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Queens parents speak out in support of school boards

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About 100 parents and school professionals came out to support community school boards at a School Boards Town Hall meeting at York College Saturday morning.

The forum, held by the Queens Council of Community School Boards, brought the parents together with the school board presidents and elected officials from across the borough to discuss school governance, budget cuts and overcrowding.

Many of the participants spoke in favor of keeping community school boards. Eliminating the boards is one idea that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering as he looks for ways to improve the public schools.

“We need local control of our district,” said Nathaniel Washington, president of School Board 29, which covers Queens Village, Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and part of Jamaica. “You cannot spread a blanket over the whole city and think you’re taking care of everyone.”

For many parents, school boards are the easiest way to have their voices heard, said Sharon Maurer, president of School Board 26, and chairwoman of the council

“They can come to a place that’s no more than 10 minutes from where you live to talk to people who you know can do something about it,” Maurer said. Her northeast Queens district is the highest performing in the city.

Others see the elimination as one more advantage given to the rest of the state, where school boards have full control over everything from contracts to budget to curriculum.

“Only voters in New York City are going to be deprived of elected school boards,” said Steve Greenberg, president of School Board 27 in South Ozone Park and Howard Beach. “Why are we the only ones being told, ‘no, no, no, that’s no good for you’?”

The ability to elect the school board provides parents with a set of checks and balances, said Ronnie Rodgers, a parent and grandparent from School Board 29 in Rosedale.

“If they’re not doing the job you want them to do, vote them out,” she said. “Get some one who will do the job.”

The mayor is also considering taking control of the board of education, a move that would only make things worse, said Shirley Huntley, president of School Board 28, which covers Jamaica, Richmond Hill and Forest Hills.

“I don’t think one person should be in charge of everything,” she said. “Parents would have no input.”

But mayors attempting to take control of the education system and the budget that comes with it are nothing new, said Borough President Helen Marshall.

“Every single mayor sees that big piece of the pie and they want to get their hands on it,” she said.

While the mayor is trying to cut the education budget by $358 million, and the capital budget by $693 million, the City Council is pushing to restore $344 million to schools through an education tax. The tax would cost $7 a year for people who earn less than $40,000, and $142 for those who earn $100,000 a year. But some people are concerned the money won’t make it to the schools.

“We’ve been duped,” said Michael Duvalle. “For too long we’ve been told the money from the lottery goes to the general education fund. How do we know this money will go to the schools?”

But some parents say the cost later could far exceed the cost today.

“We cannot afford to loose one aide, one paraprofessional, one teacher,” said Mike O’Toole, PTA president at PS 114 in District 27. “It’s pay now or pay later.”

Others urged the school boards to improve communication with parents,

“You need to find more creative ways to reach parents,” said Linette Townsley, a mother from District 29. “Parents are working hard and you tell them to come out to a meeting and they’re trying not to hear that.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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