Chapter 1 Records Burned in Newark
Newark, N.J., fire officials are investigating the cause of a fire that may have damaged records involved in an expanded state audit of the city's multi-million-dollar Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged students.
The fire broke out late last month in a storage area containing cartons of Chapter 1 records in a building occupied by the Newark Board of Education.
The blaze was discovered a few hours after state education officials had subpoenaed Elayne Brodie, head of the state and city Parents Advisory Council on Chapter 1, and David Hatchett, a former treasurer of the advisory council.
It was reported that the blaze damaged at least eight cartons of Chapter 1 records that had also been subpoenaed.
Columbus Salley, Executive School Superintendent of Newark, said last week that "it is a fact [the fire] was deliberately set."
But he denied that the records involved in the fire were pertinent to the state education department's audit of the city's Chapter 1 program. Mr. Salley said the records involved in the fire did not cover the period of the state's audit, which, he said, is 1978-79.
"As to why one someone would set a fire of this type, one can only speculate," Mr. Salley said. "For one, someone may have wanted to bring attention to an audit of Chapter 1."
"My speculation tells me," the executive superintendent added, "that someone wanted to raise a specter of impropriety."
Lynn Price, a public-information officer with the New Jersey State Department of Education, said last week that all records that were involved in the fire, whether singed or waterlogged from the sprinkler system, have been turned over to state officials. It had not yet been determined, she said, whether any records necessary to the audit had been damaged.
Ms. Price said the state department conducts an annual fiscal and programmatic audit of Newark's Chapter 1 program because the city receives a large amount in federal aid--the sum is about $15 million this year and will be about $17 million next year, she said.
During the auditors' annual evaluation of the program, Ms. Price said, "some questions arose that necessitated the expansion of the audit." As part of the expanded audit, subpoenas--which were among a "series" of subpoenas signed by Saul Cooperman, commissioner of education, and S. David Brandt, president of the New Jersey Board of Education--were issued to Ms. Brodie and Mr. Hatchett, Ms. Price said.
As of last Thursday, only those two subpoenas had been served, Ms. Price said. She said she did not know how many other subpoenas related to the case had been signed by the state officials.
Mr. Salley said it was his belief that "the target of the [state's] investigation is the statewide [Chapter 1] advisory body." The only involvement of the local council, he said, is its members are members of the statewide advisory council.
Louis Formisano, battalion chief of the Newark fire department's division of investigation, said last week that it appeared that the fire, which is also under investigation by the Essex County prosecutor's office, "was set on top of some papers that were on a foam-covered chair. The fire spread to other papers in the area of the chair."
Ms. Price said Newark school officials were cooperating fully with the Chapter 1 audit and had provided all "fiscal, personnel, and programmatic records to complete the audit."--lck