Soon after the election, a few Board members reached out to some of the ASL 2025 candidates. We pointed out many deficiencies in past practices of the ASL Board, including violations of The New York State Not for Profit law and our Constitution and By-laws. We believe that the incumbent Board and Administration continue to move towards empire building and a radical transformation of the League. Director Goldberg continues building programs and has significantly increased administrative staff over the years while the number of students remains the same. President Barbieri has promised to physically expand the League putting the League at considerable financial risk. Below we discuss five issues that we feel require the memberships' attention.
1. The Proposed Two-Year Certificate Program
Considering the recent announcement by the League of a new two-year certificate program, ASL members once again face another "done deal" by the Board and Administration. We believe this new two year certificate program is a departure from the core tenets and mission of the League where all students have equal access to work with a qualified instructor and in the same room as the next generation of recognized artists. Furthermore, the League was founded as a place that anyone can go on their own schedule to any art class without any prerequisites or qualifications. The proposed two-year program could change everything about the League, depending on its design and purpose.
The Board moved ahead with this new program without informing the membership about the following:
- What exactly is the program's purpose and exact design?
- Is the certificate program something that members want?
- How will it integrate into the current system?
- What impact will it have on the League and its mission?
- How will it benefit the League and its members?
- How will program success be measured?
Instead, the program was funded, planned and implemented before the membership had even a clue of its existence. Members were completely frozen out of the process. In our pre-election materials, we alerted the membership to this potential development per the McElhinney blog
. It's business as usual for the current Board which means that we clearly must continue our fight for transparency and accountability.
2. Finances and Annual Operating Deficit
Annual operating expenses in 2015 were $1,000,000 too high as explained (please see "A Painting of the League", Part 1
and Part 2
) We recommend that no major new programs be considered until the League's newly hired Chief Financial Officer, Jennifer Solomon, reviews the expenditures and financials of the League and addresses the League's operating deficit. The League's annual payroll continues to balloon at an alarming rate; we believe that the Board needs to inform the membership on how much it's paying top administrators, including Ms. Solomon.
In the fiscal year ending May 31, 2015, the League's Administrative Salaries reached $2,566,602. Add Payroll Taxes & Fringe Benefits of $558,187 and the "Admin" total is over $3.1 million. Add in the salaries for instructors and models, and total salaries and benefits for the last fiscal year go up to $5,675,102. In just the last year, total payroll and benefits rose by $425,521 - even before Ms. Solomon's hiring.
With ASL costs growing, income from student tuition went down by $23,379, from 3,633,768 to 3,610,389. As a result of these realities, just the League's payroll with benefits alone is now more than one and a half times its tuition income. What's going on here? This is not sensible or sustainable. The Membership needs to get answers to vital questions before it's too late!
3. The Election and Voting Process
We have yet to get the promised access to election records. The way voting takes place at the ASL for elections or on any other issue continues to be a serious concern, which we have been addressing on an ongoing basis.
Before the election, we sent a comprehensive letter to the Board and its attorneys requesting details on how they planned to oversee the election. Among our concerns were improper electioneering, the ballot counting process, verification of eligible voters, and a repeat of improper past practices. We asked the Board to inform the members what processes and procedures the Board would follow during the election and we made suggestions to make the process more fair, transparent and secure. We did not receive any reply from the Board.
On December 2nd, the Board's attorneys sent us a vague and incomplete response. The attorney letter included two promises: That the candidates would be able to observe the ballot counting and that we would be able to examine some documents connected with the balloting after the election. Ballot inspection was particularly important since the largest group of ballots, the absentee ballots, were counted off-premises by an improper party. This is a violation of League By-law XII. Ultimately, neither of the attorney's promises were kept.
On election night, ballot counting took place behind closed doors during part of the time while non-incumbent candidates were barred from observing the count.
After the election, we wrote to the Board and its attorneys about widespread irregularities in the conduct of that meeting and the election process. We also pointed to numerous violations of the By-laws that had occurred. Recently, after repeated follow up letters, we received a dismissive response from their attorney which failed to address the election irregularities, did not explain why the promises made were not kept and did not give us any response as to when we would be able to review the election records.
4. Amendments to the By-laws and Constitution, and Court Proceedings
We have yet to get replies to our requests for information as to how and when the By-law and Constitutional amendment process will take place. We continue to be deeply concerned about the proposed changes to both the By-laws and Constitution. Although the Board has publicly stated that the amendments to the Constitution will not be considered until December 2016, little else about the questions we raised has received a response. The only thing we know for sure is that the By-law amendments ratification, scheduled for April, has been postponed; however, we don't have a new date as to when they will be considered.
As stated in our past communications, the proposed By-laws and Constitutional amendments are unnecessary and concentrate more power in the Board and a five-person executive committee and make membership oversight more difficult. The comparison chart
we produced shows how these new amendments shift power from the members to the Board, and make it infinitely more difficult for members to contest or counteract bad Board decisions. We have also stated that despite the contention that these new amendments are necessary to bring ASL into compliance with New York State law, there is little to no evidence that this is true. We have heard nothing to the contrary from the current Board or its counsel.
The Appellate Division (1st Dept.) ruled that the court case was moot because construction had already begun on the Extell tower. The ruling was narrowly focused and did not address the important issues in the underlying litigation, including matters pertaining to ASL governance, in particular, a binding interpretation of our By-laws and Constitution which still must be addressed.
5. Transparency and Accountability.
It is our intention to seek from the current Board the kind of transparency that we had promised to implement.
Where's the long-term planning?
In the 10 years of the Barbieri Presidency, the Board has never revealed any long-term plan for our school, leaving many to wonder how the League's rapidly expanding certificate programs and other contemplated program changes will impact the current student population, the curriculum, the League's original mission and the very limited capacity of the Landmark building.
Where's the feasibility study?
A building expansion feasibility study
was conducted in 2014. The Board promised to release the results of the study to members in January of 2015. By our "guestimate" the study involving six major NYC building firms and consultants cost between $200,000 - $500,000. The findings have still not been released to members. Why was the study conducted so many years before the planned expansion could even begin?
Where is the responsiveness to member concerns?
In a recent e-mail to ASL 2025, we were told that the Board will only communicate with the membership through occasional emails from the Board and the Executive Director; therefore, any specific questions from members that are not addressed in those emails may never be answered. Questions raised at member's meetings are relegated to footnotes in the minutes read at the next meeting, without ever being addressed.
We want to be vigilant and involved in the operation of ASL. We will continue to keep you informed about these and other issues that may arise. We also encourage you to volunteer and contribute so that we may continue our ongoing efforts to promote effective Board oversight, transparency and accountability. After all, only through such continued and shared efforts can the League continue as a membership-controlled organization dedicated to its founding principles.
ASL 2025 - The Reform Team