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Editorial: Hope seen in battle to abolish Board of Ed

Last week the state Legislature approved a measure that would postpone local school board elections until June 2003. This will not only save the city millions of dollars, it will give elected officials more time to enact legislation that would abolish the Board of Education in New York City.

We trust that few New Yorkers will miss the opportunity to vote this year for new members on their local school boards because almost no one votes in these elections. And of those few who do vote in these elections, many do not understand the hopelessly complex and arcane process used in tallying the votes.

But delaying the vote was the easy part. Now the Legislature must take on the task of scrapping the Board of Education and giving the mayor control over the city's public education system. This was a high priority of the Giuliani administration and it has certainly become a top priority for the Bloomberg administration. When Mayor Bloomberg visited Albany last month, he had two major concerns: he asked the state for more money to rebuild Lower Manhattan and he asked for the power to run the city's schools.

At present, the schools are run by the schools chancellor, the central Board of Education and 32 local school boards. The local boards have been plagued by scandals and insider politics. The schools are overcrowded and in deplorable condition. The School Construction Authority, which was created to take the building of new schools out of the political arena, has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns.

Although some people see a position on a local school board as a steppingstone to a political career, most board members are dedicated to improving the public schools in their districts. They work long hours without compensation. They, too, are frustrated. Take, for example, board members in School District 24 in western Queens who have been trying for more than two years to select a new superintendent.

Even if Albany agrees to mayoral control of the schools, we still envision a role for some kind of local advisory boards. Rather than holding meaningless elections, it might make more sense to allow each PTA to delegate a representative to some form of advisory panel to make sure local issues are understood.

The worst thing would be for nothing to happen. Rudy Giuliani fought for eight years to abolish the Board of Education, knowing that no change would take effect under his command. The Legislature did what it usually does - nothing. It's an unfortunate reality that Albany has the final say in the future of New York City schools. But New York City is not alone in seeking this reform. Other large urban areas in the state are also trying to scrap the current system.

Some members of the New York City delegation support this call for change. Others clearly do not. But no one can deny that something must be done to save the city's public school system and it must be done now.

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