The wife of a Bronx principal collects rent money from teachers recruited from the Dominican Republic and forced to share a co-op apparently owned by the principal’s mother.
The city Department of Education announced with great fanfare in September that it had hired 25 bilingual Dominican teachers to work with Spanish-speaking students. But the program is now embroiled in accusations that the foreigners have been controlled and intimidated by a group of DOE administrators profiting as their landlord.
In addition to a Bronx duplex where 11 Dominican teachers were housed by ADASA, the Association of Dominican-American Supervisors and Administrators, three others were put into a three-bedroom co-op — each charged $1,350 to $1,400 a month, plus security deposits, teachers said.
Emmanuel Polanco, 39, the first vice president of ADASA and MS 80 principal — removed this month pending an investigation into the program — runs the rental with his wife, Sterling Báez, 32, a DOE elementary teacher in the Bronx.
The couple hold keys to the teachers’ rooms and mailbox, the teachers said. They also set rules: “We cannot receive visitors, Ms. Polanco told us.”
Desperate attempts by the teachers to save money were rejected: “We wanted to move into the same bedroom [and split the rent], but they said ‘No you cannot. You have to live individually.’”
The three-bedroom apartment in a 67-unit co-op building at 2866 Marion Ave. was purchased for $155,000 in 2006 by Juana Polanco-Abreu, 61, who is listed in records as the principal’s mother.
Polanco-Abreu received a $10,000 loan from the city’s Housing, Preservation and Development department under a program to help low- and middle-income people buy their first homes, agency officials said in response to an inquiry.
One of the Dominican teachers in the Marion Avenue co-op, Rosa Minier, said she was required to rent a room there after being told that her husband and three children, ages 12, 7 and 5, could not join her in New York for at least a year.
“I cry every night,” she said of missing her kids.
But Minier enjoys teaching at the International School for Liberal Arts: “I love my job.”
The three women share a kitchen, bathroom and living room — which last week had just an old, dismantled fish tank in it.
“I pay my rent to Polanco’s wife,” one said, showing a screenshot of a $1,012 payment on a digital banking app to “Esterlin Adasa” with a phone number that records show belongs to Báez.
Báez, who posts sexy photos of herself on Facebook, is a teacher at PS 595 The Colibrí Community School in the Bronx.
Báez did not reply to an email asking about her role. The city Department of Education and Polanco did not respond to requests for comment.
On Friday, District 10 Superintendent Maribel Torres-Hulla sent a letter to the MS 80 community announcing that Kenyatta Williams, an assistant principal, will take over as Acting Principal. She did not mention Polanco, who was “reassigned” on Nov. 2.
The Dominican teacher program is now under investigation by city and federal authorities.
Since The Post and CBS first reported complaints of exploitation and intimidation of the Dominican teachers last week, more have emerged.
“I have continued to receive allegations even after the investigation was initiated,” Bronx state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda said Friday. He would not discuss the allegations, saying he referred them to the DOE.
ADASA put 11 teachers in a cramped two-family house on Baychester Avenue in the Bronx, charging 10 of them $1,450 a month each, and one $1,300 a month, The Post has reported. The total $15,800 in collected revenue would net a $8,900 profit over the $6,900 ADASA pays to lease the duplex.
The teachers were warned, several said, that they could lose their NYC jobs and J-1 visas if they objected to the terms.
“You can join the other teachers, or you can voluntarily resign,” Ramon Alexander Suriel said he was told in an Oct. 14 “ultimatum meeting” at MS 80 with Polanco and an MS 80 staffer.
Suriel, 50, who brought his wife and two kids, ages 2 and 4, to share the New York experience, said he was told to send his family back without him.
He quit, and returned to the DR — after incurring some $3,500 in expenses due to ADASA botching a set of airline tickets to NYC, forcing him to pay again for a second flight and overnight stays.
“I want my money back,” he fumed, adding that ADASA has failed to refund his lost money. “No one is accountable for it.”
The NYC teachers’ union said it will look into legal aid for Suriel and other Dominican teachers, said UFT spokeswoman Alison Gendar.
Last week, the other Dominican teachers renting rooms received a letter in defense of Polanco and ADASA from Marianne Mason, executive director of the Cordell Hull Foundation for International Education, a New York-based group that sponsors the visas.
She blamed the teachers’ complaints on “culture shock” and “quite a few points of misunderstanding.”
She said DOE administrators provided accommodations to spare the teachers the “frustrating and difficult” task of finding their own. While charging rent, ADASA covers other expenses such as utilities, Internet and furniture, she said.
“Emmanuel Polanco and the entire ADASA team have done all this work to give, to contribute, and not to profit from you,” Mason wrote.
Mason warned the teachers they signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the foundation that “gives us the right to cancel your visa if you do not behave in the spirit of exchange or for default as a teacher.”
She denied that ADASA forced the teachers to live in the buildings it leased: “You were always given the opportunity to live somewhere else and you still can.”
Reached by The Post, Mason said of the teachers, “They’re lying.”
Mason’s letter demands that the Dominicans “contact and correct the facts of any reporters who have interviewed you.”