‘Gone With The Stroke Of A Pen’
By Howard Schwach
Dozens of school activists, parents, politicians and community residents from both Rockaway and the mainland joined together last Monday night at MS 137 in Ozone Park to argue that community school boards should not be disbanded in June as mandated by the new school governance law.
"Community input into the public schools is gone, gone with the stroke of a pen in Albany," said school board member Ernest Brown at the meeting. "We have to get the parent associations and the school leadership teams and all of the parents to go to the hearings planned by the legislature and to tell them that they want a voice and that voice is the local school boards."
Board president Steve Greenberg agrees.
"We are the local connection between the parent and the school bureaucracy," Greenberg says. "People call us at home, they meet us at the supermarket, they know where we live. They tell us what they want, what their problems are with the system. Who will answer those questions, those concerns, when we are gone?"
"Situations can quickly get out of control," Greenberg added. "We are here to make sure that they do not."
The school governance law passed by the state legislature last year gave the power to hire a chancellor to the Mayor and the power to hire superintendents to the chancellor. School boards are to be phased out in June, at the end of the school year.
A committee of twenty state legislators, ten from the Senate and ten from the Assembly, is mandated to hold hearings to determine a new method for community input. Those hearings reportedly will take the place in late October or early November, but no dates have yet been announced.
"The school board members are going to attend those hearings, but that is not enough," Greenberg told the audience. "Hundreds of parents have to show up and make their thoughts known to the legislature. They have a preconceived idea of what they want to do, but they have to hear from the parents."
Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer was at the meeting. Pheffer voted in favor of the new governance bill.
"We thought that this was the best way to go, to give the mayor control of the school system," Pheffer said. "We wanted to keep borough control and we did. I voted for it because I thought that it was the best thing for the schools system as a whole."
Pheffer added, "The feeling citywide is not the same as the feeling in District 27. In most parts of the city, the school boards are not looked on as representative of the parents as they are here. They are not looked on as community representatives."
She pointed out that less than five percent of the voters took part in the last school board election.
"There will be a process where the committee will hold hearings and come up with a plan that will develop into a community-based group that will have input into the schools," she added. "We are not sure whether that body will be elected or appointed, but it will represent children and their parents."
Maria Monte, a parents whose children attend both PS 42 and MS 198 was not sure that a new group could replace the elected school board.
"I stop Mr. Hooks in the supermarket," she said, referring to school board member David Hooks. "I call him at home and I get consideration from him. Will I get the same consideration if I call the mayor?"
"This plan endangers our kids," she added. "We depend on the board to represent out children. Can we depend on some politicians to do the same?"
Greenberg hopes that a grass-roots movement will grow to fight the demise of the local school boards. A number of people in the audience at the Monday evening meeting indicated that they would be willing to start such an organization.
"We have to bring parents by the hundreds to the hearings," said Democratic District Leader Lew Simon. "That is the only way they will listen to us."
"The key to the meeting," Greenberg told The Wave after it was over, "is whether or not there is a follow-up, whether or not people will now get involved to convince the legislature that we are necessary to the educational process."
Greenberg plans to hold another meeting on the issue after the hearing dates are announced.