2002-09-14 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

Now that the feds have ruled that it is ok for the chancellor to choose district superintendents, local school board members might just as well pack up their tents and slink away into the night.

There are many who think that this is a great step forward. I am not one of them.

The local school boards have always been good for local journalists. There was a time when our local board was corrupt as could be. It did everything wrong, short of selling principal jobs out of the district office. It gave me lots to write about.

Then came the three board of education trustees. They were nice people, but each of them had an agenda that had nothing to do with the district’s kids. They lasted a year or two and never learned to find Rockaway.

After the three appointed trustees came a trustee board made up of nine residents chosen by the chancellor.

That trustee board showed itself to be much like the elected board, with a scandal attached to the choice of a new superintendent.

That certainly gave me a lot to write about and nearly made Jim Sanders and I enemies for life. Luckily, we both got over it.

Now, Jim is a city councilman and I am the managing editor of the paper. It is amazing sometimes how the world turns.

For the past eight years or so, we have had an elected board that I would have to rate up there with the best in the city.

I know that some will say that it is not saying much that this board is among the best, but it does say a lot.

This board has gone out of its way to serve the children and the parents of this district even at a time when most of its powers were taken away by the state legislature.

Now it will be gone in June, and who will serve the parents when it is gone?

Nobody, that’s who!

You have a problem with a local school. You can try and take it up with the district office, but they will probably have orders to send you downtown to the central board’s parent reps.

Now, at least there is an intermediary between parents, the district and the central board. That intermediary will soon be gone.

What will takes its place? Nobody is really sure. You would think that the state legislature, which responds to pressure like a palm tree to a hurricane, would have come up with an idea before passing the new governance bill, but that would have been too much to ask.

Perhaps there will be a parent advocate chosen in each district to work full-time addressing parent needs. You can bet that the district will hire the advocate and it will be a parent association official who is more beholding to the district than to the parents, as past parent advocates often were.

There was an altercation at PS 114 in Belle Harbor (considered by many to be the top school in the district) a week ago. The police reported that an irate parent attacked the school’s principal by ‘smacking her across the face and pulling her hair." The parent was arrested by police for harassment on the insistence of Lisa Vecchione, the principal of the school.

The parent tells a different story, a more familiar story of administrative neglect of the needs of parents by school officials.

According to the young student’s mother and father, their son did not arrive home on the bus. When they called the school, they were given a run around by the school secretary, who seemed not to care that the child was missing.

They then left their Breezy Point home and went to the school.

They were told that the principal was at a meeting and could not meet with them. Remember, their seven-year-old son was missing.

The boy’s mother admittedly became hysterical and began crying for her son.

After 45 minutes, the principal came out of her office and told the parent, "I can’t help you if you don’t stop crying." She then commented, according to the parent, "your child probably does not belong in this school in the first place."

When the principal turned around to walk away, the mother grabbed her shoulder and was soon accosted by a security guard and then arrested.

The child was found on the wrong bus about an hour later and returned to the school. He found his mother sitting in a police car with her hands handcuffed together. The child, who was under great stress because he was lost for a few hours, became even more distraught.

The police let the mother go after a while and said that the principal would not press charges. Later, at home, however, police rearrested her on charges of harassment. They told her that the principal insisted on the charges.

The mother told me that she called district superintendent Matt Bromme for a meeting. At the meeting, she says, Bromme, deputy superintendent Marty Weinsten and Ginay Marks (the district’s pupil personnel director) were present, but did not address her questions. She called the board of education and got no return call.

She was then going to call Steve Greenberg, the president of the local school board, to address her questions. Soon, Greenberg and the others will be gone, and who will be left.

Where will parents such as this one go to address their questions, to be heard?

A committee made up of twenty politicians, ten Democrats and ten Republicans are reportedly drawing up a plan as you read this.

You might trust twenty politicians to come up with a viable plan, but I am sure that they will come up with some mess that will cause more problems than it does solutions.

Remember, politicians drew up the original law creating school districts in the late 1960’s. Then, the same politicians used the boards to give jobs to their political hacks and to rob from the public. When they were caught, the politicians said, "this is no good," and took power away from the boards. Now, they have made another mistake in doing away with the boards entirely.

Parents need to be heard. We have to find a mechanism to do that. And, we have to find it soon, before the boards go and there is nothing to replace them.

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