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11th September
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, September 11, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

The city’s special investigator for the public schools, Richard Condon, has launched a probe into the circumstances surrounding the employment of the husband of a top education official,The New York Sun has learned.

Peter Plattes, the husband of the deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, Diana Lam, was slated to become a regional instructional supervisor in Region 2 in the Bronx.
Sources told the Sun Mr. Plattes’s payroll papers had been processed and he was slated to receive his first check — including retroactive pay back to June — on August 15.

But when a Sun reporter began making inquiries on July 31, Education Department officials insisted Mr. Plattes was an “unpaid volunteer.” After the initial story ran in the Sun the following day, the description changed to a “temporary” unpaid volunteer.

Some believe that, concerned that they had neglected to obtain the required clearance from the city’s Conflict of Interest Board, school officials decided to abort the effort to put Mr. Plattes on the payroll.
An Education Department spokesman, Jerry Russo, denied that last month. “The decision not to pay him was made prior to the reporters’ inquiry,” Mr. Russo said.

One knowledgeable source said Mr. Plattes’s personnel records were removed from Education Department computers by the day the initial story ran, an action that could only be taken, the source said, with the approval of top department officials.

Mr. Condon’s investigation is said to center around what might be a coverup of what promised to become an embarrassment to Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.Ms.Lam earns the same $250,000-a-year salary as Mr. Klein.

Because they failed to seek a waiver for Mr. Plattes from the conflict of interest rules, the Education Department may well have compounded the possible public relations damage to the administration with a technical violation of law or regulations.

Questions could also be raised about whether promises had been made to Ms. Lam to hire her husband as well, as part of her contract negotiations. Mr. Plattes worked as a principal in Boston and a teacher in San Antonio, when his wife ran the schools there.

Last week, investigators from Mr. Condon’s office were said to have visited Department of Education personnel and payroll offices at 65 Court Street in Brooklyn, and 1 Fordham Plaza in the Bronx.
When questioned about these reports, the Department of Education referred the matter to Mr. Condon’s office, which refused comment. Ms. Lam declined comment yesterday.

Even volunteers must be approved by the Conflict of Interest Board. Mr. Bloomberg was required to obtain a waiver for his daughter, Emma, and sister,Marjorie Tiven,who are working for the city without compensation.

Sources said Mr. Plattes has not returned to his “volunteer” post in Region 2 since the story ran in the Sun on August 1, and in the Daily News the following day.

Despite the alleged removal of the computer records from the system, one artifact apparently remains.
Mr. Plattes was issued a file number by the Department of Education, no. 815642. When asked about this last month, Mr. Russo asserted, “unpaid staff, such as interns or volunteers, receive file numbers.A file number doesn’t mean that an individual is getting paid.”

This statement mystifies Howard Tames, the former executive director of the Human Resources Division of the old Board of Education, who logged more than a quarter-century handling personnel and payroll matters for the school system.

“Never in my experience has a file number been required for a volunteer nor have I ever heard of one being issued for that purpose,” he said.

Ms. Lam, who is the architect of the city’s controversial new curriculum, has brought contention with her throughout her career. She left her post as superintendent of the Chelsea, Mass., schools to run for mayor of Boston in 1991, an effort that ended in flames when a newspaper disclosed that she had failed to file taxes.

After a stint in Dubuque, Iowa, she was tapped to lead the San Antonio school system, a district of 58,000, which was the largest she headed before coming to New York. Her tenure in San Antonio was contentious and the district reportedly paid her a more than $750,000 buyout to leave.

Ms. Lam moved on to Providence, R.I., where, in her final few months, some critics say she encouraged a “bidding war” over a new contract for herself between Providence and Portland, Ore., which resulted in a $30,000 pay increase plus other benefits. Days after agreeing to stay in Providence, she accepted the job with Mr.Klein — and notified the Providence school board of her resignation by e-mail.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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