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Editorial: The lesson learned from Rudy Crew

Rudy Crew is a decent man who brought to the job of schools chancellor an unquestioned commitment to raising the standards of the city's public schools. Crew targeted failing schools and was determined to end social promotion and raise math and reading scores. But, in the end, Crew was unable to overcome the obstacles inherent at 110 Livingston St.

The city got rid of Crew. It needs to get rid of the central Board of Education. In the current system, which is managed by a horde of bureaucrats in downtown Brooklyn, there is no accountability. The problem has nothing to do with personalities. The design itself is inherently flawed.

No one, not even Crew's most outspoken enemies, believes that the schools chancellor has the authority or power to run the school system. Crew had to answer to a seven-member board, five of whom are there to do the bidding of the city's borough presidents. The remaining two are there to do the bidding of the mayor. In a sense, each board member represents a special interest group and the welfare of all of the children in the city's public schools always comes second. This is a system born of good intentions but destined to fail.

Imagine how police officers would be deployed if a similar board ran the NYPD. One may or may not like Police Commissioner Howard Safir, but there is no question that when things go wrong (or right) with the city police, the buck stops on Safir's desk. Since Safir is appointed by City Hall, the mayor is ultimately held accountable for the actions of the police. The same is true for the Department of Sanitation. If the streets are dirty, we blame the mayor. But when schools fail, the public doesn't know where to point the finger.

It has been proposed that the Board of Education be disbanded and that public education become a mayoral agency. Under this system, the mayor would appoint an education commissioner subject to the approval of the City Council. The council would also approve the budget for the schools.

We may have thought differently 10 years ago, but Mayor Giuliani has shown that city government can be both efficient and effective. If the schools were run by a commissioner, the system would be accountable to the people of New York City.

Think about how things work now. The seven members of the board and the mammoth bureaucracy are far removed from the realities of southeast Queens. They get some input from local boards, but we doubt if most parents of school-age children can name even one member on their local board.

Another proposed solution is the creation of five independent borough boards, each with its own budget and administration. At least, this would reduce the bureaucracy to a manageable size and would ensure that the people in power are familiar with the communities they serve.

Both proposals would be a significant improvement over what we have now. But neither proposal will see the light of day unless the voters light a fire under the feet of the men and women who represent them in Albany. The state Legislature has little appetite for tackling difficult issues and taking on powerful groups such as the teachers union. Bear in mind that in the last 15 years, the Legislature has not once come back with a budget on time. For the most part, these men and women pose for pictures and sign proclamations while the Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Way Upstate) and the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) cut deals in a back room.

It's time to tell the senators and assembly members that nothing is more important than our schools. For the New York City delegation, this must be priority No. 1.

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