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Board of Ed rep gets support from Queens parents

Queens parents showed strong support for Terri Thomson this week, blasting Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Borough President Claire Shulman for asking the Board of Education’s Queens member to leave her post after she failed to vote for the mayor’s choice for board president.

In a Borough Hall interview with the TimesLedger last Thursday, Shulman said she asked Thomson to resign on April 18 because she had failed to vote for Ninfa Segarra, one of Giuliani’s appointees to the board, who was elected president by just four members with three others abstaining.

Segarra supports many of the mayor’s initiatives, including abolishing the Board of Education.

Shulman equated Segarra with Giuliani’s administration, which the borough president said has approved unprecedented funding for school construction in Queens, the city’s most overcrowded borough.

“I just don’t understand how Terri could vote against my budget,” Shulman said of Thomson’s failure to vote for Segarra’s presidency. During the interview Shulman described herself as a political pragmatist.

The borough president insisted that “City Hall did not pressure me,” to influence the Board of Ed vote. Shulman conceded that her office had made contact with Thomson prior to the vote to urge her to support Segarra.

Shulman appointed Thomson, a Citibank executive, to the Board of Ed in 1998. Her term expires in 2002. Since 1998 Thomson has clashed with Giuliani several times, most notably when she cast the deciding vote naming Harold Levy as the city’s schools chancellor when the mayor opposed the choice.

But most Queens parents rejected what they called the personal politics of both Shulman’s request that Thomson resign and Giuliani’s subsequent comments that Thomson was “a disruptive force” on the board. Representatives of President’s Council, a grouping of each Queens district’s Parent Associations, voiced their support of Thomson.

Gloria Morgenstern, vice president of President’s Council in Glendale-based School District 24, said Thomson has been a champion in her district and should not resign.

“She’s very good for the parents of Queens,” Morgenstern said. “She’s the only one who has really reached out to us. Why should she be somebody’s puppet?”

Joanne Colorundo, head of President’s Council for School District 25 in Flushing, said that while her group had not taken a formal position on the Thomson situation, she supported the Queens Board of Ed member.

“It’s too political,” she said. “We’re talking about kids here and we need to get back to that perspective.”

Gail Cohen, co-president of School District 26’s President’s Council in Bayside, said most parents in her high-performing northeast Queens district were angered by the attacks on Thomson.

“I’ve talked with a lot of them informally and most of them are just outraged,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a partisan job — it should be you vote for what’s right.”

In School District 28, which is based in Forest Hills and Jamaica, Jesstine Baskerville, co-leader of the President’s Council, said she saw no justification for the political pressure being put on Thomson.

“She didn’t do anything wrong,” Baskerville said. “She has a right to vote the way she wants. I’d really like to see the let’s-make-a-deal thing come out of our children’s education.”

In School District 30, which is headquartered in Jackson Heights, the head of that area’s President’s Council said parents in her district were supportive of Thomson.

“Terri’s been a good force in Queens,” she said. “I’d hate for her to be thrown out on this political whim.”

Parents from District 29 in Rosedale and District 27 in Ozone Park could not be reached for comment as of press time Tuesday.

Former Board of Ed president Carol Gresser, a Douglaston resident who is now running for Shulman’s seat when the longtime borough president is term-limited out this year, supported Thomson.

“I commend Terri Thomson for her integrity,” said Gresser. “The meddling of politicians must stop. The future of the city’s children is too important for the board to act like ‘potted plants.’”

Shulman, a Democrat who crossed party lines to forge a bond with Republican Giuliani, left Gresser out in the cold when it was time to appoint a Queens rep to the board in 1998. The borough president passed over her longtime rep and selected Thomson, a businesswoman whose children attended parochial school, to the post.

U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), whom Thomson has worked for, also supported her.

“I wouldn’t have voted for Ninfa Segarra either,” the former school teacher said. “Claire clearly wanted to indicate her support for the mayor and what he’s done for Queens.”

The contentious April 4 vote for Board of Ed presidency came after reports of backroom deals during which Manhattan board member Irving Hamer agreed to vote for Segarra instead of Bronx member Sandra Lerner. Thomson and two other board members abstained, giving Segarra four votes and the leadership role.

Segarra is filling former Brooklyn member William Thompson’s post after he resigned in February. Segarra’s current term runs out in July when the board is slated to vote for the presidency again.

Shulman said last Thursday she had not determined who she would like to replace Thomson.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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