Local School Board …Going, Going, Gone!
By Howard Schwach
While many of those who have reviewed the legislation passed by the legislature and signed by the governor to give Mayor Michael Bloomberg control of the New York City School system look at the plan to phase out local school boards as a minor part of the agreement, many locals see the demise of the local boards as a distinct problem.
To some, the plan to do away with the local boards is a means of greater accountability, to others, it is an opportunity for corruption.
Karen Feuer is the president of Community School Board 2 in Manhattan. Her board recently passed a resolution urging that the local boards be disbanded.
"I think that there are far too many community school boards that have not been working," Feuer told reporters. "The model we’ve used for the past 30 years just has not been working."
Many of the local school board members disagree with Feuer.
"It really bothers me that all of the local school boards have been painted with a broad brush that paints us as crooks," says Steve Greenberg, the president of Community School Board 27, which covers Rockaway and Broad Channel, as well as a number of mainland schools. ""We’ve done our best, even after the governance law gave us little to do."
"We have always been an advocate for our children," Greenberg told The Wave. "We told the mayor about our need for new schools when he was in Rockaway last week. We talked with the developers of the Arverne By The Sea project, who has no idea what the need for school seats would be as a result of his new homes. We have been advocates for our schools. Who will do that when we no longer exist?"
"Ultimately," he adds, "people are going to be upset when they realize that there are no longer any local contacts for them to go to if they have a problem with their child’s school."
According to sources at the central board, a 20-member task force will soon be established. That task force will meet to find ways in which parents and community members can continue to have a voice in the operation of their neighborhood schools after the local boards are abolished in 2003. The task force members, ten selected by the State Senate and ten selected by the State Assembly, will develop their proposals after public hearings.
Jim Adams, another Rockaway resident who has been a long-time school board member, agrees with Greenberg that parents will lose out under any plan dictated by the politicians.
"I don’t agree with doing away with the local boards, with the only contact most people have with the school system outside the school," Adams says. I didn’t agree with the old governance law and I don’t agree with this one."
Adams told The Wave, "this plan makes it easier for corruption, not more difficult. Before this, you needed five votes to pass a resolution, but now one person will be making all the decisions."
"The parents will have no place to go. No place at all," Adams adds.
David Hooks, a school board member who was appointed just this year to replace James Sanders (who had just been elected to the City Council and could no longer sit on the board), sees the local board as a "vital link between the parent and the school system."
"Parents, even those on the school leadership teams, are intimidated by school personnel," Hooks says.
"The school leadership teams are run by the school staff, and anything that is set up to replace local boards probably will be run by schools as well. Where will parents find the liaison between them and the school now that we are gone," he asks.
"We cannot disenfranchise every mother and father in the city by not allowing them a liaison," Hooks told The Wave. "It is unconscionable to do that."
Matt Bromme, the superintendent of School District 27, says, "there is always going to be a need for community input and for those outside the system to be involved."
"When they do away with the local boards, there will be a need for something to replace them," Bromme says.
"I have been fortunate in this district that the board has been very supportive and very helpful,’ he adds. "The local board adds a checks and balances component that is very necessary."
Local school boards have been in place since the school decentralization wars of the late 1960’s. The new governance law that was passed several years ago, after a series of school board scandals, including one in CSD 27, took much of the board’s power from them and gave those powers to the district superintendents. The law passed this week completes the circle.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is happy about the plan despite the concerns of local school board members.
"Today, we are making history," the mayor said. "This reform of school governance will fundamentally change the way in which we manage the education of our children. It will give the school system the one thing that it fundamentally lacks – accountability. We are finally giving parents the ability to voice their concerns and opinions."
Under the plan, the seven-member Central School Board would be replaces with a thirteen-member board. The mayor would appoint eight of the members, while each of the borough presidents would appoint one member. In a change from the past, those appointed by the borough presidents (but not by the mayor) must be parents of public school children.
The local school boards will be completely phased out by June of 2003.