2008-09-19 / Letters

Reconsidering Mayoral Control

Dear Editor,

As the children go back to school, here is something else to think about: mayoral control. In a matter of months, mayoral control will be up for renewal in the City Council and, if passed there, then the State Legislature. The Legislature can go in one of three directions - we can renew the policy as is; reject it altogether; or revise mayoral control as we know it, to protect the rights of students, parents, educators and administrators and bring them in to the process, which I believe is the answer.

With more than 1.1 million students affected by mayoral control and more than 1400 schools currently ancontinued swering solely to the mayor (whose duties are carried out by a Chancellor who has displayed no appreciation for others' opinions and an outright contempt for parents who have a vested interest in local education) it is clear that there needs to be changes.

I was a local education leader when mayoral control first passed in 2002. At the time, I loudly voiced concerns that the bill would cut out the role of parents and place too much power with the Chancellor. Unfortunately, we have been proven right and no place is that more clear than on these five major issues:

The current Chancellor is not an educator and has no educational background. Running schools like a business is not what education is about;

Superintendents currently may work in numerous school districts. Instead, they should work within their district only, have real decisionmaking power, and answer to the Chancellor;

The Department of Education currently has control over standardized testing while failing to provide a comparable education to every child taking those tests, which has allowed a major disparity in performance based on a child's race at younger ages to affect the child's entire K-12 education;

Parents are no longer involved in zoning issues or picking new principals, and should be brought back into the process;

The Panel for Education Policy allows the mayor autonomy when instead the body should be empowering parents in all major decisions.

While there are countless implications of these practices as they stand, perhaps most notable is the practice of the Department of Education to spend millions in taxpayer dollars on "consultants" while ignoring other experts and parents.

As a State Senator, I have begun the duty of ensuring that my colleagues, who I believe did not fully understand the law in 2002, are sufficiently educated this time to make a thoughtful decision when the legislation comes before us in 2009.

As part of that effort, State Democrats recently launched the New York City Task Force on School Governance, which I am Co-Chairing. The Task Force is holding open public hearings throughout all five boroughs for parents, educators, administrators, and community leaders to express their thoughts, including one in Queens on October 2 between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. at Queens Borough Hall, 120-55 Queens Boulevard, second floor.

It is very important that people take advantage of this opportunity to submit oral and written testimony. At the end of our hearings, we will be proposing a new direction for mayoral control, based on what we already know, what we hear from the community, as well as, what we have learned from other cities, like Chicago and Boston, which have also implemented this kind of policy.

Here in New York, the trial-and-error practice of the Department of Education has proven to be a stunning waste of tax-dollars. In the mayor and chancellor's haste, they have creates chaos for school districts, children, and parents, instead of achieving the very reasoning behind mayoral control: efficiency and accountability. Those are worthy goals that I support - however, I cannot support the process as it stands. By sidelining parents and those who have the greatest interest in a strong education, the mayor and chancellor have ignored good ideas and public input.

Though the Department of Education likes to pass around surveys to give the illusion of participation, parents recognize this policy needs to be changed. In fact, a recent poll by Class Size Matters, an advocacy group, found that nearly six in 10 parents oppose mayoral control altogether. A Quinnipiac poll places Chancellor Joel Klein's favorability at about 37 percent-roughly on par with President Bush.

Had the mayor and chancellor included parents, educators, administrators, and community leaders, the problems with the current policy would, perhaps, not be so glaringly obvious. However, in showing their true colors they have underscored the urgency to get parents, educators, administrators, and community leaders back into the process. I invite you to join me at my hearing on October 2 at Queens Borough Hall, so that together we can right the wrongs of mayoral control. SENATOR SHIRLEY L. HUNTLEY Thankfully R7A Dear Editor,

I have been reading the last few weeks after the R7A was approved 50-0 in this section how this is wrong. There was a 50-0 city council vote, as well as a 3-1 community board vote and an 11-0 community land use committee, this after two unanimous votes by city planning commission and strong support from both councilmen, and now most residents of Rockaway. Now this is a free country where opposition and expression is a basic right but reading how there were 1500 letters of opposition to R7A in Beach 116 Street is completely false. These were acquired signatures from a petition from Dayton towers, opposing R7A in Beach 105 Street. There is a group, whose numbers vary from 5-20 people who opposed revitalization on Beach 116 Street. They have had several rallies/ meetings and never getting any support or never giving any plan to develop Beach 116 Street. This same group for years called for a change on Beach 116 Street, the nursing homes and the SRO hotels in particular. Beach 116 Street east, Beach 115 Street west house 50 percent of the SRO units (420 in the entire Rockaway Park). The Lawrence Hotel filed for a restoration and would have reopened. That the zoning protects, and downzoning building in all residential parts of Rockaway will only promote growth in the commercial block of Beach 116 Street. Zoning changes occur once in a generation.

The opposition group, which plastered flyers of the Ocean Grande saying this building would replace or convert an abandoned movie theater, the Park nursing home and Lawrence as well as Park Hotel, is in need of a new public relations person, or should fire the person who came up with the before and after flyer of Beach 116 Street, ASAP. How could they think that ad would be a persuasive argument against R7A?

In recent weeks a Broad Channel resident decided to chime in regarding this matter, opposing R7A. Well, doesn't this resident of Broad Channel know that the stores in Rockaway Park frequently go out of business, that the disposable income of condo owners will help support the local merchants, as well as raise property values and provide a safe shopping environment. The owners of 3-5 story buildings (SRO's and hotels and nursing homes) are not going to convert to a one or two family house, and go out of business. One letter of opposition to the editor had the nerve to mention the sixteen-year-old girl who drowned and shamelessly tried to blame this tragedy and future drowning on the condos?

Experts, professionals and the majority of Rockaway residents have wanted this change for years. Voicing your opposition is fine, but get the facts straight.

Lets all hope that there are two or three more Ocean Grandes with condos, stores and restaurants in the near future on Beach 116 Street.


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