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State plan to replace city school boards approved

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The U.S. Justice Department approved last week a state plan that would eliminate community school boards and replace them with community district education councils, essentially putting a final yet pivotal bolt into place in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to reform the borough’s school system.

But the school board president in District 26 cried foul and said the only reason state and city officials want to get rid of school boards is to save money by not holding regular elections.

Under the plan, the existing seven elected community school boards in Queens would each be replaced by nine parents serving an unlimited number of two-year terms, one non-voting student member serving a one-year term and two business owners or area residents appointed by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall to serve two-year terms. The appointed members will have voting rights, according to a Department of Education release.

The Department of Justice had to approve the plan because, under the Voting Rights Act, the elimination of any elected body serving Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan needs to be examined.

“School governance can be a contentious issue because everyone realizes how important a good education system is,” said state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), the author of state legislation that led to the creation of the new councils. “We considered the testimony of parents, administrators, teachers and community groups, and we’ve arrived at what I think is a viable and sustainable plan for replacing the boards and giving parents a greater voice in the education of our children.”

Under the plan, all the community school boards in Queens will be eliminated. These are Community School District 24 in Glendale, District 25 in Flushing, District 26 in Bayside, District 27 in Ozone Park, District 28 in Forest Hills, District 29 in Rosedale and District 30 in Jackson Heights.

Sharon Maurer, president of School Board 26, blasted the federal government’s approval of the reform plan. She said the new process of putting PTA officials in charge of setting policy for districts is wrong.

“This is going to be a circus,” Maurer said. “I think they (proponents of the councils) are going to make a huge mistake.”

The nine parents on the council will be selected by the presidents and officers of the parent associations or parent-teacher associations in each district, according to a Department of Education release. The parents have no term limits, based on the statement.

The new community councils will evaluate district superintendents and instructional supervisors but not have any power to review the performance of regional superintendents. The councils will also hold monthly meetings with the district superintendents, submit evaluations to the superintendent, hold hearings on districts’ annual capacity needs, handle zoning matters and review the quality of districts’ educational programs, according to a release from Padavan’s office.

Many of the powers of the new councils are those now held by school boards, Maurer said. She said the new councils effectively are substitutions for the school boards at a lesser cost.

Maurer also said the new councils, which will be powerless to rate regional superintendents, are products of a decade-long power struggle between the city and the school boards. She said the results of that battle are less influential councils that will wield limited power over a superintendent who practically has no power.

“This is the final evisceration,” Maurer said of the battle between school boards and the city.

New York state legislators granted Bloomberg control of the borough’s and city’s schools shortly after his election in 2001. Since that time, Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Joel Klein have worked to consolidate community school districts into regional instructional zones, implement a citywide unified curriculum and review the city’s school safety plan.

The elimination of school boards was a key part of the mayor’s and chancellor’s plan but had been held up pending the Department of Justice’s review. School boards, originally slated to be eliminated by November, have been holding meetings through the new year while awaiting the Justice Department’s decision.

Bloomberg hailed the federal government’s decision, saying he was pleased that the department agreed to eliminate community school boards.

“These new education councils are part of our school reform plan and aim to increase the role of parents,” Bloomberg said. “Where parents are involved, schools work, which makes this a great victory for our 1.1 million schoolchil­dren.”

The Justice Department also cleared the way for the creation of a citywide council on special education that would consist of nine parents of children receiving special education services, two members selected at large by the public advocate and one nonvoting high school special education student chosen by a city DOE administrator.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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