Voithia - June 14, 1998
James B. Gabriel, Jr.
131 Centershore Road
Centerport, NY 11721
June 13, 1998
His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
8-10 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10021
I am writing this letter to you in order to express some concerns that I have about the state of Saint Basil Academy. I was waiting much of last year to voice my thoughts at a Board meeting, but, in spite of frequent criticism leveled at past board members about our lack of regular meetings, we had no such meeting anytime after July. I took the responsibility of serving on the Board of the Academy very seriously, and even though I was not re-invited to serve on the board this year, I remain very concerned about the way in which it is being run, and the prospects for its future.
At the last 1997 meeting of the Saint Basil Board of Trustees, we were told by the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Father George Passias, speaking on your behalf, that we, as board members had, over a number of years, collectively violated the trust placed in us as stewards of the Academy. The request of one Board member to have Father George’s comments placed on the record verbatim was declined by the Chancellor, so I am unable to cite his specific reasons, but I clearly remember, from his comments, and others made by the Director of the Academy during other meetings, that they included:
● Not meeting regularly
● Not being able to account for the finances of the Academy
We, and the past leadership of the Academy, were specifically chastised for these points. The current administration, however, has not only continued in these practices, but has further violated the trust that we, as the stewards of the Academy, placed in them, with additional actions including:
● Directly ignoring votes cast by the Board which would have potentially saved a great deal of money for the Academy. (During our May meeting at the Academy, we voted, on the record, to have Father Sylvester consider the opinion of an architect, regarding proposed work to the Main Building, who would be paid for by Mr. Thomas Dushas; this did not happen.)
● Failing to keep promises made to Board members (Three Board members, including myself, were told we would participate in a discussion with Philoptochos members on the definition of “needy”. We were never contacted. We were also told on numerous occasions that a copy of the By-laws of the Academy would be delivered to us; they never were.)
● Ignoring the knowledge possessed by members who have served the Academy for many years which could also have saved the Academy much money. An example of this was the Director’s complete lack of interest in the knowledge about the water system, which was expressed at a number of Board meetings by members who had spent a great deal of time studying this situation in the past. He wanted instead to spend a great deal of money replacing the entire system.
● Providing misleading information to the Board regarding the Teachers’ College at the Academy: At our last meeting, we were informed that accreditation was being provided by Hellenic College. However, in a letter dated prior to our meeting, addressed to the Attorney General of Massachusetts, and subsequently published on the Voithia Web Page, it was stated that
"At a meeting held on Thursday, May 15, 1997, with members of the appointed task force and four faculty members from Hellenic College, it was agreed that the only feasible solution was for St. Basil Academy to be opened in the fall of 1998 at the earliest (due to the lengthy process required by the State of New York, as well as the investigations and actions needed to be undertaken by Hellenic College) as a satellite campus of Hellenic College. Exactly one week later, on May 22, a press release approved directly by the office of the Archbishop was issued by the Archdiocese which announced the opening of St. Basil Academy Teacher's College in the fall of 1997... Approximately three weeks ago, a letter was sent by the President of the Corporation to the V. Rev. Sylvester Berberis, Director of the St. Basil Academy, asking him to remove from the press release the statement that graduates of St. Basil Teacher's College may complete their BA at Hellenic College; a copy of the letter was sent to the Archiepiscopal Administrator. As of the time this complaint was submitted, the press release remained, unedited, on the Archdiocesan Web site.”
At the very least, the information provided to us was misleading. In fact, the Board should have been made aware of any potential legal issues involving the Academy. Furthermore, the Board should have been kept notified of all other issues regarding the College. We have a fiduciary responsibility for the Academy, and have been kept in the dark in all areas concerning this major undertaking. Ten years ago, when the college was first considered, Father George Neofotistos kept the Board apprised of the progress, which led to a number of productive discussions at our meetings.
I was personally puzzled by my exclusion from the Task Force on the college. When your secretary called me early last year to invite me onto the board, she also invited me onto the Task Force. I never received an invitation to a meeting, and when I asked you about that, you referred me to Father Sylvester, who claimed that no Board members were also on the Task Force.
In short, your Eminence, my experience as a board member last year was very frustrating. We were chastised for our actions of the past, but at the same time were witnessing numerous infractions of rules, and were never given a chance to comment on them. During one meeting in June, when one or more of us asked about the college, we were told that this was a special meeting and we could only discuss agenda items, and that we should wait for the next general meeting. Such a meeting never took place. I cited two examples above where the Director of the Academy planned to waste money, refusing offers of help and advice from Board members in the process. As a result, I have told people with whom I come into contact that any donations to the Academy should be earmarked specifically for the children.
