Today’s news:

Legislature delays election of school board members

The state Legislature approved a measure to postpone the city’s school board elections Monday with little opposition from anyone in Queens.

The measure, which extends the terms of the members of the city’s 32 school board until June 2003, will save the city the $10 million it was expected to spend on the May elections, members of the Legislature said.

Delaying the notoriously complicated school board elections, which are held every three years and are plagued by low voter turnout, was done at the request of the city Board of Elections, state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) said in a statement.

“The postponement of the school board elections would be in the best interest of all parties concerned,” Maltese said. “This is a redistricting year and the board faces the task of redrawing 5,000 election districts. We do not want to have the board rushing to complete their job and risk the integrity of the election.”

But some think the postponement was a sign that the state Legislature was preparing to abolish the city’s Board of Education and the local boards in favor of mayoral control of the city’s public schools.

The city’s 32 school boards, made up of about nine elected members who oversee school district issues, have been plagued by historically low voter turnout during elections. Corruption scandals involving some city school board members — including those who use the boards as a political steppingstone — have also dampened enthusiasm for the fate of the boards.

In a longstanding political tug-of-war over the city’s education system, Mayor Mike Bloomberg views a school board election postponement as one step closer to giving him control of the city’s 1.1 million public school students.

The Legislature voted Monday to delay the school board elections process as it debates how to reform the city’s education system.

The elimination of either the local school boards or the central Board of Education requires action by the Legislature and was a priority of both Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Queens Board of Ed representative Terri Thomson said Monday she had not opposed the move.

“I think there are two factors driving this, including the possibility of school governance change,” she said, mentioning the cost of the elections as another reason to delay them. Thomson said she does not expect the state Legislature to automatically eliminate the school boards. “I think people generally have an open mind,” she said.

City school boards and their elections process have come under fire in recent years. After several corruption scandals involving city school board members were made public, the boards were stripped of several powers, including hiring and firing of principals and budget and curriculum responsibilities.

The elections force voters to use paper ballots and a confusing numbering system to rank the top nine candidates running for a board. A move to reform the elections in the late 1990s was blocked by the Justice Department.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said he was happy to support the bill.

“By postponing these elections for a year, we’re minimizing disruptions that would take place with large-scale administrative changes,” he said in a statement.

State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) said he was also not opposed to the postponement.

“It gives us an opportunity to review the functions of these groups,” he said. “It makes sense.”

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, a former teacher, said she does not disagree with a postponement, but is not pushing to eliminate the boards.

“I think school board elections should be held when we have the general election,” Marshall said during an interview Sunday. “Then more people would come out to vote. Of course, it makes it more political, which I don’t like. But more people would come out to vote.”

At least one school board member voiced frustration at the politics of city school boards.

Pat Grayson, president of School Board 24 in western Queens, said: “I feel so frustrated when I can’t accomplish anything.”

Grayson said she would prefer reshaping school boards and their responsibilities to eliminating them.

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

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