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Padavan, Maltese slam mayor’s education plan

State Sens. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) met with fellow Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Albany Monday after voicing their opposition two weeks ago to his school reform proposal on the grounds that he had assumed powers the state never authorized.

In a release issued Jan. 28, the two veteran legislators, along with three other city representatives in the Senate’s Republican majority leadership, said the mayor trumped the state Task Force on Community School District Governance Reform by presenting a reform plan before the body made any recommendations.

Bloomberg responded to the statement by agreeing to meet with the group of five senators during a trip to Albany Monday to discuss the state and city budgets. The meeting also included Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), Sen. John Marchi (R-Staten Island) and former school board president Sen. Guy Velella (R-Bronx), who all wanted to remind the mayor of the steps he must take before proposing reforms to city schools, Maltese said.

“The mayor was very responsive to our concerns,” Maltese said. “He agreed communication was not as good in the past as it should have been.”

Maltese said he and the other senators issued the statement to get Bloomberg’s attention and make him aware that he should have consulted state legislators before he came forward with a plan to reform city schools, which called for the consolidation of 32 school districts into 10 regional districts.

Maltese said the mayor and the legislators agreed to a more cooperative effort in proposing and launching future school reforms. He also said the senators wanted to make the mayor aware that their years of political experience should be an asset that he could draw on to help Bloomberg compose and enact any reforms.

“Here we have a lot of institutional knowledge and memory that simply was not being utilized,” Maltese said.

The senators had written they wanted to ensure parent involvement would not suffer by creating the larger, regional school divisions. Padavan said he had been receiving numerous phone calls from angry constituents who did not like the idea of merging the city’s school districts.

“We are dismayed and confounded by the usurping of the task force’s mission and of our authority as state legislators,” the senators wrote. “We applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s dedication and enthusiasm but would like to remind him that his actions are premature under the requirements of the law.”

Padavan, vice president pro tempore of the Senate, said he was most concerned about Bloomberg’s plan that effectively eliminates representative bodies, in this case community school districts. He said the combining of multiple, smaller school districts into larger, regional districts would hinder parents’ efforts to communicate with city Department of Education officials.

“That means parents, PTAs and a whole host of others interested in schools will find it extremely difficult to be heard,” Padavan said. “It just does not make any good sense from a management point of view — that will diminish the very critical lines of communication.”

Maltese said the mayor assured the five state legislators Monday that he would consult them prior to making any further recommendations on what would replace local community school boards, which are scheduled to be dissolved June 30. He said the mayor’s plan to consolidate the city’s 32 individual school districts into 10 regional divisions, announced two weeks ago, is still under consideration.

Padavan and Maltese said they were speaking for parents in their districts who have been attending the legislative task force’s meetings and who felt ignored when the mayor made his announcement.

“We felt that our constituents had a right to be advised to actions being taken that would change completely the system of school boards,” said Maltese, who signed on to the statement because he thought the mayor was acting without relying on the state task force’s recommendations.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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