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N.Y.C. Board To Seek State Asbestos Aid

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The New York City Board of Education is preparing to ask the state for help in paying for its emergency asbestos cleanup, which is now expected to cost the city twice as much as the original $30 million estimate.

The New York City School Construction Authority has spent $52.8 million since August on asbestos inspections and removal, and the agency estimated last week that the figure could jump as high as $65 million before work in the city's 1,069 schools is completed.

Twenty-two schools were still closed for classes last week, and their students were being taught at alternative sites. Cleanup efforts were continuing in parts of at least 350 other schools.

The school board agreed this month to ask the legislature to alleviate "the financial liability due to losses suffered from the asbestos crisis.''

However, board members will not make the appeal until school officials have assessed all of the costs associated with the cleanup, according to Robert Terte, a spokesman for the board.

The schools intend to seek help because the construction authority "is spending money that was allocated for other purposes,'' he added.

Operating in the last year of its five-year, $4.3 billion budget, the authority has already spent about $3.8 billion of all funds, said Tracie Long, a spokeswoman for the authority. Most of the money is intended for building improvements and construction.

"We're hoping to get that [cleanup] money somehow replaced, so we can continue with those projects it was intended for,'' Ms. Long said.

The cleanup, begun after the revelation that prior inspections for potential asbestos hazards may have been done improperly, delayed the start of school by 11 days. (See Education Week, Sept. 8 and Sept. 29, 1993.)

Indirect Costs

The city is also facing a variety of indirect costs from the asbestos crisis, including the possible loss of state aid due to reduced attendance and additional expenses for transporting children to schools with available classroom space, said Mr. Terte.

The schools also could lose some $10 million in state aid for every day their calendar dips below the mandated 180 days of instructional time.

Although the legislature has not indicated how it would handle a request for financial assistance from the board, the state education department said last week it can offer no additional funds to the city.

And John Clarkson, a spokesman for the department's budget division, said that money to help schools meet federal asbestos-abatement mandates is no longer available. Over the past decade, New York City received about $24 million in such funds.

Mr. Terte did not rule out the possibility that the district would sue one or more of the firms believed to have conducted incomplete or fraudulent inspections of the city's schools during the 1980's.

But, he added, no legal action will be taken until investigations by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the special commissioner of investigations for the New York City schools are completed.

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