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Act on Reform, Regents Warn N.Y.C. Officials

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New York City school officials who fail to embrace education initiatives aimed at producing "heightened accountability" may be removed from office, the New York Board of Regents has warned.

"We understand the problems and the difficulties, but we will no longer tolerate excuses and delays, particularly where the means to bring improvements are already available," said Martin C. Barell, the Regents' chancellor, in a statement released after the board's Feb. 17 meeting.

The 16-member board, which governs New York State's system of precollegiate and postsecondary education institutions, reviewed at the meeting a host of long-term plans designed to improve the performance of the city's 32 local school boards, many of which have recently become the targets of criticism over nepotism and corruption. The Regents also approved five new "short-term" initiatives designed to complement the long-range plans.

"We know that the system must be rebuilt, element by element, from governance structure and administrative organization to curriculum and bricks and mortar," Mr. Barell said in the statement. "But while we work at this long-term rebuilding, we must take immediate steps to bring relief now."

Mr. Burrell vowed to press the state board's authority "to the fullest" by ordering local officials to correct inadequacies. "And where these orders are disobeyed, we shall undertake action to remove the responsible authorities from office," he added.

In laying out the new short-term plans, Thomas Sobol, the state education commissioner, said that "long-term efforts yield long-term effects."

But he added that "[i]n the meanwhile, thousands upon thousands of children do not learn [and] the system malfunctions and is abused."

The regents approved the following steps recommended by Mr. Sobol:

Requiring the city to submit a plan for training unlicensed teachers and for reducing the number of such teachers in its schools.

Ordering a financial audit of a sample of city schools "to determine if resources have been allocated appropriately" by the city's central board and its community school districts.

Assessing the instructional programs of the schools and the health needs of the city's students in conjunction with the fiscal audit.

Lobbying for state legislation to render city schools subject to the same building standards that are applied to other districts.

Conducting a model drug-education and removal program in a "small number" of schools in conjunction with an anti-drug task force under the directorship of Lieut. Gov. Stan Lundine.

Mr. Barell seemed to exempt Schools Chancellor Richard Green and his staff from the board's removal threat, noting that his administration was "new." But he added that the "central board is not new, the system is not new, and the community-district boards are not new."

State legislators and other officials have criticized the Regents for failing to condemn publicly or move swiftly to curb corruption in the massive city school system, which, with an enrollment of almost 1 million students, is the nation's largest.--pw

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