Third New York School Board Is Suspended As Hearings in Corruption Scandal Continue
Schools Chancellor Bernard Mecklowitz of New York City has suspended a community school board for abusing its powers, after hearing testimony that board members hired friends and associates for dozens of unnecessary positions.
The board of Community School District 27 is the third to be suspended in the past year in the wake of a corruption-and-patronage scandal that has touched more than half of the city's 32 community school districts.
The allegations against the District 27 board came to light during hearings being conducted by the Joint Commission on Integrity in the Public Schools, a panel formed by Mayor Edward I. Koch last year to investigate the numerous charges of misconduct leveled at board members and school employees citywide.
The commission listened to two days of testimony from the District 27 superintendent, Colman Genn, who had secretly taped conversations with board members and school employees to substantiate his allegations.
One board member heard on the tapes said, "We got a dirty district here. ... We're all dirty. ... We've all sold out to a certain extent,'' according to transcripts published in The New York Times.
Mr. Genn testified that board members made it clear his contract with the district would not be renewed unless he accepted their recommendations on hiring friends and political associates.
He said board members had created more than 45 unnecessary jobs for paraprofessionals and teachers' aides in the district, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $80,000 a month.
Board members also raised political, racial, and ethnic considerations in the hiring of school-level administrators, he testified.
Mr. Genn said he approached the commission, known as the Gill Commission after its chairman, James F. Gill, earlier this year after becoming concerned that the patronage was reducing the district's effectiveness.
"The pervasiveness of it started to impinge on me," he told a Times reporter. "Money you spend on some8body who does no work is money not spent on kids."
In his letter informing District 27 board members of their suspension, Mr. Mecklowitz wrote that the tapes and testimony "document deliberate attempts by members of your board to circumvent established personnel policies and procedures."
"The materials further reveal," he said, "that decisions regarding appointments were not based on educational needs of the schools, qualifications of the candidiates, or best interests of the children, but rather on the desire to further political agendas of the board members."
Mr. Mecklowitz appointed three trustees to oversee the district until the suspensions are revoked or a new board is elected. The evidence against board members is also being shared with city and federal prosecutors for possible criminal action, according to a commission spokesman.
Unnecessary Phone Charges
The commission also revealed last week that two community districts had been billed nearly $90,000 in unnecessary phone charges, including thousands of dollars in calls to "dial-a-porn" services, over the past two years.
The charges, which also included late fees, directory-assistance calls, and unauthorized long-distance calls, prompted Mr. Mecklowitz to request that the telephone company block access to certain exchanges and area codes from all school-system phones.
New York City's community boards have been the subject of allegations of wrongdoing almost from the moment of their creation under a 1969 state law.
The 32 community boards have authority over the city's elementary and middle schools, while the central board retains direct control only over the city's high schools.
Central board officials have complained that the decentralized structure gives them too little control over the community school districts.
A separate state commission established by the legislature last year is examining various possible reforms of the decentralization law.