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Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, a Cambria Heights resident, Wednesday became the president of the city’s first Board of Education since the 2002 implementation of mayoral control, which ended this week after the embattled state Senate failed to renew the school governance law.
Despite last-minute pleas from Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senate lawmakers did not vote to reauthorize mayoral control, which Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have said allowed the city to leave behind a corrupt, dysfunctional Board of Ed to a system that has propelled more students to graduate and earn better state test scores.
A new Board of Education hastily convened Wednesday and includes Walcott, who was appointed by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, and two other deputy mayors, Edward Skyler and Patricia Harris. Bloomberg appointed Skyler and Harris.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer appointed his general counsel, Jimmy Yan to the board; Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz appointed his chief of staff, Carlo Scissura; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. appointed the former president of Hostos Community College, Dolores Fernandez; and Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro appointed his first deputy borough president Edward Burke.
The new board unanimously elected Walcott as its president.
“Dennis is a Queens resident, a former teacher and an individual who shares my passion for parent involvement in the education of their children,” Marshall said Wednesday. “Today’s action is meant to provide continuity and stability, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Walcott told Marshall Wednesday he would like to soon address education leaders in Queens.
All board members but Fernandez voted for the immediate return of mayoral control and the group unanimously agreed to retain Klein as chancellor.
Rob Caloras, a Bayside resident and former president of Community Education Council 26, slammed Marshall’s decision to appoint Walcott to the board.
“Helen Marshall is doing Queens County a tremendous disservice,” Caloras said. “How can she appoint someone who works for the mayor to be her representative? Clearly he won’t be her representative or Queens County’s representative. He will be Mayor Bloomberg’s representative. Why doesn’t she just appoint Mayor Bloomberg himself?”
Bloomberg said the board will serve as the public schools’ governing body until “Albany rectifies its inaction and reauthorizes mayoral control.” The board will not reconvene until September.
“The Senate has, through its inactions, handed our city a current governance structurenot too dissimilar from the governance structure of the Senate, one made up of multiple and conflicting lines of authority, certainly the formula for gridlock,” Bloomberg said. “The temporary school board has attempted to sidestep the worst consequences, but as prudent as its actions have been, bear this in mind: These are Band-aids, not solutions. Now we all need to keep the pressure on the state Senate to act.”
The Assembly passed a bill 129-18 June 17 that would allow Bloomberg to retain control of city schools for another six years. Many of the Queens representatives green-lighted the bill, but Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) voted against it and said he wanted a clearer delineation of the role of district superintendents in order to give them the power he said Klein has usurped.
“The bill doesn’t go far enough for superintendents,” Weprin said. “I’d like to see the superintendents have real power, and I’m skeptical that’s going to happen.”
A version of the Assembly bill was introduced two weeks ago by state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and is co-sponsored by Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn). All 30 Republican senators have thrown their weight behind the legislation, though Senate Democratic conference leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) has said he wants to weaken mayoral control or let the law expire, which would happen by the end of June.
Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) has said she wants to retain mayoral control but is hoping to tweak the law in order to ensure parents have a larger voice.
“It’s a very frustrating feeling parents have that they have no say in their child’s education,” Stavisky, the chairwoman of the Senate’s Committee on Higher Education, said in an interview in June. “They’re being left out of the equation and yet they’re the people with the largest investment, their children. We must have financial audits of the Department of Education, and we’ve got to restore power to community superintendents.”
Legislators said Bloomberg and Klein seem to rule with an iron fist, and Stavisky said she has “spoken to principals whom I know very well, and they were afraid to talk to me because of a fear of retribution.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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