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Mounting challenge to DOE power

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It is “critically important” that parents join the citywide discussion on the future of school governance, according to a local parents’ group.

“This is an opportunity for us to start from ground zero to say how we are going to put together a system of school governance,” Jim Devor, first vice president for School District 15’s Community Education Council (CEC), said at the group’s meeting last week.

“We are profoundly disappointed that there are not more parents speaking out, especially when we have mayoral control,” said Jennifer Stringfellow, president of District 15’s CEC, which advocates for schools in Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park. “We want to make parents aware of the various parent organizations out there.”

Public schools are currently operating under total control of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The state law authorizing that system will sunset next year. In January, the state Assembly and Senate will review mayoral control and decide whether or not it should be renewed or reworked.

Until a decision is made next June, parents should attend meetings of local CECs and parents’ groups to offer their comments on how well mayoral control has worked.

“I will be happy to work with you over the course of the next year to get your input as this goes forward,” said Assemblyman James Brennan. “We hope there will be many, many discussions on this.”

In particular, on the quality of parental and community involvement under the Bloomberg administration.

“Community school districts were never intended to be shut down the way the mayor did,” Brennan said. “That created a set of problems and disconnect for the Community Education Councils.”

“The Panel for Educational Policy is still recognized as the Board of Education,” Devor explained. But under the current system, “The powers that went to the Board of Education were totally eviscerated.”

“They’ve not only totally blocked out parental input, they’ve blocked out politician input,” Devor said.

The new system of school governance must “strengthen the role” of parents and CECs so there is “collaborat­ion” with DOE officials when new policies and procedures are being created, Devor said.

“That means parents aren’t customers but have a say in how their children are taught,” Devor said.

Under mayoral control, parents and CEC members have regularly complained that DOE officials have shut them out of the decision-making process and ignore their opinions and concerns.

A prime example occurred earlier this year when the DOE said it wanted to open PAVE Academy Charter School in P.S. 15’s building at 71 Sullivan Street.

The DOE believed that the two schools could occupy one building because P.S. 15 was underutilized. But parents adamantly opposed the idea and said that P.S. 15 would suffer under the arrangement. Even P.S. 15’s principal expressed concern about maintaining small class size.

A public hearing was held in the spring for parents to share their comments with DOE officials and ask that PAVE be housed in another location. But ultimately, the DOE approved the space-sharing plan.

Parents say what happened at P.S. 15 is another example of how their feelings are dismissed by DOE officials.

“In New York City, we have a complete managerial system,” Brennan said. “Outside the city of New York, schools are still a democracy.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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