Local School Boards Gone With Old Year
In a move that surprised many long-time school observers, the federal government has signed off on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to replace the 32 community school boards with a like number of parent councils.
The plan, proposed by Bloomberg nearly a year ago, would replace the present nine-member boards whose members are elected in a special election, with the eleven-member councils whose members will be chosen by school parent association members.
Many school observers saw that change as a diminution of parent voting power, but the Justice Department, which had a veto over the plan under the Voting Rights Act, did not agree.
Justice signed an agreement allowing the controversial plan on Tuesday.
The 32 new councils, to be joined by citywide high school and special education councils, will be virtually powerless, experts say, but will give parents some voice in the way local schools are run.
Steve Greenberg, the long time president of Community School Board 27, thinks that the Department of Education may be in for a surprise if it expects the councils to be rubber-stamps for the bureaucracy.
Greenberg says that he was "surprised by the decision."
"We were led to believe that the feds would reject the plan," he told The Wave.
"The DOE may be in for a rude awakening," he continued. "The new councils might want to show some muscle, to have some real decision-making power."
He admitted that the boards, who have been expecting to become extinct for more than a year now, have "not been as aggressive" as they were in the past.
"One of the problems faced by the councils is that they have no history," Greenberg said. "They will be basically new groups with nobody in the group really knowing what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to go about doing it."
The school board president says that the plan is "not a terrible one," and that he, in fact, recommended something like it when he testified before the Assembly Committee on Education.
"When we became trustees after the old board was suspended, this is the way it was done," Greenberg said. "I always thought that it was a pretty good process."
The officers of each school parents association, the president, treasurer and secretary will choose the nine parent members of each district council.
For each council, the borough president will add two additional community members and the local school superintendent will name one nonvoting student member.
The councils are tasked with assessing superintendents and approving school zoning lines, but have no budgetary power or control over hiring.
Under the new school reorganization, however, district superintendents are little more than figureheads, working for the regional superintendent and the districts are largely legal fictions kept alive to satisfy political considerations.
"There is really no district structure," Greenberg says. "Cashin chooses the superintendent, she’s the boss."
Bloomberg praised the Justice Department decision in a prepared statement.
"These new education councils are part of our school reform plan and aim to increase the role of parents," he said. "Where parents are involved, schools work, which makes this a great victory for our 1.1 million school children."
Education experts say that the government’s decision does not forestall either individuals or groups from suing to get that decision overturned.
Some groups have already indicated their opposition to the plan.
"The new councils will be selected using methods that fail to protect the voting rights of minority voters," one woman who testified before the Assembly committee said at the time.
Greenberg says that he has been advised that it will take approximately three months for the new councils to be nominated, selected by the PA organizations and then to be seated.