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Exec fired in school scandal back on payroll

By Eric M. Weiss,Staff Reporter

A former top Board of Education official forced to resign in a corruption probe three years ago was hired by School District 10 just two months after his resignation, The Bronx Beat has learned.

Bruce Irushalmi, 46, the former executive director of the Board of Education's Division of School Safety, was ousted from his $96,000-a-year job in July 1992, after an investigation found that he and his deputies had engaged in a pattern of cronyism, nepotism and deceit.

The report was referred to the Manhattan district attorney, but no criminal charges were brought.

"I didn't agree with the accusations then, and I don't now," Irushalmi, now the director of special projects for District 10, said in a telephone interview. "Just because someone uses a pen and paper and writes a report does not mean it's true."

According to the report, issued by Ed Stancik, the special commissioner of investigation, Irushalmi allowed 38 school safety officers, many of them retired police officers, to illegally double-dip by collecting their city pension while receiving a board paycheck, costing the city $3 million in pension funds.

The report also alleged that Irushalmi entered into an "unlawful financial and business relationship" when he tried to buy a building with his chief of operations and that Irushalmi knew that his deputy director had placed 12 of his relatives on the school payroll.

Irushalmi and the others should be "removed permanently" from their positions, the report concluded. But just two months after being forced to resign by Joseph Fernandez, schools chancellor at the time, Irushalmi joined District 10, which has 41 elementary and intermediate schools serving nearly 40,000 students in Fordham and Riverdale. He said his current responsibilities range from helping students with problems to coordinating District 10's response to a possible strike by school bus drivers.

"I applied, got the position, and Joe Fernandez approved it," Irushalmi said. "Everybody knew about my situation and we discussed the issue when I was hired. It wasn't the only job I was offered in the system. I was eligible and I believe I've performed adequately."

Stancik, who heads the independent investigative unit of the Board of Education, sees it differently.

"It demonstrates the deep, systemic problems the Board of Education has in integrity issues," he said. "This is what happens when you have 32 local school boards, many of them run by self-interested politicians. When a person is removed for misconduct, there's always someone willing to take him on."

While several borough school districts have been notorious for illegal activities, District 10 has been relatively scandal-free.

Reached while on vacation in Mexico, District 10 Superintendent Irma Zardoya, whose predecessor, John Reehill, hired Irushalmi, declined to explain why she has kept him on, saying that she could not comment on a personnel matter.

"It happened a while ago," Zardoya said. "I'm not saying that I am unaware, I'm saying I don't know the particulars. Certainly the Board of Education is not so irresponsible as to hire someone who did not go through the proper processes."

John Fager, co-chair of the Parents Coalition, a citywide public school advocacy group, said the school system suffers from a chronic lack of accountability. "The system takes care of itself and if you're connected enough, you don't have to worry. Even if you're incompetent or even corrupt, you can still move from one job to another."

Irushalmi agrees "that this is a school system that needs all kinds of correcting." But he added: "The question is whether Bruce Irushalmi should still be in the school system. Well, if Bruce Irushalmi wasn't found guilty of anything, if he is capable, if his record is unblemished, if the superintendent feels he is the best person, then the answer is yes."

The Bronx Beat, April 24, 1995