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by Micah Landau | January 17, 2013 New York Teacher issue
Seeing the upcoming mayor’s race as an opportunity to make some much-needed changes to school governance in New York City, the UFT has reconstituted its School Governance Committee.
Under the guidance of UFT Vice Pres- ident Carmen Alvarez and Staten Island Borough Representative Emil Pietromonaco, the committee has been charged with the task of making recommendations for ways to reform mayoral control and school governance before the race for the city’s next mayor picks up in the spring.
“We have to have our position out there in the middle of the mayoral race,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the several dozen committee members at their first meeting on Dec. 19 at UFT headquarters.
The committee is scheduled to meet six more times this winter.
It was originally formed during the 2007–2008 school year to review mayoral control of city schools and to explore alternative models of school governance in advance of the 2009 renewal of the 2002 state law granting control over the city’s school system to the mayor. The committee spoke with more than 1,200 stakeholders over a 15-month period, finding overwhelming dissatisfaction with mayoral control.
The committee’s findings were the basis for several recommendations for reforms to increase parent and public input. These included changing the format of Panel for Educational Policy meetings to allow for more public comment, revising the city’s school closing and co-location processes to make it more difficult for the city to close or co-locate schools, adding parent training centers so that parents in groups like the Community Education Councils can participate knowledgeably in the structures of governance, and restoring a degree of authority to district superintendents vis-à-vis principals. The UFT pressed for those recommendations and won them in the 2009 law.
Already, the committee members were brimming with ideas. Deborah Holt, a delegate and teacher at the Restart Academy in District 79, suggested expanding the role of the city’s Independent Budget Office to provide a greater check on mayoral control, while Stuart Kaplan, the chapter leader of Manhattan’s School for Law and Public Service, suggested empowering Community Education Councils to hire their local superintendents. Others voiced support for limiting superintendents’ terms and for the union’s longtime position that Community Education Councils should have the power to veto co-locations in their districts.
Pietromonaco was pleased by the outpouring of ideas, but advised the committee members to be strategic. “There’s a window, but we can’t take on everything at once,” he said. “If you go too far, you get nothing.”