"The CEC is a joke," said Shirley Huntley, the council president in School District 28, which covers Jamaica, Richmond Hill, St. Albans and Kew Gardens. "Everything is controlled by the Department of Education."The councils were created under state legislation that handed control of the city's school system from the old city Board of Education to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Education Department. Some of the school boards the councils replaced in July had developed reputations for political infighting, and as a precaution nine of the 11 members were required to be parents with children in the district, a departure from the old system. Two other members were supposed to be appointed by the borough president.The Education Department contended the changes would increase parent engagement and empowerment. But as the end of the first council session draws to close, Huntley and other presidents said some of their members had already quit in frustration, while others would not seek re-election."Three of them just didn't bother anymore," Huntley said, adding that no one applied when the vacancies were advertised. "We're just there," she said. "It's only a title."Among her specific complaints, Huntley said the department provided no information on this year's budget and ignored the role the councils were supposed to have in evaluating superintendents. "Even when they took some of the power from the school boards, they had more," she said.Over in southeastern Queens's School District 29, Council President Timothy James said two of his members had quit in frustration. Echoing Huntley's complaints, he said unlike the old school boards, the councils had no operating budget to be able to do mailings and had been kept out of the loop on important decisions."There's just too many things that were handed over to the (schools) chancellor," James said, referring to New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.Yet in northeast Queens School District 26, which has the highest test scores in the city, criticism remains tempered and parent enthusiasm high, said Yen Shia Chou, second vice president of the council."Each time when the CEC meets, I was a former school board member so I can see the excitement," she said. "They want to keep the good tradition of District 26."Chou's assessment contrasts with the sense in lower-performing districts, evident at community meetings, that the department is not doing enough to help them improve. James said in addition to District 28 and District 29, leaders from District 25 in Flushing and District 27 in the Rockaways and southwestern Queens had complained about the councils' role. Council members from District 25 and District 27, as well as from District 24 and District 30 in western Queens, could not be reached for comment on their relationship with the Education Department or current member rolls.While James acknowledged the councils were only completing their first year, leading to some initial kinks in the system, he said more serious problems needed to be worked out by the state legislature."Some of them have to be fixed legislatively so there's a guarantee it will be done," he said, noting that state Assemblyman Steven Sanders (D-Manhattan), the Education Committee head, was working on the issue. After the public forums this week, candidates for the new councils will appear next week before a meeting of their district's parent-teacher and parent association officers, who will vote for the nine parent members after ostensibly taking other parents' comments into consideration. The new councils will then be trained in June and take over in July.Huntley of District 28 said she hopes parents will stay involved and will demand the system be fixed, despite a culture of fear she said the Education Department has created in order to gag any criticism. "We have to make changes," she said. But "parents are not vocal like they used to be." Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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