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Legislation Aims To Curb Custodial Abuses in N.Y.C.

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The New York State legislature has given final approval to a bill that would give principals in New York City more control over school custodians.

The bill, which cleared the state Assembly last month and the Senate earlier this year, now goes to Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who had not indicated last week whether he would sign it.

The measure is aimed at curbing the worst abuses of New York City's custodial system, in which custodians serve as quasi-independent contractors, administering their own budgets and supervising the cleaners.

The system has led to a number of abuses, including corruption detailed in a 1992 report by Edward F. Stancik, the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City schools. (See Education Week, Nov. 25, 1992.)

The criticism of the system helped smooth the bill's passage, despite opposition from labor unions, including Local 891 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents custodians in the city.

Establishing Standards

The legislation would enable the board of education to establish standards for evaluating the performance of custodians and custodial engineers, based on the cleanliness and maintenance of their schools.

Principals would gain a say in evaluating custodians, but they would do so along with the plant managers who already supervise custodians.

The evaluations would be used to make decisions about custodians' advancement, continued employment, and building transfers, among other matters. Now, custodians advance to bigger schools and larger salaries on the basis of seniority.

The legislation would also make the plant managers who supervise custodians "managerial'' employees, instead of civil-service employees.

The measure also calls for the chancellor to develop a plan for providing community access to schools after hours. Such a plan would have to set reasonable fees for using schools and specify that custodians would not profit.

Critics of the custodial system said the new legislation would do little to curb the worst abuses.

"What is needed is for principals to have the whole rating power, and this bill does nothing to change that,'' said John Fager, the co-chairman of the Parents Coalition for Education and a critic of the custodial system.

The custodians' union has urged the Governor to veto the bill, arguing that it is "ill conceived'' and that the portion removing plant managers from the civil service is unconstitutional.

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