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State OKs historic changes for Queens public schools

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In a few weeks the beleaguered Board of Education will be no more and Mayor Michael Bloomberg will at last officially control public schools in the five boroughs after the state Legislature approved the first major changes in the city school system in more than 30 years.

The only opposition to the changes from Queens representatives seemed to arise over the issue of community school boards, which will be eliminated in the new bill by June 2003. The fate of the school boards, whose members are elected by the public, is dependent upon the U.S. Justice Department, which must okay the changes as constitutional under the Voting Rights Act.

Under the measure Bloomberg will have de facto control of a 13-member advisory panel made up of a representative from each of the five boroughs and seven of the mayor’s choosing.

Current Schools Chancellor Harold Levy has agreed to stay on until December or until Bloomberg selects his successor.

The state Senate put the finishing stroke on the historic change in the city’s school governance Tuesday by approving a bill to dismantle the current seven-member Board of Education by July 1 and give Bloomberg a host of powers over the city’s 1.1 million students. Gov. George Pataki was expected to sign the legislation Wednesday at PS 171 in Harlem.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), one of the lead senate negotiators in the deal on school governance, said the new bill was “a balanced step forward” in education reform.

Only one Queens representative, state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), voted against the bill, one of just eight state legislators to do so. Scarborough cited his concerns about the removal of community school boards as his reason for opposing the bill.

“We threw the baby out with the bath water and then put nothing in its place,” he said.

State Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) voted for the legislation but voiced a similar concern about eliminating school boards.

Carrozza, whose district covers high-performing School Districts 25 in Flushing and 26 in Bayside, said in some parts of the city “school boards perform a vital function.”

State Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-St. Albans) supported the bill but said simply: “I don’t consider it to be a silver bullet.”

The Senate’s approval came a day after the state Assembly passed its own bill Monday to change school governance in the city in a late-night voting session. The bill includes a sunset clause allowing the Legislature to revisit the school governance changes made this week in seven years.

Padavan, who chaired the Senate Majority’s Task Force on New York City School Governance, said “the ball is now in the mayor’s court. He asked for control. He’s getting it, and I wish him well.”

The biggest hangup in the school governance legislation, which zipped through Albany in two days after months of closed door negotiations between Bloomberg and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), was on the question of community school boards.

Padavan and Scarborough pointed out the new legislation provides no replacement for the local school boards, although there has been discussion of using expanded School Leadership Teams to provide parents with a voice in the school system.

Another major part of the legislation is a “maintenance of effort” provision that says the city cannot reduce its own funding for schools if the states increases its outlays for education.

While the city has long accused the state of underfunding public schools in the five boroughs, the state has charged the city with cutting back on its share of education resources when state monies rise.

The school governance change marks the end of more than 30 years of a decentralized public school system in the city. When the state Legislature approved a decentralized system in 1969, it created the city Board of Education, 32 local school districts and community school boards to give local communities a voice in the school system.

This week’s school governance reform — widely viewed as mayoral control of the public school system — features several different components:

• creates a 13-member advisory panel to replace the city Board of Ed. The new panel would include five parents, each with children in public school and to be appointed by the borough presidents and seven mayoral appointees. It will be chaired by the schools chancellor. It will be strictly a policy-making board.

• gives the mayor to directly choose the schools chancellor.

• gives the chancellor the power to select school district superintendents, a task previously performed by community school boards.

• eliminates the city’s 32 community school boards by June 2003. Establishes a 10-member legislative task force to hold public hearings to determine what should succeed school boards.

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

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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