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Boro educators back renewing mayoral control

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Some Queens educators and lawmakers tentatively agreed Friday with findings of a new report calling for Mayor Michael Bloomberg to retain control over city schools, but state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said the 2002 law should be amended to provide "more available access by parents to their local school districts."

The law gave the mayor nearly full rein over the public education system.

"I have not yet read the report, but I know there's no doubt in the coming session of the Legislature there will be a great deal of analysis of mayoral control," Padavan said. "There will be public hearings conducted, and we will seek broad input from parents, educators and advocates as to how we can improve upon what we have."

A 48-page report released last Thursday by a 10-person commission appointed by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum recommends the Legislature renew a policy, slated to end in June 2009, that allows for mayoral control over city schools. The report does suggest the law be "amended to provide for additional checks on the power of the mayor."

Commission members agreed with Padavan that the law should be "revised to ensure more opportunity for meaningful input by parents and communities in education and decision-making."

If the state Assembly and Senate do not green-light the law for the second time, the city education system would revert to its former structure, in which an appointed Board of Education names a chancellor to preside over 32 school districts, each with its own superintendent and school board — a move with which state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has expressed discontent.

When the law passed six years ago, the seven-person Board of Education, appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor, was replaced by a 13-member board called the Panel on Education Policy.

The panel includes five members chosen by the borough presidents and seven chosen by the mayor. The schools chancellor, now chosen by the mayor instead of the board, serves as the 13th member and panel chair. Prior to 2002, board members served for fixed terms of four years each, while members of the new panel have no set terms.

Commission members suggested fixed four-year terms for each panel member.

"The public advocate believes mayoral control moves our public education system in the right direction, but there are problems with the law itself that haven't allowed things to run as smoothly as we'd hoped," said Sarah Krauss, a Gotbaum spokeswoman. "Mayoral control has been effective, but it needs to be studied and improved."

Gotbaum, a vocal critic of the mayoral control policy, originally received the directive to appoint the commission from state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood). The commission began studying mayoral control last fall and held its first meeting with public input in November.

Joseph Lisa, the Leonardo da Vinci Intermediate School principal in Corona, threw his support behind the 2002 law, saying "there were a lot of successful things the mayor was able to do that he could not have done without mayoral control."

Though Lisa said he wanted to wait to comment extensively on the report, he said "there's definitely a movement of accountability in the city and nationally" to streamline education.

City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. said: "Mayoral control of the New York City school system, when exercised wisely, is an important means of bringing efficiency, transparency and accountability to decision-making."

He added, "But it was never intended to be a green light for unchecked executive power."

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