Drug Abuse and Corruption Charges Jar New York Schools
Top-ranking officials in as many as 10 of New York City's community school districts are currently being investigated by school or law-enforcement officials in response to an outpouring of allegations about drug use and other illegal activities in the districts.
Law-enforcement officials stressed that no charges have been filed against any school employee since a Bronx principal was arrested three weeks ago and charged with possession of crack, a smokeable cocaine derivative.
Nevertheless, the widening scandal that the arrest touched off has prompted Schools Chancellor Richard R. Green to take the extraordinary step of suspending the elected school board of Community District 9, where the arrested principal worked.
The chancellor was also scheduled this week to unveil his proposals for a new policy for dealing with drug use among school employees. They are expected to include a plan for chemi4cally testing suspected drug users.
The actions mark a dramatic turnaround in the chancellor's approach to the problem. He had expressed a reluctance to take drastic steps in the days following the Bronx principal's arrest.
His assessment of that incident as a "personal tragedy" for the principal caused some of Mr. Green's strongest supporters, including Mayor Edward I. Koch and Robert F. Wagner, president of the board of education, to criticize him for failing to recognize the first major crisis of his 10-month-old administration.
The three leaders subsequently healed their split and traveled together last week to Albany to lobby state lawmakers on key bills affecting the city.
The scandal and their subsequent lobbying prompted the state Senate late last week to pass one of the measures, which attempts to depoliticize the governance of the community school districts by prohibiting employees from serving on the local boards and subjecting board candidates to stricter financial-disclosure requirements.
Some school leaders are also citing the principal's arrest to press lawmakers to consider legislation that would make it easier to transfer or remove building principals.
Under a measure passed in 1969, the city's elementary and intermediate schools are run by 32 locally elected boards. The appointed central board of education operates the city's high schools, sets districtwide policy, and monitors the community school districts.
Charges of corruption and political patronage have been leveled at some of the community boards in recent years, but state lawmakers have been reluctant to act on proposed reforms of the decentralization law.
The arrest of the Bronx principal has prompted dozens of citizens and school employees to come forth with new allegations against community board members and other school personnel.
During the last week of Novemel15lber, the Bronx District Attorney's office received more than 60 phone calls from people offering to cooperate in its investigation of charges leveled at board members and their employees, according to Edward V. McCarthy, spokesman for Paul T. Gentile, the district attorney.
A state grand jury empaneled by Mr. Gentile is investigating a wide range of allegations against community board members and their subordinates, including charges that some may be using or selling drugs, trading sexual favors for jobs and promotions, or stealing equipment owned by the schools.
Other areas under investigation, according to Mr. McCarthy, include fundraising for local board elections, alleged favoritism in the appointment of principals and other administrators based on their campaign activities for board members, and the procedures used by school custodians to keep schools open for after-school activities.
The investigation is focused on Districts 9 and 12 in the Bronx, Mr. McCarthy said, but has also been widened to examine the activities of the other four community districts in the borough.
Green Suspends Board
The grand jury's investigation of District 9 prompted Mr. Green to suspend its board and name four trustees to oversee the district, according to Robert Terte, a district spokesman.
The suspension, which has previously occurred only three times since the system was decentralized, has been challenged by District 9 board members in a lawsuit filed in state court last week.
The school system's inspector general is also investigating "charges of illegalities" against six community districts, including four outside of the Bronx, according to a New York Post report quoting Mr. Wagner.
The Post's report said the charges include allegations of job-selling and patronage.
Mr. Wagner was unavailable for comment last week, and a spokesman for the district said that the inspector general would not comment on any matters under investigation.