The next form of school governance should reestablish the power of local school districts and create a system to oversee the city Department of Education (DOE), according to Brooklyn parents and education activists.
Those are just some of the suggestions coming from parents as they debate the current state law giving Mayor Michael Bloomberg complete authority over the public school system. That law will sunset next year and it’s up to state politicians to decide whether or not to renew it.
Parents are hoping their suggestions and opinions will influence state legislators.
“I don’t think it should be renewed at all,” said Laurie Windsor, president of the Community Education Council (CEC) for School District 20, which includes Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton and Borough Park. “When this sunsets, there needs to be something else in place because there’s no checks and balances at all.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has suggested that the City Council be designated the supervisory body over the DOE.
Jim Devor, whose daughter attends M.S. 51 in Park Slope, has another idea.
“There should be some kind of commission independent of Tweed and taxpayer funded that evaluates it,” said Devor, who is first vice president for the CEC in District 15, which includes Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park.
The Commission on School Governance, which just reviewed mayoral control and presented its findings to Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, said the comptroller’s office should be able to audit the DOE as it does other city agencies.
James Dandridge, president of the CEC in District 18, covering East Flatbush and Canarsie, thinks the state should create a committee of parent leaders to oversee the DOE.
“You need an oversight committee to monitor what’s going on with the contracts, with the policies of the DOE, and what’s going on with the procedures and policies of the School Construction Authority. Nobody’s watching over them,” he said.
Dandridge suggested having the committee consist of members of Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA), School Leadership Teams, and CECs.
“These individuals should be able to meet bimonthly with the City Council and discuss their concerns in a meaningful discussion,” he said. “Consultants have no clue or idea about what our children need. The best consultants for our children are our parents.”
The Commission on School Governance also said that power should be redirected back to school districts, which have lost much of their authority as the DOE became a centralized system operating out of its Manhattan headquarters at Tweed Courthouse.
“We’re losing that district level of the DOE,” Windsor said. “They’re reinventing the wheel by going through centralization.”
“The community superintendent needs to have some power back,” Windsor continued. “They should be in their district going into their schools and not number crunching and playing with data.”
The Commission on School Governance also found that parental involvement has been lacking under the current DOE system.
“Mayoral control is moving our public education system in the right direction but it is far from perfect. Over the last six years, the DOE has failed to engage parents and stakeholders in a meaningful way, has doled out many millions in no-bid contracts, and has been anything but transparent with its data,” Gotbaum said.
“I don’t see any parental input making a difference,” Windsor said. “I think a lot of parents are frustrated because they don’t feel that their voices are heard. They’re speaking, they’re voicing their opinions but they don’t feel it’s making a difference. They’re being listened to but they’re not being heard.”
“The Community Education Council has found a complete ignorant arrogance on the part of the Department of Education. They have their experts and that is who they seem to be interested in hearing from and I guess parents are not experts so we don’t count,” said Jennifer Stringfellow, president of District 15’s CEC.
The DOE argues that it has made an effort to consult with parents by hosting town hall meetings about new education plans and policies and “their feedback has been incorporated when appropriate,” according to a department spokesperson.