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School Custodians ‘Cleaning Up,’ Report Says

November 13, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Three city school janitors have been arrested for abusing a system that lets them pad payrolls with relatives and convicts, and not show up for work themselves, an investigator says.

A yearlong investigation ″found significant misconduct by custodians and serious flaws in the system that allow misconduct to occur,″ Ed Stancik, special commissioner of investigation for city schools, said Thursday.

One custodian, now retired, held a job as a corporate airplane pilot and another relaxed on his cabin cruiser - on Board of Education time, he said.

Still another ran a real estate business and a fourth built a makeshift rifle target range in the basement of an elementary school, Stancik said.

Along with the three custodians arrested Thursday, charges were being drawn up against others by the district attorney’s office, Stancik said.

Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez issued a statement saying he had fired two probationary custodians and was calling for the removal of five others. He also said he was cracking down on finances and requiring custodians to be fingerprinted.

Custodians are public employees but are treated essentially as independent contractors by the Board of Education, with little supervision over budgets or work habits.

They are handed from $80,000 to $1.2 million each to provide services to their school or facility.

They have been free to deposit the money in their personal bank accounts, hire their own staffs and buy their own supplies. And they can keep whatever is left over for themselves.

They are not supervised by anyone at their schools, but are subject to rare visits by 32 plant managers who have nearly 1,000 schools to check.

Their contracts are so strict that even school principals cannot order them to clean a classroom or replace a window blind.

Joseph Stigliano, president of the custodians’ union, Local 891 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, said problems were not widespread.

″We take pride in our work and will not tolerate any among us who engage in illegal activity,″ Stigliano said.

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