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by Randi Weingarten | published June 29, 2009
[This op-ed was originally published in the New York Post.]
The New York State Senate's failure to act on the issue of school governance in New York City is cause for great concern for parents, students and those of us at the United Federation of Teachers, the 200,000-member union representing New York City public-school educators.
The current system of mayoral control of schools is set to sunset by midnight Tuesday. If the Senate doesn't act before then to approve some form of school governance, then the old Board of Education would automatically be resurrected, and it is unclear exactly who would do that and how it would be done.
Some critics of mayoral control say that it won't matter if it lapses. But there will be immediate and chaotic consequences, especially for parents and thousands of students planning to attend summer school and the educators who must teach them.
With the economy struggling to recover from the current downturn and the concomitant job losses, home foreclosures and loss of health benefits, kids need stability in all aspects of their lives now more than ever. Schools are supposed to be havens for children, providing them with an anchor when so many of them are beset by personal or family problems and challenges such as poverty, the lure of gangs and illegal drugs. The school chaos that could ensue if the Senate does not act in time is the last thing our children need.
Equally important is what we are teaching children about civic responsibility and the rule of law in today's society. Kids need to be taught that rules matter and that violating them can result in serious consequences.
A few years ago, I and dozens of others frustrated by the state's failure to resolve the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and provide the resources coming to the city schools as a result barricaded the entrance to the Capitol in Albany in an act of civil disobedience. Our actions were for a good cause, but they did result in our being arrested — and rightly so.
In the case of the Senate, however, the consequences of inaction will fall most heavily on New York City's public school students, and that should be avoided at all costs. Regardless of the specifics of any particular governance proposal, something must be done soon.
At this late date, the Assembly's school-governance bill is a good base from which to work. We at the United Federation of Teachers feel that it should include a strong component for a greater role for parents, which is something that some senators have sought. But even in its current form, it is a far better alternative than doing nothing and reverting to the old law.
We understand the strong feelings that the Democratic and Republican senators have. But the fighting must stop, at least temporarily, so that they can finish the session and deal with important bills such as marriage equality, revenues our cities and communities need and New York City school governance.
What is your favorite movie about a teacher?
Dead Poets Society
Stand and Deliver
Mr. Holland's Opus
Total votes: 519