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More parents, less mayor - Many go for changes in school governance

It’s time for Community Education Councils (CEC) to finally have a real say in school matters, group members asserted.

The councils, which are volunteer groups comprised of parents seeking to advocate for local schools, have long been considered powerless and ineffective.

Now, with mayoral control under review, CEC members are demanding that the next form of school governance allow for significant parental input.

“Hopefully, legislation will come out of Albany that will give us and parents meaningful input,” Michael Benjamin, first vice president of District 22’s CEC, said at the council’s meeting last week at the John Malone Center at 2335 Bergen Avenue.

Under the current system of school governance, which has given Mayor Michael Bloomberg omnipotent oversight of public schools, parents say their concerns and comments have been dismissed by Bloomberg and city Department of Education (DOE) officials.

Parents – and even local elected officials and school-level educators – have not had a say in the implementation of new policies or major changes, such as the closing of large high schools like Canarsie and South Shore and the placement of new small schools in existing public school buildings.

The DOE has “ignored and disrespected” parents, Benjamin said.

City politicians have complained that even they’ve been left out of the loop.

“To me, it is a lot harder to get information today than when we had a district-based system,” City Councilmember Bill de Blasio said at a recent town hall at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

“It is frustrating because there are important issues that we can’t legislate over on the blocks and in our schools,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told reporters in Brooklyn last month.

Currently, the City Council has no power to dictate DOE policy.

Quinn said mayoral control should be renewed but only if a checks-and-balances system is put in place to oversee the DOE.

“Having the City Council be the legislative body would also be helpful in making sure parents have a voice,” she told reporters.

The DOE has denied allegations of ignoring parents.

“The Department of Education is always trying to improve communication with parents and communities,” DOE spokesperson Maibe Gonzalez Fuentes has said. “We put a parent coordinator in every school to assist parents in resolving school issues and created a new Family Engagement Office.”

“We have also shared our proposals with community-based organizations and thousands of parents who attended town hall meetings to discuss education plans put forward by the department. Their feedback has been incorporated when appropriate,” she added.

In January, the State Senate and Assembly will resume and decide whether to renew mayoral control as is, make changes or create a completely new system.

During these next few months, parents are encouraged to speak to their Senate and Assembly members to offer opinions on the effectiveness of mayoral control under Bloomberg and suggestions for how the system should run in 2009.

“Your voice should be heard and it has to be heard or else we’ll continue with the system that we have now,” Assemblyman Alan Maisel said at the District 22 CEC meeting.

“Right now, parents have very little influence and this has to change,” he continued. “The mayor and chancellor cannot run the schools like their own little club.”

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