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New York City Schools Chancellor Fires Board and Superintendent

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In the strongest action he has taken to date against local officials under New York City's system of decentralized school governance, Schools Chancellor Nathan Quinones has ousted and replaced a community school board and its superintendent.

Mr. Quinones acted late last month, shortly after a commission he had appointed to investigate Community School District 6 issued a report charging that the district was characterized by "poor pupil performance, mismanagement, improper personnel decisions, and general lack of leadership.''

"I have determined that I cannot permit the children to continue to be the victims of [the community] board's inability to properly manage and operate [the] district's schools,'' said Mr. Quinones in announcing his decision.

In an interview last week, he described the report's conclusions as "scathing,'' but he added that "the problems of the district speak for themselves--this should come as no surprise to anyone.''

His action is the latest development in the increasingly fractious debate over the proper roles of the city's 32 community school boards, which control elementary and intermediate schools, and the central board, which has jurisdiction over the city's 111 high schools and various districtwide support programs. The state legislature, which established the decentralized system in 1969, is examining the system with an eye to correcting problems that have arisen during the past 17 years. (See Education Week, Jan. 14, 1987.)

Although Mr. Quinones's intervention was not initiated by a state body, it resembles the "academic bankruptcy'' strategy for reforming troubled districts that was endorsed by the National Governors' Association last summer. The governors suggested that, as a last resort, state officials should remove and replace local school boards and administrators when districts fail to meet educational-improvement goals. (See Education Week, Sept. 24, 1986.)

'The Children Suffered'

Some 22,000 K-8 students attend the 16 schools in District 6, which is located in upper Manhattan. Of those students, 17,000 are of Hispanic origin, and almost 8,000 are classified as having limited English proficiency, the highest proportion of LEP students among the city's community districts.

According to school-system officials, the district's facilities are the most overcrowded of any of the community districts, and for the past several years, its students have consistently performed below those in other districts on reading examinations.

Those factors, together with allegations of possible financial mismanagement, spurred Mr Quinones to convene a special review panel, made up of high-ranking central-board administrators, to investigate the management of the district and the operation of its schools and programs.

After a two-month investigation, which included visits to each of the schools, interviews with school officials and personnel and community leaders, and a review of relevant records, the task force concluded that, as a result of conditions in the district, "the education of the children has greatly suffered.''

The panel said that, among other problems:

  • The district had a "pervasive'' political atmosphere that "severely distorted the behaviors of district managers and supervisors, so that there is an overall lack of coordinated planning, supervision, and communication.''
  • District officials failed to evaluate programs and develop assessment procedures to identify and correct problems, particularly in bilingual and remedial-reading programs.
  • There appeared to be "an absence of any recognizable management approach to the administration of the district.''
  • The superintendent rarely visited schools, principals "did not regularly and actively observe their teachers,'' and the lack of supervision resulted in "an incoherent delivery of services.''
  • Space within the district was "inconsistently'' utilized, and district officials resisted using available space in nearby districts, resulting in the denial of "critical'' services to pre-kindergarten and some kindergarten children.
  • The selection of district personnel "appeared to be politicized ... fragmented, and marked by unclear and inadequate procedures and processes.''
  • There were no comprehensive districtwide programs for staff development, despite the fact that a large proportion of the teachers in District 6 are new, inexperienced, or only temporarily certified.
  • Funds were not allocated on an equal basis among schools, and nearly $2 million in state and federal funding was forfeited in the past two years because it had not been spent.

Superintendent Faulted

The nine ousted board members, who had not yet completed the first year of their three-year terms, charged that thay had not been given enough time to address the district's longstanding problems.

"I think [Mr. Quinones] didn't give the board an opportunity to get its act together,'' said Luis R. Rivera, who was president of the board.

Mr. Rivera maintained that the community board had already taken steps "to correct all this craziness.'' Before the report's release, he said, the board had already expressed its displeasure at the management of the district under its superintendent, Loyda F. Alfalla, by refusing to renew her contract, which expires this summer.

The members of the community board serve on a volunteer basis in addition to their full-time jobs, he noted, adding that "it's very difficult for us to monitor the everyday business of the district. We have to rely on the superintendent's judgment,'' he said. "Our problems lie mainly with the superintendent's failure to keep us informed.''

In particular, he said, the board first heard of the unspent state and federal funds when reviewing the chancellor's report. "We certainly would have spent it if we had known it was available,'' he said.

Ms. Alfalla could not be reached for comment last week.

Mr. Rivera and other community board members also blamed many of the district's ongoing problems on "lack of support and resources'' from the central board.

For example, he said, community boards "don't have power to build schools.'' While the central board has been aware of the overcrowding for several years, he said, they have repeatedly delayed plans to build additional facilities in the district.

The members of the deposed board are planning to file an appeal with the central board of education and, if that fails, with the state commissioner of education, according to Mr. Rivera.

"I was elected by this community to serve on this school board,'' Mr. Rivera said. "To have an appointed chancellor and board of education removing elected people from office just doesn't make sense.''

Mr. Quinones has appointed three central-office administrators as temporary trustees of the district, until he can select a full nine-member board from the local community.

The appointed board will serve for slightly more than two years, until the next scheduled elections, and will hire a superintendent to replace Anthony Amato, a high-school principal from another community district, whom Mr. Quinones appointed to the post of interim superintendent.

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