City Agency Cites Mismanagement in New York Schools

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The New York City public-school system's inability and unwillingness to enforce its own rules has resulted in systemwide mismanagement and corruption, city investigators charged in a report last week.

The report by the city's Department of Investigations alleged, for example, that the New York City Board of Education does not know how many of its 56,628 teachers are in the classroom or are performing administrative duties; that a $42-million extracurricular-pay program for teachers is "routinely abused"; and that the board's failure to monitor contracts with private companies has "deprived the board of the very services for which it has contracted ... [and] has manifest health and safety ramifications."

The report by the department, which is authorized to investigate city agencies or those that receive city funds, grew out of an earlier inquiry into the professional conduct of former Schools Chancellor Anthony J. Alvarado. (See Education Week, April 4, 1984)

Findings Challenged

In a joint response to the report, Schools Chancellor Nathan Quinones and James F. Regan, president of the board of education, acknowledged last week that the schools' investigative resources are "extremely limited" but asserted that "appropriate management controls are now in place."

Mr. Regan said that of the city's teachers, 477 are working officially in nonteaching but professional-level jobs, and 40 have been suspended and are working in clerical positions.

Mr. Quinones and Mr. Regan said the city investigators lacked evidence to support their charge of systemic mismanagement and were basing some of their findings on audits that the school officials contended were outdated. One of the audits cited in the report dates from 1976.

"Nonsense, poppycock, balderdash," Commissioner of Investigation Patrick W. McGinley told the New York Times after hearing the board's response. "The school system has shown that it is incapable of addressing any problems that relate to fraud and corruption, and it is not going to be unless it makes some changes."

The United Federation of Teachers, which represents nearly all of the city's teachers, had no comment or reaction to the report, a spokesman said.

More Staffing Needed

Eight broad recommendations made by the city agency emphasized the need to upgrade the board of education's oversight capabilities. The agency suggested increasing the staff of the school system's inspector general and auditor general--both are now "seriously understaffed," it said--and creating a corruption-prevention unit within the inspector general's office.

The auditor general's office has a staff of 35 auditors and accountants; the inspector-general's 22-person staff includes 12 investigators, according to the report. In fiscal 1983, the report said, inspector generals assigned to mayoral agencies opened 11,444 cases, or one case for every 7.3 employees. But the school board's inspector general opened a total of 923 cases, or one for every 111.5 employees.

The report recommended that the board adopt a six-year-old mayoral order that would authorize the city's commissioner of investigation to direct the board's inspector general's office.

The board is a semi-autonomous, rather than a mayoral, agency.

It also suggested that the board exert greater centralized control over, and enforcement of, the use of consultants; the use of "per-session employment"--the work performed by teachers beyond the workday for specified pre- and post-school activities and summer programs; and assignment of teachers to nonteaching duties.

School System 'Immense'

The 930,000-student system, the nation's largest, has a budget for the 1984-85 school year of $3.8 billion and a decisionmaking process that is largely decentralized among its 32 community districts, the report noted. It is monitored by no less than 11 city, state, and federal agencies, according to the report.

Its "physical requirements are equally immense," the report said. For example, "More meals are served in city schools each day (more than 500,000) than the Howard Johnson restaurant chain serves in one week," according to the 22-page report.

The investigation, begun Feb. 27, initially focused on the financial dealings of Mr. Alvarado--who resigned under fire on May 11.

An interim report on the Alvarado case was released March 21.

After a broader examination of some board of education programs and procedures under Mr. Alvarado's chancellorship and of his tenure as superintendent of School District 4, the city agency sought to determine whether abuses attributed to Mr. Alvarado "were an aberration or were symptomatic of much larger problems," the report explained.

Abuses Cited

Investigators, who say they interviewed more than 200 school-district employees and examined past audits, "concluded that historically, the board of education has had serious management problems in areas of purchasing, inventory control, contract enforcement, and the utilization and supervision of personnel."

The investigation, for example, cited a 1978 audit of the management of a school-bus program. The audit, it said, found that a private bus company had overbilled the board by $1.4 million over a six-year period, and that buses were poorly maintained and recklessly driven.

A follow-up audit in June 1983 reported: "A number of serious problems continue unabated. ... Contractor maintenance is inadequate, contractual safety requirements are being ignored, and drivers are operating vehicles in an unsafe manner, often with suspended licenses."

Vol. 04, Issue 03

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