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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The city will not disclose financial information for the Fund for Public Schools

See this article in the NY Times about how the city is claiming that the Fund for Public Schools – set up by the DOE and headed by Chancellor Klein -- does not have to disclose the finances of its board members, despite a new state law that requires such disclosure for all nonprofits affiliated or sponsored by city agencies.

As usual, the DOE’s chief lawyer, Michael Best, argues that the DOE even under Mayoral control is not a city agency but a state agency. It is this tortured reasoning that has been used by the DOE to openly flout one law after another passed by the City Council – including the law allowing students to bring cell phones to schools.

The Fund for Public Schools is the vehicle that was established to raise private funds to improve our schools, but is being used by the DOE to finance multi-million dollar, nakedly political ad campaigns, with flawed statistics to try to convince New Yorkers that our schools are just hunky-dory and we should “keep the progress going.” Expect to see a lot more of these ads in the future as the debate on Mayoral control heats up.

[Michael Best] said the fund’s affiliation is to a school district, empowered by state law, and not to a “county, city, town or village” as referenced in the authorities law. That sort of hairsplitting, though, has drawn the attention of state lawmakers who had hoped to shine a light on civic groups that operate in quasi-governmental capacities.

“That kind of wiggling around is not acceptable,” said Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which had a hand in developing the law. On Friday, Mr. Brodsky announced that he would hold a hearing on compliance with the law in coming weeks. …

Mr. Best, the counsel for the Education Department, said that he had spoken with the city’s Law Department about the filing issue not long after the bill passed in January 2006. “I had consulted with corporation counsel’s office when the issue arose, and I am confident that the state law does not apply to the fund or its board members, as it is written,” he said, referring to the Fund for Public Schools. Lara Holliday, a spokeswoman for the fund, said, “That’s my understanding of the situation as well.”

Assemblyman Brodsky called the Department of Education’s argument “nonsense,” especially in light of the mayor’s increased powers over the department since 2002. “The law is written broadly,” he said. “What we said was if you’re acting in the place of government, you should be treated like government.”

“The Department of Education of the City of New York ,” he said, “is an agency of the City of New York and not of the State of New York .”

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