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Boro Assembly members split over school control

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Queens state Assembly members are divided on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to put the city’s educational system under mayoral control and abolish the Board of Education.

The assembly members voiced dissatisfaction with the city’s educational system and proposed different solutions. Concerns cited by 12 of the 16 borough assembly members interviewed included more funding, ensuring Queens’ educational voice and teachers’ salaries.

The five assembly members who favored dismantling the Board of Ed are: Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills), Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights), Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill) and Mark Weprin (D-Bayside).

The five who would keep the board are: assembly members Ann Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside), Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing), Audrey Pheffer (D-Howard Beach) and William Scarborough (D-St. Albans).

State Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Elmhurst) were on the fence. Neither had made a decision. State Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona) could not be reached due to illness and state Assemblywomen Vivian Cook (D-Ozone Park) and Nettie Mayersohn (D-Forest Hills) did not return repeated phone calls.

“I do believe that there has to be a change, but there is a public — I don’t want to use the word — misconception that if we make the Board of Education accountable, that is going to be a guarantee of performance and that is completely false,” said Cohen. “I would like to see educational policy to be enunciated by educators.”

He said such people would then be accountable to the mayor.

Lafayette called for each borough to be responsible for its educational system, but said how he would vote would depend on the bill before the Assembly. He also wants to guarantee that the same amount of money is spent to educate each child.

Nolan said she is willing to give the proposal to eliminate the Board of Ed a chance because people are frustrated with the current public education system. She said a change in school governance might have a positive effect on the city’s schools.

“My opinion is it should go away,” Seminerio said. “It’s a waste of money. I think personally there should be a superintendent in charge of every borough and the chancellor in charge of all of the superintendents, so they would be more hands on.”

Weprin said he did not think who controls the schools would “make one hill of beans’ difference.” He advocated higher pay for teachers, new technology and reaching out to parents as ways to improve the system.

The assembly members who did not want to keep the central Board of Education said they were concerned the boroughs would forfeit the ability to fight for different needs.

“My concern is that completely abolishing the board will make the outer boroughs lose their voice,” said Carrozza. “Queens has very special needs. I would advocate mayoral control through an expanded (11-member) Board of Ed.”

Gianaris wants to raise the accountability of the board and increase mayoral control, but he is reluctant to give absolute control to the mayor. He said placing all the power in one man’s hands could be detrimental to the public.

“It is obvious that there is inefficiency in the current system and I am certainly open to increased mayoral control and accountability over the board to address the problems,” McLaughlin said. “Parental and public participation, however, must not be jeopardized.”

Pheffer said she would give the mayor control but not in the “way he envisions it.” She said there needs to be some kind of sounding board for the mayor and a place where each borough’s needs can be expressed and heard.

“There are too many problems with that,” said Scarborough, when questioned about abolishing the Board of Ed. “The mayor does seem like he has the well-being of the children in mind, but I can envision a change where it becomes more politicized if we had a mayor with different priorities.”

Clark, who has not decided whether or not she would like to see the board scrapped, said something has to be done because the system is failing. She said a recurrent problem over the years has been the removal of “many great educational leaders” in an apparent reference to the recent string of chancellors.

Clark said the board’s instability has caused problems in terms of steering a long-term course of the city’s schools, but she was unsure of what to put in its place .

A bill proposing changes to New York’s public school system is likely to hit the floor of the Assembly before long.

“I can’t say yes or no right now,” Markey said. “When we go back to Albany next week there will be a lot of negotiations that’s going to take place. One of my concerns is a voice for the parents in my district.”

The TimesLedger staff contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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