In a Setback for Crew, N.Y. Court Reinstates Bronx School Board

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A power struggle between the New York City schools chancellor and a local Bronx school board has ended with the trustees' reinstatement and a deal granting their ousted superintendent about $40,000 in back pay.

In a ruling late last month, a state appeals court upheld an earlier decision declaring that Chancellor Rudy F. Crew was out of bounds when he ousted the elected trustees of Community School District 12 amid a conflict over their choice of a superintendent.

The clash was one of several similar fights that played a crucial role in building support for a new state law, strongly supported by Mr. Crew, that strips the city's 32 community school boards of much of their power. ("Crew Packs Arsenal of New Powers in N.Y.C.," Jan. 15, 1997.)

The law gives the chancellor the final say over selection of superintendents in the community districts, which oversee elementary, middle, and junior high schools in the 1 million-student system.

But it was under the old law and not the new one that the legal battle played out over District 12, whose 18,000 students have the lowest test scores in the city. Consequently, the appeals court ruled Feb. 25 that Mr. Crew exceeded his authority "by effectively substituting his judgment for the board's on the merits of a particular candidate."

Principal's Record

Lawyers for the District 12 trustees and superintendent said they felt vindicated by the ruling. But the chancellor called it "a grievous error."

"Not only did the court fail to take account of the documented history of corruption and inappropriate behavior on the part of board 12 members, but the court was indifferent to a shocking lack of educational leadership," Mr. Crew said in a statement.

Mr. Crew's struggle with District 12 began last summer when the board named an East Harlem principal, Alexander Castillo, as superintendent over the chancellor's objections.

Mr. Crew responded by suspending the board, citing chronically poor test scores in the elementary school Mr. Castillo has headed for the past decade as evidence that he was unqualified. Mr. Castillo is a former board member in District 12 and has repeatedly been accused of improprieties by city investigators.

He had served as superintendent for only about two weeks when the chancellor dispatched him back to his principal's post in Community School District 4.

Despite the appeals court ruling, which disputed Mr. Crew's stance on Mr. Castillo's qualifications, the chancellor remained determined to block Mr. Castillo's return to District 12.

On Feb. 28, lawyers for the two men hammered out a deal under which Mr. Castillo will keep his principal's job at PS 101. But he will also be paid his higher District 12 salary until his superintendent's contract expires this summer, and will receive back pay to August.

An acting superintendent will remain in charge of District 12 while the selection process moves forward this spring.

As part of the deal, Mr. Castillo agreed not to follow through on a lawsuit against the chancellor for libel, slander, and interfering with his contract. Mr. Crew, in turn, agreed not to pursue allegations of wrongdoing by Mr. Castillo laid out in a December report by Edward F. Stancik, the school system's quasi-independent special commissioner of investigation.

Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman for Mr. Crew, said the deal was the best that could be hoped for under the circumstances. "The chancellor," she said, "was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea."

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