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Panel Urges Watchdog Agency for N.Y.C. Schools

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A commission charged with investigating corruption in the New York City schools has released a final report calling for the establishment of an independent investigatory agency appointed by the mayor to monitor wrongdoing in the district.

The final report of the Joint Commission on Integrity in the Public Schools, released May 31, summarized findings that had previously been made public.

But it also contained new criticism of the board of education's procedures for disciplining teachers and principals, and fresh disclosures of $94,000 worth of missing computer equipment in one community school district. The report revealed, in addition, that the same community district had spent $17,000 to give its employees electronic paging devices.

In a news conference held to announce the report's release, James F. Gill, chairman of the commission, blamed Robert F. Wagner Jr., president of the board of education, for many of the system's failings.

Mr. Gill called the board a4"sleepy-eyed lumbering brontosaurus primarily interested in grazing."

When asked who was to blame for the situation, Mr. Gill responded: "I'll say it--Bob Wagner. He's the president of the board of education. Bob Wagner. Bob Wagner. Bob Wagner."

However, Mr. Gill said in an interview last week that he had "no intention of attacking Bob Wagner personally."

"I hold him in high regard," he said. "The board of education is the group that has overall responsibility for everything in the system, and it should be accountable."

Inspector General's Powers

Mr. Wagner said last week that he attributes Mr. Gill's comments to the fact that the two disagree over what powers an independent inspector general should be given.

The board president said he favors giving the inspector general special prosecutory powers; Mr. Gill said such powers would conflict with the duties of the regular prosecutors' offices.

Mr. Gill charged that the board of education's current inspector general, Michael Sofarelli, has been lax in conducting investigations. "It's an investigatory failure, not a prosecutorial problem," he said last week.

Mayor David Dinkins is expected to make a recommendation on the issue within a month.

Mr. Wagner also noted that several of the commission's criticisms, including the charge that the board had failed to discipline teachers, were in areas affected by state regulations that were not within the board's control.

The commission was appointed by former Mayor Edward I. Koch and the board of education in 1988. The most dramatic moment of its investigation came last year, when the board of Community School District 27 was suspended following allegations of corruption made by Colman Genn, the district's superintendent.

Mr. Genn, who had secretly taped conversations with board members and school employees, testified that board members had made it clear his contract would not be renewed unless he agreed to hire their friends and political associates. (See Education Week, Nov. 1, 1989.)

The report recommended that the New York legislature give district superintendents, rather than community school boards, the power to hire teachers' aides and paraprofessionals. It did not endorse Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez's proposal to take away local boards' power to appoint school administrators.

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