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9th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 9, 2007

By Andrew Wolf

Despite the angry rhetoric being bandied about, charter school enthusiasts have every reason to be happy. The number of charters has been doubled. That’s a lot, considering that it took almost a decade to exhaust the 100 charters provided for by the initial legislation, some of the original charters proved to be awful, and the jury is out on many others.

The granting of a charter to run a school — at the taxpayer’s expense — is no small privilege. Young lives hang in the balance. Giving permission to some entity to educate children should be considered with the same seriousness with which we charter a hospital or health care facility. There’s a feeling out there that anyone can run a school, even lawyers or politicians, certainly the last people I would look to in any quest for excellence.

Thus, from my perch here in the Bronx, I view with alarm the re-emergence of names from the darkest, most corrupt days of the decentralization of Gotham’s schools. One such name is that of Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, who must have voted for the budget bill that expanded the charters with the broadest of smiles on her face. After all, it is the charter movement that has gotten her family back in the school business.

For decades she controlled Community School Board 7. Those were the days when a prospective principal in her district would be expected to contribute to Ms. Arroyo’s campaigns, attend political dinners, even lick envelopes if necessary, to win the job. Stories like this were commonplace throughout the city, especially in the Bronx, where the performance of the schools usually was inversely proportional to the degree of political involvement of the educators.

But the same flurry of legislation that resulted in the creation of the first charters also reformed the decentralized system, removing the power to appoint principals from the school boards. That’s why it is more than a bit disingenuous for Mayor Bloomberg to view criticism of his stewardship of the schools as advocating a return to the “bad old days” of corrupt school boards. The clever still know how to play the system, his system.

The potential of charters has not been lost on Ms. Arroyo, whose grandson, Richard Izquierdo, on the state payroll as grandma’s chief of staff, is the chairman of the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures. He installed as principal of his school another familiar name to those of us old enough to remember the school corruption investigations of the 1980s and 1990s.

Evelyn Hey was removed as a principal twice before in nearby Community School District 12. As investigators closed in on the practices there in 1992, the superintendent of the district, Alfredo Mathew, was found in an Albany motel room with two plastic bags taped over his head, a presumed suicide.

In the light of this, Ms. Hey and a number of other appointees of Mathew were removed as principals the following year by Joseph Fernandez. He was the chancellor now best remembered for the flap over the use in the public schools of the book “Heather Has Two Mommies.” It was alleged that Ms. Hey won her job as principal of P.S. 234 at the insistence of school board member George Gonzalez despite being rated 14th of the 14 applicants for the post by the screening committee.

As the late Murray Kempton recounted in Newsday at the time, “She had, however, an advantage overriding all considerations of merit, because she was the reputed inammorata of George Gonzalez, who had subsumed in her all his greeds for patronage. Gonzalez promised that he would do anything Mathew wanted, if Mathew would just do what Evelyn Hey wanted. The screening committee was thereupon disbanded and Evelyn Hey installed. …”

To the chagrin of Kempton, Ms. Hey and the other tainted principals somehow found themselves back at their jobs, courtesy of Mr. Fernandez’s successor, Ramon Cortines. The great columnist observed, “Its severest critics cannot say of District 12, as was said of Joe Fernandez, that it insufficiently venerates heterosexual love and the values of the family, whether solemnized or not.”

Behind Mr. Izquierdo’s choice of Ms. Hey as the principal of the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures might be the miracle of dramatically increased test scores at P.S. 234 during Ms. Hey’s stewardship. These scores aroused the suspicions of Edward Stancik, now deceased but then special investigator for the New York City school district, who charged that Ms. Hey developed a systematic method for helping students cheat on the standardized tests.

Once again, Ms. Hey was removed as principal. After years of kicking around the “rubber rooms,” in which the school system houses its alleged miscreants, she never had a hearing, was reinstated, soon retired, and is collecting her city pension. Yet she is now ensconced, courtesy of her politically connected patron, Mr. Izquierdo, as principal of the South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures.

I am told that Mr. Izquierdo is delighted that his grandmother has helped expand the number of charters and that he has an application at the ready to create a second charter school in the South Bronx. With even fewer restrictions on them in regard to hiring than in the “bad old days” of decentralization, the Arroyo family business continues and prospers.

© 2007 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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