We winced when the district attorney declined to prosecute two youths who were allegedly responsible for a fire last summer that killed three firefighters. No one suggested that the two boys, age 15 and 13, intended to start the blaze in an Astoria hardware store. But it appears that they were involved in vandalism that unintentionally caused that fire.
There have been conflicting reports. One charges that the boys were burning their mark onto the rear wall of the building when it caught on fire. The other says the boys were spray-painting graffiti when they knocked over an open can of gasoline that seeped into the building and ignited when it hit the building's heating system.
Either way, the boys were breaking the law when they triggered a tragic chain of events that resulted in the death of three heroes. The boys caught a break when the DA decided not to charge them, even as juveniles. This is the same prosecutor who sought a life sentence for a homeless crack addict who accidentally started a blaze in the basement of an abandoned Queens home that killed a young fireman. In that case, the man and his girlfriend had lit some homemade candles.
Like almost anyone with a brain, we were shocked when we learned last week that Silverio Moreno, the father of one of the boys linked to the Astoria fire, is suing the owner of the hardware store. Incredible as it sounds, the man whose store and livelihood were destroyed is being sued by the father of one of the kids who may have started the fire. Moreno claims he sustained injuries standing next to the hardware store when it exploded. Investigators reportedly discovered flammable materials improperly stored in the basement of the hardware store.
Talk about chutzpah. Talk about sending the wrong message to a kid who made a very bad mistake that he will have to live with for the rest of his life. The American legal system lends itself to this type of abuse. But convincing a jury that Mr. Moreno should profit from this tragedy will be a heavy lift.
It has been two years now since the search began for a new superintendent for School District 24. A close examination of this debacle demonstrates why the current system for running the city's public education system must be overhauled.
It is inexcusable that a school district responsible for the education of thousands of children could have gone so long without permanent leadership.
If we understand the process correctly - and we are not certain that anyone does - the list will be whittled down from 29 to five by something called a C37 committee. The local school board will then select two names from the five. Schools Chancellor Harold Levy will make the final choice.
The process has gotten this far before only to go back to the starting point. At a meeting last week, SB 24 voted on a "preferred criteria" for the new superintendent. A member of the C37 committee then reminded the board members that the committee did not have to consider the new criterion.
Meanwhile, the district continues adrift.
The time has come to put this system out of its misery. The central Board of Education should be abolished and the school system should be placed under the control of the mayor. Only the state Legislature is standing in the way. Parents should tell their representatives in Albany that scrapping the Board of Education is a nonnegotiable demand.
©2002 Community News Group
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