Attitude of Director towards Board
Father Sylvester’s approach to the Board was extremely confrontational. You may remember that at the first meeting of 1997, in May, he informed us in his opening address very directly and forcefully that we were only an advisory board, and only he could make decisions. When it came out into the open later that a) we were in fact a board of Directors, not advisors, and b) he did not have the authority to sign a check without a co-signatory from the board, it was further evidence that he had made statements without taking the time to research the facts. Yet it was the board, not Father Sylvester, whom you chastised for violating the trust placed in us.
Lack of Respect
I was particular horrified at the treatment by Father Sylvester of many employees of the Academy who had been faithful servants of the Church for many years. No case was more upsetting than that of Georgia Ferrentinos, who after acting as a yiayia [grandmother] to generations of children at the Academy and as a very hard working caretaker of the facilities, was dismissed on short notice. It might have been excusable if it could be attributed to Father Sylvester’s lack of knowledge of the Academy, as he was relatively new there, but her history was well described to him at a Board meeting which I am sure you remember, and he still did nothing. I would have personally tried to insist that the Board re-hire her at that meeting, but we had been told, on the record, two weeks earlier by Father Sylvester that we were only advisors and did not have such authority.
I was further discouraged by the total lack of concern for Father George Neofotistos, the immediate past Director who had left the Academy upon suffering a debilitating stroke earlier in the year. During the Board’s tour of the Academy I came across some photographs which I knew to be personal possessions of Father George. I mentioned this to Father Sylvester, as I thought that their return to Father George would have meant much to him in his time of suffering, but Father Sylvester said he could not do it without your permission, which he told me he would seek. Having spoken to Presbytera Neofotistos recently, I know that they were never returned.
School Closed without Board Approval
The closing of the school was yet another case where a major step was taken without Board approval. The only vote ever taken by the Board was to allow Father Sylvester to negotiate with the Town of Garrison to have their personnel teach on the campus of Saint Basil Academy. History has shown that when the students are sent off campus to school, they may excel academically, but after some time begin to feel like outcasts as they do not have the same type of home to which to return, and cannot participate fully in extra-curricular activities. Anybody who was on the Board ten years ago can attest to the problems we faced with the high school children who were put in that situation.
To repeat that, after having learned form experience, is a crime was which allowed to happen without permission of the Board. This was inexcusable. Father Sylvester cited the low enrollment as a contributing factor. Unfortunately, it was he who actively sought to lower the enrollment as early as the first meeting that the board held last year.
I suspect that I was not the only member of the Board who was asked regularly by friends, family, and members of my local parish about Saint Basil Academy. For many months, my replies were brief, and hopeful, as the new administration and Board worked through some of the issues which were facing us. Currently, however, I can do nothing but speak my mind, and express my concern that the Board does not have any control over the Academy, and that the Administration is not only guilty of the same misdeeds of which they accuse their predecessors, but many more. We are serving far fewer children today than we have in recent years, and, by sending them across the river for their education, doing so in a manner which has proven in the past to be detrimental.
It appears to me now that the Board has little control over actions at the Academy, even in instances where we specifically asked to be involved. If the Board has no such control, and in fact has had its trust violated by the administration, I feel I must make my concerns known publicly, and will do so. Regrettably, it appears that only in this manner may progress be made in ensuring that the best interests of the Academy are considered in the course of its operation.
Your Eminence, I was flattered by your invitation to the Board of Directors at Saint Basil Academy last year. However, my one year term was an extremely discouraging experience. We were criticized by you and your chancellor for our alleged past actions, but never given a chance to comment or act on serious violations which we saw committed by the current administration. I continue to care for the Academy very much. I spent too much time watching the good it did for children ten years ago to give up on it now.
If my only means of helping the Academy now is to raise concerns through forums such as Voithia, and hope that the general population responds, then that it how I shall proceed. In the meantime, however, I ask that you appoint not a rubber-stamp Board for the Academy, but people who care about the it, and that this Board is allowed to act on the Academy's, and most importantly the children's, behalf. This letter is not about my appointment; I was by no means the only member of the board last year who tried to demonstrate that he or she cared. It seems, however, that most of those who did speak out last year were not invited back. The current president, Dr. Steven Gounardes seems to take his responsibility very seriously. He needs, however, to be given a great deal of support in order to succeed. The Board should be able to act on the behalf of the children.
I hope that my words may result in some hope for the Academy. Saint Basil's is a great institution. It has done much good for many children during its history, and with caring oversight can continue to do so for many years to come.
In His Service,
James B. Gabriel, Jr.
Dr. Steven Gounardes
[ Voithia - www.voithia.org/content/qmpspyridon.htm - June 14 1998 ]