Bad Education Recommendation and History Audit

Bad Education Recommendation and History Audit
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Bad Education Recommendation and History Audit. People are crazy. This is what the movie Bad Education is illuminating for me in a fresh, and entirely new way. Just yesterday, THiNC. Spotlight #14 hit the newsstands, and in it I mentioned that one of the five films we were recommending was Bad Education. And here I am, diving deeper on it the next day because it was so good. We here at THiNC. love a fantastic autobiographical hot-take, don’t we?

The Movie Bad Education Walkthrough

So the story itself is pretty simple – yet agog-iffiyingly shocking. We learn about Tassone, a school superintendent for a school suburb of New York City, who is extraordinarily ambitious about hauling his school up to number 1 in the country. Currently they have made it all the way to fourth, and are high on their own successes.

We watch as Rachel Bhagavra, a new writer to the school’s newspaper, The Beacon, begins investigating the development of the school’s new Skywalk project. And as she pulls at the thread, we begin learning how for years, Gluckin (Allison Janney – West Wing, I, Tonya), the assistant superintendent, had been lavishly using school funds to pay for her family’s expensive lifestyle. Several houses, jet skis, cars. And, as the school board learns of her indiscretions, Tassone comes to the school’s rescue. He convinces everyone to keep a lid on the “oversight,” otherwise, their kids would stop being admitted to top-tier schools, and even the real estate in the area would plummet. Because the heart of any good community is a good school. PSHEW! Disaster averted. Gluckin is upset, but she quietly exits stage right, and watches as piles of get well baskets start coming her way. Why? Because the board is now spinning a story that she left because of undisclosed medical reasons.

Rachel continues her investigation as she quickly begins discovering that the money was being funneled through fake companies, and empty shell accounts. Soon she is swimming in paperwork that is obviously pointing to record-setting malfeasance. But the question Rachel is being presented with by the Beacon’s editor-in-chief is whether it is worth it to rock the boat, when they could be indicted the very people writing their college transcript recommendation letters. And later, Tassone himself asks her that very same question… does she want to jeopardize a good school like theirs just because there’s a bad apple here or there?

And, eventually, when Rachel does publish her explosive tell all, we learn how, for years, Tassone and his second-in-command, Gluckin, were funneling school money directly into their personal lifestyles. For Tassone, he used the money on trips to London, first class, facelifts, and multiple properties. Because of the report that the Beacon published, the school district’s auditor gets involved, as well as the local police. And as the movie winds down, Tassone is convicted and sentenced to four to ten years in prison, and Gluckin was sentenced to three to nine years in prison. And that the sum total of what they stole from the school district was $4.9 million. A truly unbelievable account. It couldn’t have possibly been real though, right? I mean, that had to be all fiction, didn’t it?

Bad Education Recommendation and History Audit

The Real History of Bad Education

First things first, after reading the New York Magazine (by reporter Robert Kolker) that the movie is based on, “The Bad Superintendent” (which I highly recommend, it’s a fantastic read even after watching the movie), I am pretty shocked at how accurate the movie was to the truth of the events that happened there in Roslyn, New York. Interestingly, when I was growing up, my own father was a superintendent of a few small private schools, and the accountant of the school district did a very similar thing. He embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars and attempted to cover it up by performing an audit that would have melted all the evidence. (Literally I was 12 when I heard the words… I have no idea.) So, it’s interesting, for me personally, to delve into the truth of this particular story. Sure, the movie was fantastic, but the TRUTH? Wow.

I, for one, wouldn’t steal from a school district of all places. BUT! If I did… IF I DID, I definitely wouldn’t be brazen about it. I mean, shouldn’t you keep your modest lifestyle? Maybe plant the cash in an investment fund, squirreling it away for when you “retire early?” Keep your Ford Taurus and your waist high pants until that day when you announce you are retiring on your teacher’s modest income, then quietly slip away to the Bahamas? I mean? Doesn’t that make the most sense of how to commit fraud – never mind the immorality of it all… stealing from your own community’s children??

But no. That isn’t how Gluckin and Tassone did it. Not in the least. It would seem that the movie’s depiction of Gluckin driving a Jaguar is spot on. Not only is that true, but the DUNENUTN license plate is 100% accurate as well. She lived in the middle class suburbs, but she also had homes (plural) in Westhampton Beach and also in Florida. Three homes, for those of us that have trouble with remedial math. Tassone? All those charcoal smoothies he drank throughout the film? $56,645 in expenses to a Manhattan weight-loss doctor. Oh, and his forays into cosmetic surgeries that were shown in the film? All real. And all noted by the school’s very real to life parents:

“‘Suddenly it’s not Frank in a Ford Taurus with his pants way up to here—it’s Frank with his hair slicked back and a face-lift.” Parents and teachers couldn’t fail to notice long light scars behind his ears. A few years into his tenure, he showed up to a parents’ meeting with small bruises around both eyes. He said he had been boxing, but people in Roslyn know an eye tuck when they see one.”

Bad Education Recommendation and History Audit

But what about Rachel Bhagavra, the valiant student reporter played by Geraldine Viswanathan? Well, it is 100% true that the high-school’s newspaper broke the story initially. But Bhagavra is not a real person, but rather a fictionalized composition of the entirety of the newspaper’s team. She is mostly based on Rebekah Rombom, who was the editor-in-chief of the Beacon at the time. She even wrote an article for the New York Times (which is a fantastic read) entitled, “On Top of the News at Roslyn High.” From Rombom’s perspective, the explosive story’s reporting came from an anonymous tip that a school district employee (Gluckin) was stealing money from the school. “I believe it was inevitable that this story would have surfaced eventually. All we did was push it there a little faster.”

Tassone himself has taken issue with the film’s depiction of himself as a closeted gay person. He has stated on the record that he had an open marriage with his wife before she died, and he did nothing to hide the fact that he was gay. Kyle, the ex-student character? He’s actually a fictionalized version of Tassone’s former boyfriend Jason Daughterty, an ex-dancer, which turns out is pretty accurate. The two of them even purchased a house together. But let’s get it straight shall we? He wasn’t a ex-student, he was an ex-dancer. But later, when asked about his depiction in the film he wondered aloud as to why they even had to bring his sexuality into the film.

But the biggest question I had… and the one that was the best constructed for the film itself was – did Tassone really toss Pamela Gluckin to the wolves to save his own skin? Well, yes. Yes, he did, and quite effectively too. Tassone’s personal shields of protection was that of Gluckin, then the school board (who covered for Gluckin), and the investigation only got to himself two years later. Tassone did call Gluckin a sociopath. And what about that conversation in the broom closet between Pam, Tassone, and the board? That actually happened. “Sociopath” and all.

Incredibly, the movie walked a pretty straight line on the truth. And that is saying something because my mouth was slightly cod-fished throughout the entire 100-minute run time.

Edited by: CY