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Boro views school plan with cautious optimism

While Queens’ parents, teachers, and community school board members may not agree with legislation that is expected to give Mayor Michael Bloomberg control of the city’s public schools, they’re ready to try something new.

“The city schools have never been working,” said Frank Gonzalez, a parent at PS 79 in Whitestone. “I guess I feel the mayor should take control. It doesn’t hurt to try. Now he’s accountable.”

The plan, which was expected to be signed into law by Gov. George Pataki Wednesday, calls for the elimination of the current city Board of Education and the creation of a new one in which the mayor will appoint the chancellor and seven members. The borough presidents will continue to pick one member each.

Although some parents praised Bloomberg’s leadership skills, many are wary of his background as a businessman.

“I feel he wants control over the finances,” said Sy Pepper, school psychologist at PS 79. “I think his ultimate goal is to privatize the system.”

Others are worried that the quality of education will get lost in the politics of the new setup.

“You can’t just let the mayor run it,” said School Board 30 member John Ciafone in Astoria. “He’s still a political individual.”

Some are waiting to see how the schools will fare under the mayor.

“The mayor has been given a tremendous amount of power, so let’s see what he can do with it now, if he can improve the reading scores and the math scores,” said state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth).

The community school boards will also be eliminated next June under the legislation. In the meantime, a 10-member Legislative Task Force will be formed to conduct hearings to determine a new method of parent participation.

The U.S. Department of Justice, however, must approve changes to the community school boards, and it could decide to keep the boards as is.

“I am concerned that community school boards will be automatically phased out next year and replaced with an unknown body without determining first if that’s even necessary,” said state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose).

But the new parental body will most likely be powerless, said Shirley Huntley, president of School Board 28 in Forest Hills.

“Whatever they do will be advisory only for the parents,” she said. “They will have no one to connect with right away. It will be similar to all the other mayoral agencies. There’s going to be a lot of red tape.”

Parents and their concerns are going to get lost in the shuffle, said Nathaniel Washington, president of School Board 29 in the district stretching from Queens Village down to Rosedale and Springfield Gardens.

“There’s a need for local control that the chancellor’s office isn’t providing,” he said. “I don’t see how the mayor’s office is going to do it. How’s my parent at PS 132 going to get the ear of one person?”

One idea that has already been discussed to replace the community school boards is strengthening the School Leadership Teams within the schools.

“If we work together and if the district buys into you, I think it will do well,” said Teri Pakier, PTA president at PS 117 in Briarwood. “It’s you at your school and it’s not a nine-member board.”

But to Sharon Maurer, president of School Board 26 in Bayside, the issue of school governance is just a smoke screen, preventing the city from addressing the true needs of the schools, she said.

“What really decides the quality of education is the instruction in the classroom and the administration in the building,” she said. “For years the governance issue has destroyed the quality of education.”

– The TimesLedger staff contributed to this article.

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