2009-10-30 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Why Do We No Longer Have School Boards? In Part, You Can Thank CSB 27
Commentary By Howard Schwach

When the Gill Commission sealed the Community School Board office on October 23, 1989, it touched off a media circus that eventually resulted in the end of decentralization - the use of community school boards to control the public schools.

There were a number of school board scandals in which principals had to pay up to $10,000 to the board to get a supervisory job, and in which a local politician would take over a board and use it as a personal fiefdom.

In School District 27, there was never any money exchanged unless it was for a $100 a plate fundraiser. The corruption in our district was much less bold but just as pervasive.

The corruption in our district was not strictly over money, but over racial, political and ethnic imperatives.

Board member Jimmy Sullivan's campaign manager, Harry McGuirk (who also wrote an Irish interest column for The Wave), was hired as an aide to sit at the district office and write a curriculum guide about Rockaway history. He spent two years and no guide was ever forthcoming.

Sullivan wanted to create a Rock - away satellite office for the district and staff it with another campaign aide named Bill Sampol.

On the Gill Commission transcripts (Superintendent Col Genn wore a wire for several months), Sullivan and Genn are heard talking about how Sampol's resume had to be fixed to assure him the job. Would-be supervisors regularly were forced to attend $100-a-plate dinners honoring board members and were made to carry petitions around Rock - away when elections were near.

Black and Hispanic teachers were regularly excluded from supervisory positions by the five-member majority.

Sullivan said often that he was a political leader, and his job was to get positions for his people - defined as anybody with an Irish name.

Eventually, two school board members, Sullivan and Sam Granirer, were indicted in federal court on charges of extortion and mail fraud.

The two were also indicted in Que ens Criminal Court on charges of brib ery, conspiracy and coercion.

The two, however, were not alone in creating the perception on the part of board members that they "owned" in - dividual schools and could therefore do whatever they wanted within the school community. The original school board that was largely responsible for the major transgressions and the school board that was eventually suspended were not one and the same.

That original board was made up of Colleen Edmondson, who was the board president, Sam Granirer, Goldie Maple, Jimmy Sullivan, Pat Tubridy, Peggy Frary, Carolyn Moore, George Russo and Irving Schwartz.

I often saw the board in action. Whenever a black person (particularly Ernest Brown) got up to speak, Russo, Schwartz, Sullivan and Granirer would walk off the stage, refusing to listen to what they had to say. It was that kind of board.

Most often, Pat Tubridy made the fifth vote that they needed to pass whatever they wanted to pass, leaving Edmondson, Frary, Moore and Maple out in the cold. It should be noted that both Moore and Maple were black, which exacerbated the split.

In May of 1989, there was a school board election.

Frary, outgunned and embarrassed by the fact that the board refused to allow her daughter, Diedre, to teach in the district when it had recently ap - proved relatives of both Sullivan and Granirer, decided not to run. Moore also dropped out, as did George Russo (of the Russo's on the Bay family and an ex- Queens ADA). Irving Schwartz, a teacher, was forced to resign by a new law that made it illegal for a teacher to sit on a school board.

Frank Gulluscio was one of those elec - ted, and was quickly elected president at the first meeting of the new board.

Mainland attorney Thomas Gebert was also elected, as was Salvatore Staz - zone.

Eugene Pasternak, the husband of Democratic District Leader Geraldine Chapey, was chosen to replace Sch - wartz after he was forced to resign.

I didn't know Gulluscio (who is now running for City Council) from a hole in the wall, but after he was elected president at his first meeting, I introduced myself and told him that he was being set up for a fall by the Sullivan clique.

He basically told me that he could take care of himself, and I thanked him for his time, and left him alone.

When he was suspended in the wake of the Gill Commission findings, we revisited the issue, and he told me that he wished that he would have listened to me. While he did nothing wrong, he was tainted by the entire affair and it was embarrassing to him.

Stazzone quickly picked up what was going on in the district. He and his campaign manager, teacher Richie Lipko - witz, told the older board members that they wanted their "piece of the pie," and that they would not "sit at the end of the table" just because they were recently elected.

In an October 10 transcript in which Genn was speaking with Stazzone and Lipkowitz, Stazzone summed up his philosophy.

Stazzone: We got a dirty district here.

Genn: OK. Stazzone: We're all dirty.

Genn: In what sense?

Stazzone: We've all sold out to a certain extent. All right. Out of necessity. I mean, I was going to be put at the end of the table. Right? And I was going to get absolutely nothing. You know? There was no negotiating done by anybody when we started up. Sal Stazzone was going to get a big zero.

Lipkowitz: I never heard the word "children" or "education" en ter into our discussions. Never.

Sullivan and his crew never saw the Gill Commission as a threat to their activities until after the district office was sealed off by school safety officers.

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