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Increased public input in new mayoral control law

In August, the state Legislature passed a new law to renew mayoral control of the city’s public schools.

Although the media touted the new law as a victory for Mayor Bloomberg, who had initially insisted on no changes to the school governance system established in 2002, it actually provides for considerably more public review, input and discussion.

Those changes give parents and UFT members new tools to hold the Department of Education accountable and to have input into policy at the central and school levels.

Independent analysis

The school system must not be an evidence-free zone. The UFT has long called for a separate evaluation and accountability mechanism to analyze both programmatic and fiscal data. The state legislators, too, wanted as much independent analysis and auditing as possible in the new law.

The city comptroller has been given the power to audit the DOE just like any other city agency, as he did with the Snapple contract and, most recently, on test scores.

The Independent Budget Office will now have access to all DOE data and the authority to issue reports to the public analyzing education and financial issues. The IBO will receive independent funding to hire experts in education to carry out these analyses.

In addition, the Panel on Educational Policy will conduct a survey of parents and school personnel to evaluate the DOE and the chancellor.

Greater transparency

The Panel on Educational Policy, the citywide policy-making body that replaced the old Board of Education, will still have eight members appointed by Bloomberg and five members appointed by the borough presidents. It can be expected to carry out the mayor’s bidding, but new processes have been created in the law that will open up the panel and its work to much greater public scrutiny.

Meetings must be publicized broadly and held in a venue large enough to accommodate public participation. Members of the public must have the opportunity to comment at the meeting prior to a vote.

Agendas for PEP meetings must now be posted at least 10 days in advance. Proposals that require a vote must be posted by the PEP online with an analysis, usually at least 45 days before the vote. The posting must include a contact person with knowledge of the item to answer questions and take comments.

The chancellor must also respond to public comments made in writing prior to the day’s meeting.

The PEP now must vote on the capital plan, changes to the plan, new or modified Chancellor’s Regulations, and all budget measures.

The DOE can no longer implement a new policy before the PEP votes.

In another key change — one that DOE officials have already complained about — the PEP must approve any no-bid contract, any contract for technical consultants or personal services, any contract over $1 million per year or any batch of contracts to the same contractor totaling in excess of $1 million.

School-based decision-making

Changes in the law give school leadership teams the potential to wield more power in their schools.

Under the new law, the school budget must be aligned with the school’s Comprehensive Educational Plan, an alignment that the Superintendent must certify before approving the budget.

Principals must now consult with the school leadership team in developing the school budget. If the team believes that the budget does not reflect the CEP, it must be given an opportunity by the principal to express those concerns in writing and appeal to the district superintendent if they are not addressed.

The district superintendent will have to respond to the concerns of the school leadership team before the superintendent signs off on a school’s budget.

School leadership teams must be consulted in the selection of principals and assistant principals, and the evaluation of principals must now include their record “in developing an effective shared decision-making relationship with the school leadership team.”

More say on school closings

Under the new law, the community will have more say if the DOE wants to close or restructure a school.

Prior to closing a school or significantly restructuring it, the chancellor must now prepare an educational impact statement which will include the impact on enrollment, the initial cost and savings, the impact on students, the ability of other schools in the community to accommodate the displaced students, the academic performance of the school, and how the school building will be used going forward.

Klein must make that impact statement public (including giving copies to the school’s school leadership team) six months before the start of school in the succeeding school year. Within 45 days of the release of the impact statement, the DOE must also hold a joint public hearing with the Community Educational Council and the School Leadership Team at the school in question.

The PEP now must vote to approve each closing or restructuring, and the changes cannot take effect until the following school year.

Empowered superintendents

The new law attempts to restore district superintendents to the role they had prior to 2002.

One of their major responsibilities, once again, will be to respond to questions and complaints from parents. The superintendents will be required to hire enough staff at a central district office to fulfill those duties.

The superintendent will be required to explicitly supervise and evaluate principals and ensure that school-based budgets are aligned with each school’s Comprehensive Educational Plan.

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