En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Chronicle
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Debate over Mayoral Control Rages

State
Assembly members got a first-hand taste of the heated debate over mayoral
control of city schools on Thursday.

And it
made for a long day.

Nearly 200
people crammed into a stuffy room at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens
to attend the hearing, headed by Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Woodside). Nolan
is the chairwoman of the Assembly’s Committee on Education, which is holding
hearings in each of the five boroughs to gather input as the legislature
prepares to decide whether to renew, amend or do away with mayoral control this
spring.

About
two-dozen speakers commented during the hearing, many of those finding fault
with the current system. Still, few advocated a return to the days of school
boards, which preceded mayoral control.

“It’s
ludicrous to abandon what may not be a perfect system,” said the Rev. Calvin
Rice of the New Jerusalem Baptist Church, in Jamaica.

Rice said
that prior to mayoral control, which legislators passed in 2002, no one took
responsibility and bureaucracy was so entrenched it was hard to tell who was to
blame. He agreed parents needed an avenue to be involved in the schools — the
main concern expressed by parents — but said going back to the old system would
do nothing to promote that.

Members of
community education councils, which replaced local school boards, joined those
who were critical of how Mayor Michael Bloomberg has run the system.

“The mayor
has squeezed out every inch of power from the law,” said Rob Caloras, president
of CEC 26, which includes Bayside and Douglaston.

Caloras
said a major problem with the current system is that the mayor is not following
the law, and there is no mechanism to make sure that he does other than a
lawsuit, which CECs can’t afford.

Abiodun
Bello, president of CEC 32 in Brooklyn, stood
in contrast to fellow CEC members and advocated in support of mayoral control,
to the displeasure of some in the audience. “Parents have more power now than
with the school boards,” Bello
said. “We can’t go back, please don’t do that.”

Showing a
strong presence at the meeting was a new coalition called the Campaign for
Better Schools. The group is pushing for renewal of the policy, but with some
key changes to improve public participation and transparency.

Included
in that coalition is
Make the Road New York, an immigrants rights
organization.
Ana Maria-Archila, the co-executive director of MRNY, told the panel there is an
unknown crisis in the English Language Learner population, which has the
highest dropout rate in the city.

According
to city figures, the graduation rate for ELLs increased by three points in 2007
over the previous year to 23.5 percent. That figure is still lower than the
2005 high of 26.5 percent.
Maria-Archila said the current system, with its
“unchecked” power, has not delivered a solution to this crisis.

Dmytro
Fedkowskyj, Queens representative on the Panel
for Education Policy, stated his support of mayoral control, but said he would
have a hard time supporting its renewal without revisions.

The PEP
oversees Department of Education policy decisions and is made up of 13 people,
eight of those appointed by the mayor and five by each of the borough
presidents. As a result, the board has been accused of being nothing more than
a rubber stamp for Bloomberg.

Still,
others took an objective position on the debate. Deputy Mayor of Education
Dennis Walcott and education officials took control of the meeting for the
first two hours, telling the Assembly members that the policy needed to be
renewed exactly as it is.

Some took
offense to the DOE commandeering the meeting, equating it to a “fillibuster” to
limit opponents from speaking.

Then there
were those who believed it was time to put an end to the era of mayoral
control. Monique Ambrose, a teacher and parent in School
District
25 in mid-Queens, was one of those. “The words alone make
me bristle,” Ambrose said. She called it an “oppressive, abusive” leadership.
The city places too much emphasis on test results and everything else, such as
music and art, has lost importance.

“The
development of well-rounded students has been de-emphasized for statistics,”
she said.