Volume 21, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 1 - 7, 2009
Take away mayor’s power over schools, C.B.1 says
By Julie Shapiro with Albert Amateau
Community Board 1 wants to end mayoral control of the city’s public schools.
The resolution the board passed Tuesday night is worded very carefully not to say this directly — the resolution suggests “modifications to the law” governing mayoral control — but these modifications would strip Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein of the unilateral powers they currently enjoy, including the mayor’s power to pick the chancellor.
The state law giving the mayor control of the schools sunsets June 30, and the state Legislature is currently deciding whether to renew it. The community board’s opinion is advisory.
The board’s resolution charges that, “The current structure lacks accountability to the public, through transparency and checks and balances.”
C.B. 1 wants an independent governing body to oversee the school system, with the majority of the members not appointed by the mayor. That body would appoint the chancellor, with the new restriction that the chancellor has to be an educator. (Klein is not an educator.)
The C.B. 1 plan also calls for the City Council and city comptroller to oversee the Dept. of Education’s budget, and for the D.O.E. to hire an independent auditing agency to assess its claims about test scores and graduation rates.
The resolution lists several reasons for mistrusting the current system, including confusion over zoning, kindergarten enrollment and middle school admissions. The resolution also cites education historian Diane Ravitch’s widely publicized claim that the city’s schools have not improved since Bloomberg took control.
The mayor’s office did not comment.
The resolution, written mostly by C.B. 1 member and public school teacher Dennis Gault, initially said that the state Legislature should not renew mayoral control unless the board’s suggested modifications were made.
But board chairperson Julie Menin balked at what she saw as harsh wording.
“As much as I understand that many people are concerned about the lack of parental input, we have to remember what the system was like before,” Menin said, referring to the cronyism-prone Board of Education.
The Board of Ed did have some similarities to C.B. 1’s recommended plan in that it was independent of the mayor, who had a minority number of appointments.
But unlike the old Board of Ed, the community board’s plan would give parents more of a voice. The community board endorsed a more detailed proposal by the Parent Commission of School Governance and Mayoral Control, which would create a new 15-seat Board of Education with six parent representatives.
In addition to the parent representatives, elected by the district Community Education Councils, this new Board of Ed would also include three members appointed by the mayor, one by the public advocate, one by the City Council and four members who would be selected by the rest of the board to provide expertise in specific policy areas.
After Menin’s feedback, Ann De Falco, co-chairperson of the board’s Youth and Education Committee, rewrote the resolution so that it doesn’t say directly whether the board wants the Legislature to renew mayoral control.
“It doesn’t say whether we’re for it or against it,” Menin said happily when De Falco read the new language.
Linda Belfer, another board member, objected.
“You have to do one or the other, Julie,” Belfer said. “We only want to approve [mayoral control] if modifications are made. You have to say that.”
But most of the board liked the new resolution and the board approved it overwhelmingly, with only a few votes in opposition.
Another piece of the board’s resolution endorsed a plan by Borough President Scott Stringer that would give parents more input on educational policy. Unlike the community board, Stringer supports the renewal of mayoral control, though his plan could be put into action whether the mayor stays in power or not.
Using the community boards as a model, Stringer’s plan would create a similar body to review education decisions and give an advisory opinion.
“This proposal supports mayoral control but it puts parents at the table,” Stringer said last week during an interview with editors and reporters of Community Media L.L.C., publisher of Downtown Express, The Villager and Chelsea Now. “I tried to craft something that doesn’t get either side to kill it.”
Stringer’s plan involves improving the city’s 32 Community Education Councils, which were created to replace the old local school boards and provide a way for parents and community members to take part in education policy.
The councils each have 12 members, nine parents elected by parent-teacher organizations, two borough president appointees and a student representative. The councils are responsible for evaluating school performance, commenting on capital budgets and education plans and approving school district zoning.
But there is no timeline or structure for the Dept. of Education to engage the councils, and the D.O.E. is not required to respond to the councils’ input, Stringer said. Moreover, the councils depend on the D.O.E. for training and expert resources.
“It really creates a conflict of interest and undermines the councils’ independence from D.O.E.,” Stringer said.
To empower the 32 C.E.C.’s, Stringer would have the five borough presidents provide training and technical support, independent from D.O.E. Stringer thinks the borough presidents’ staffs can handle the extra workload of managing C.E.C.’s, but none of his four colleagues have signed onto the plan and their representatives in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island did not comment on it this week. (The Bronx just elected a new president.)
Stringer said he expects the borough presidents to take a closer look at the proposal once it gets more attention in Albany, and he does not think that will happen until renewal negotiations heat up in June.
The plan, which would require state legislation and is supported by State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Aseemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, would create a Uniform Parental Engagement Procedure, with timelines for consultation and review, involving public hearings and requiring D.O.E. response.
The structure resembles the community boards’ involvement in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP. But instead of the ultimate decision resting with the City Council and mayor, the final authority on Uniform Parental Engagement Procedures or UPEP would be the schools chancellor and the Dept. of Education, Stringer said.
Although Community Board 1 ultimately supported Stringer’s proposal for the C.E.C.’s as part of a broader set of limits on the mayor’s power, the proposal standing on its own met with criticism at C.B. 1’s Youth and Education Committee last week.
“It falls short,” said Paul Hovitz, a board member and former public school teacher. “We need more than simply this.”
Liat Silberman, a P.S. 234 parent recently appointed to the board, said she is tired of going to meetings where the D.O.E. listens to parents but does not act on their concerns. She wants parents to have a vote, not just the advisory voice Stringer is suggesting.
“Whatever we put in, it needs teeth,” Silberman said.
Added Hovitz, “Being heard is not enough.”