Flowers and Fine Dining

Exiting Schools Boss Had a Corporate Comfort Zone

He was also unable to immediately recall to whom he had sent a $108 floral display in March. Altogether, Levy sent flowers nine times using the board's card, spending a total of $670. One instance included an $85 floral arrangement to an aide, Birdie Blake-Reid, wishing her a speedy recovery, in August 2000. Levy said he couldn't recall the nature of Blake-Reid's ailment. Last month, Blake-Reid was fined $8000 by the city's Conflicts of Interest Board for using staff on personal chores.

Levy said that all of his spending was authorized by his contract, which allows him to be reimbursed for "all ordinary and necessary expenditures" made in connection with his official duties. In addition, the contract allocated a special annual allowance of $12,500—drawn from both public and private funds obtained by the board—to cover entertainment. Levy said that of the $37,000 he had been allocated under the contract, he had spent only about $20,000.

"It is my understanding this has been the practice for several past chancellors," said Levy, although he acknowledged that his predecessor, Rudy Crew, received just a $10,000 allowance. Levy said he couldn't recall if he had sought a higher expense rate in his negotiations. "I wasn't focused on that," he said.

The records show, however, that the outgoing chancellor's biggest indulgence was a particularly benign one for an educator—bookstores. Levy racked up more than $3500 in purchases, ranging from Labyrinth Books, an academic and history-oriented shop near Columbia University and Levy's apartment, to almost weekly visits to Barnes & Noble and Borders chain stores.

"I think it is important to stay up on the literature," he said. "It is important to push books on people; it is a way to get people thinking."

In one instance, Levy said, he had ordered copies of education critic Jonathan Kozol's book Savage Inequalities for each of the board's 32 district superintendents. "I thought it was important to acquaint people with it," he said. He said any books bought for his personal use would be left behind for the board's library.

Asked why he had used the schools' credit card to spend $91 at Altitunes, an airport music shop, Levy groaned. "OK, I remember this one. Here goes," he said. "One of my colleagues was getting at me that I didn't know the music of the kids in the schools. I was going on a trip somewhere, and I said, 'I ought to get some of this,' so I did." The lesson didn't take, however. Levy said he couldn't recall the artists he listened to.

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