of city schools are customers.

A Brooklyn principal not involved in the promotions said he purchased Operoo during the pandemic because the “clueless” DOE had no comparable system to digitize emergency contact information — kept on “blue cards” in the office — among other tasks. O’Hanlon would not comment on the DOE’s systems.

A graphic advertising a panel being hosted by software company Operoo featuring a former DOE official and several public school principals.
A graphic advertising a panel being hosted by software company Operoo featuring a former DOE official and several public school principals.
Operoo

Still, the principal said his colleagues should not shill for Operoo. “They’re using the principals as part of their marketing plan. It doesn’t look good.”

Peter Bencivenga, Operoo’s Brooklyn-based president, did not return calls or emails, nor did four managers in Melbourne, Australia.