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Mayoral control renewed

Revised law to increase parent input, address flaws

The state Senate returned to session on Aug. 6 and passed a bill to renew mayoral control of the city’s public schools, along with other related bills to increase parental input in the school system and address some of the other flaws in the original legislation.

“With the governor’s support, this legislation will provide the transparency and accountability, as well as parent participation, which will allow our school system’s progress to continue,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.

The Senate, paralyzed by a power struggle between the two parties, let the June 30 deadline for renewing the governance law lapse. No action was taken on governance legislation even after the Democrats wrested control of the Senate in early July when they demanded amendments to the governance bill that Mayor Michael Bloomberg initially balked at.

On July 24, the mayor and the Senate reconciled their differences.

Mulgrew and AFT President Randi Weingarten, then also president of the UFT, played a pivotal role in keeping the issue of school governance on the front burner and helping to broker the agreement. Both were publicly thanked by state senators and the mayor for that intense focus at a time of warring words between the two sides and ongoing chaos in the Senate.

The Assembly had already dealt with the issue in a timely fashion, passing its bill by an overwhelming margin on June 17. The Assembly bill preserves mayoral control and responds to the UFT’s three longstanding concerns: the need for checks and balances, transparency and greater parent involvement.

Things were much more complicated in the Senate, where school governance fell victim to the chaos that accompanied Democratic and Republican senators tussling over who had the majority, locking the chamber and gaveling in and out as two separate bodies.

Although they adjourned for the summer on July 16, senators worked out an agreement with the mayor on July 24 to:

  • create a $1.6 million parent training center;
  • establish an arts advisory committee;
  • include the quality of curriculum and instruction in the superintendent’s annual review of principals; and
  • create open public meetings with a focus on safety in schools.

The aim of the parental training centers is to help parents participate knowledgeably in the structures of governance that include them, such as school leadership teams, district leadership teams, community education councils and parent associations.

The UFT fought hard to have the centers included in the law.

“Fighting for parents to have a voice and training so they understand what’s going on in the schools — that’s a very good thing,” said Mulgrew.

The Assembly would have to approve the Senate’s amendments for them to take effect, but the city promised to implement them immediately.

The Assembly’s bill also contains important reforms, including requiring the Department of Education to hold public hearings to allow for parent and community input before closing individual schools. The bill also seeks to re-establish the traditional role of the city’s 32 district superintendents by requiring that they spend virtually all of their time in the district and that they have staff and an office in order to respond to parent concerns.

Additionally, the Assembly’s bill mandates greater transparency and oversight of budgets, contracts and student data. The city’s Independent Budget Office will now have access to all DOE data so it can independently audit student performance and the department’s spending.

Creating a much stricter procurement policy, the bill requires the Panel for Educational Policy to vote on all no-bid contracts and all contracts in excess of $1 million and, more importantly, to post publicly in advance of its meeting all background information about the contracts on which it has to vote and to provide the public with time to comment on the contracts before and during the meeting.

The Assembly bill also adds two parent representatives to the PEP board and removes the chancellor as the head and as a voting member of that body.

After mayoral control officially lapsed at midnight on June 30, the mayor convened borough leaders the following day to quickly reconstitute the old Board of Education, which had been the governing body prior to 2002, when the mayor took control of the city schools. That body, at the mayor’s bidding, voted unanimously to retain Joel Klein as the city’s schools chancellor and delegate all decision-making power to him.

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