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Cuomo Appoints Powerful Panel To Probe State's Schools

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Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York has appointed a commission with subpoena powers to investigate how education money is being spent in the state.

Exercising his power under the state's Moreland Act, which New York governors previously have invoked to investigate political corruption and nursing-home mismanagement, Mr. Cuomo last month established a nine-member commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the state education system, particularly in terms of its spending practices.

Governor Cuomo said he was establishing the panel because although New York's state and local funding for elementary and secondary education has increased 92 percent over the past 10 years, it "clearly has not resulted in a sufficient improvement in the quality of education provided to our children.''

"It is clear that just spending more taxpayer's money is not the answer,'' Mr. Cuomo said.

"We need,'' he said, "to take a fresh look at our educational system and identify better ways to provide our children with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.''

Governor Cuomo named H. Patrick Swygert, the president of the State University of New York at Albany, as president of the Special Commission on Educational Structure, Policies, and Practices. The panel will have authority to subpoena witnesses and compel them to produce records or testify under oath.

Along with conducting reviews of financial controls and management related to education spending, the commission also has been asked to hold public hearings on problems in schools, create advisory panels to assess potential solutions, and consult with business and labor leaders to determine which skills students need for future employment. It is to issue a final report by Dec. 15.

Educators Unenthusiastic

Several of the state's education leaders last week criticized the Governor's decision, charging that the special panel's mission is too broad and its efforts will likely duplicate the work of previous commissions.

Thomas Sobol, the state education commissioner, and R. Carlos Carballada, the chancellor of the state board of regents, jointly issued a statement saying they welcome "any new information or insight'' that will enhance education quality. But they also questioned what contribution the commission could make "given its overly broad charge and short time frame.''

"What is needed now is not more study, but energetic support for the education-reform agenda we are already pursuing,'' said Mr. Sobol and Mr. Carballada.

Louis Grumet, the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, told local reporters that he did not think the appointment of a Moreland Act commission was justified. He also accused Governor Cuomo of establishing the investigative panel as "a sort of bullying technique to get the regents to do his will.''

"What is the school-boards association afraid of?'' replied Tom Conroy, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo.

Those who disagree with the need for the commission must be satisfied with the state's public schools as they are now being run, the spokesman asserted.

'Teacher-Bashing Message'

Connie Eno, the president of the National Education Association of New York, called creation of the commission "a little bit of a cheap shot'' and said Mr. Cuomo "is sending out a teacher-bashing message.''

The Governor "brings into question everything that is going on in the state,'' Ms. Eno said, when most districts and schools are using their resources wisely and "are pressed to find the money necessary to carry on a normal program.''

Mr. Cuomo's action was widely attributed to his anger, frequently voiced in the past few months, over an incident last December in which a regional superintendent was awarded a retirement package totaling nearly $1 million.

But Mr. Conroy said the Governor did not appoint the commission "because one individual in the school system is ridiculously overpaid,'' but because of broader concerns over education funding.

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