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State Agents Pose as Job Candidates To Test N.Y.C.'s Hiring

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Last August, more than 40 employees of the New York State Department of Education posed as candidates searching for jobs as special-education teachers in New York City. Each had a master's degree in special education and at least five years' teaching experience. They were responding to openings advertised in The New York Times. None was offered work.

Louis Grumet, the state education department's assistant commissioner for children with handicapping conditions, said he ordered the clandestine operation to test the city's contention that it was unable to hire enough teachers to provide court-ordered programs for all of the students in the city who needed them.

In 1980-81, the city was allowed by Mr. Grumet's office to add several students to each of its special-education classes when the district told the state it could not find enough qualified special-education teachers.

A $20 million savings, based on a similar class-size "variance," was included in this year's city budget, according to Mr. Grumet. But Mr. Grumet said that, after the undercover operation, the state refused to grant another class-size "variance."

However, Alan Gartner, director of the city's special-education division, insists the city did not intentionally refuse to hire special-education teachers out of a desire to reduce its costs.

In spite of the state education department's apparent embarrassment of the city with the undercover plan, the two bureaucracies are co-defendants in a three-year-old class action suit (Jose P. vs Gordon M. Ambach, et al.) that has put the city under court order to comply with the state's regulation that all handicapped children be tested and placed in special-education classes within 60 days of referral.

The state's plan was disclosed in a brief filed last month in a Federal District Court in Brooklyn in connection with the so-called Jose P. case.

In addition, the chancellor of the city's schools, Frank J. Macchiarola, last week submitted a 39-page affidavit to the federal district judge presiding in the case, in which he charged that the 60-day placement requirement and the court's close scrutiny of operational changes made by the city's division of special education has encouraged an "assembly-line" system of dealing with the needs of handicapped children and has turned the special-education division into "an informal form of receivership," with a "crippled ... capacity to innovate" and provide the most up-to-date services.

High Financial Stakes

The acrimonious relationships among state and city education officials and the federal court in New York illustrate, they point out, the legal and regulatory complexity, as well as the high financial stakes, involved in providing large-scale services in a relatively new and exceedingly expensive area such as special education, where debate continues over the best methods of identification and treatment of handicapping conditions.

The size of the city's special-education program is staggering. With approximately 94,000 students, the division of special education has more children than the Cleveland public school system and would rank among the nation's 20 largest school districts.

This school year, the city will spend $340 million on special education, including at least $125 million in special-education aid from the New York State Department of Education.

Mr. Grumet said that the city's board of education was informed of the state's clandestine operation while it was in progress. And he said that the plan was similar to the state education department's undercover inspections of private vocational schools.

However, Mr. Gartner, the New York City special-education director, said the state's operation was "to put it mildly, peculiar."

Mr. Gartner--who took over the city's special-education program last Aug. 1, the fourth person to hold the position in as many years--added that he was never informed of the state's plan.

"The purported evidence [offered by the state] was a pastiche [full] of erroneous allegations," he said, adding that there was no evidence that the 40 employees of the state education department had actually been denied jobs.

He noted that the city has hired 2,000 extra special-education teachers within the last year while reducing the list of students waiting for evaluation and placement from 13,000 last summer to 7,500 in January.

Increased Budget

Since coming under court order in 1979, the city has increased its annual special-education budget from $153 million to $340 million and increased its number of special-educa-tion teachers from 5,200 to 9,400.

However, memoranda written by state employees who participated in the job-seeking operation and attached to the state's brief submitted last month in the Jose P. case suggest that the hiring procedures of the city's board of education did impede--if not intentionally--its efforts to hire more teachers.

One wrote, "In all [personnel] offices, personnel were observed sitting, doing nothing, making personal phone calls, self grooming or complaining with fellow staff members." Another wrote that she was told that she could not be considered for a position because she had a master's degree in special education, while the job required only a bachelor's degree plus a few extra credit hours.

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