Today’s news:

Challenge to mayoral control - Pol argues parents have been cut out of school system

The mayor and city Department of Education have cut parents out of the school system, according to a Brooklyn assemblymember. “Parents have played no role in school matters since the beginning of mayoral control,” Assemblymember Alan Maisel told this paper. Maisel is now working on a series of bills intended to “tweak” mayoral control of public schools so parents, politicians, and the public can play a greater role in policy and decision making. He just introduced a bill that would require the city to hold a public hearing about potentially closing a school 90 days before the decision to do so has been made. Maisel says that’s necessary because the DOE has routinely announced plans to close schools without seeking prior input from parents. In the cases of Lafayette, Tilden, South Shore, and Canarsie high schools, Maisel said, “The decision was made, everybody was informed, and people were able to comment after the decision.” “It’s not just in closing the schools,” Maisel said. “Our [Community] Education Councils were supposed to be a substitute for School Boards but have no authority or power to act on anything.” Yoketing Eng, first vice president of District 21’s CEC, recently vented that same frustration, saying, “The CECs virtually have no power.” “We have the power to talk to whoever comes and sits down and we have the power to listen to frustrations,” he went on, “but when it comes down to it, the CEC really can’t do anything.” Jennifer Stringfellow, president of District 15’s CEC, has been pushing for parents to have a stronger voice in school matters and welcomed the idea of altering mayoral control to allow for that. “Any proposal that seeks to involve parents in a more substantial way is something that I certainly would be interested in seeing happen,” she said. “It needs to be a partnership with parents, administrators, principals, and teachers – I think that’s the best way that our kids will be served.” The DOE maintains that public forums held after the announcement of school closings or new policies are intended to better include parents in school matters. Last year, the department launched a series of parent engagement initiatives, including the appointment of a chief family engagement officer who hosted several town halls to hear from parents. Another one of the bills Maisel has in the works calls for the City Council to have a chance to influence school policy, which it currently lacks. That was evident when the Council passed legislation challenging the DOE’s ban of cell phones in public schools. Although the bill received much support, it did nothing to change the controversial ban. “The Department of Education is the only agency in the city government that the City Council doesn’t have direct oversight of, and that has to change,” Maisel said. Maisel is also preparing legislation that would create term limits for members of the DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy, which is led by schools Chancellor Joel Klein and controlled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Maisel said the bill is in response to a 2004 incident when Bloomberg quickly replaced three Panel members to ensure that a then-controversial promotional policy for third-graders would be approved. “This would establish a term limit,” Maisel explained. “You appoint them for whatever – four or five years – and they would be there for that term. Whether the mayor likes that or not, they would be there for the entire term. It would encourage free speech.” Maisel was quick to note that he does support mayoral control – which is up for review in 2009 – but believes school decisions cannot be made solely by the DOE. “People want to continue mayoral control but just give the parents a more significant role,” Maisel said. “Remember, the parents are the stakeholders. It’s their kids we’re talking about. They should have an opportunity to express their view, and perhaps even be taken seriously.” Remembering a hero… Over 100 mourners flocked to the Elim International Fellowship Church on Madison Street last week to pay tribute to Flonarza “Kenny” Byas, a Brooklyn native who was killed as he tried to help an MTA worker fight off a group of muggers. Among the mourners was the 28-year-old’s wheelchair-bound mother, Dyanne (pictured). Friends said that Byas, an accountant, was in Harlem on January 10 when he saw a group of males with knives ganging up on MTA worker Maurice Parks. When Byas interceded on his behalf, he was stabbed to death. As of this writing, police were not sure if he had been stabbed by Parks – who reportedly pulled his own knife to fight off the thieves -- or one of the attackers. The four assailants had been arrested as this paper went to press.

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