When Albany lawmakers agreed to give Mayor Michael Bloomberg direct control of the city’s schools, they also made a promise to parents concerned about accountability of a newly centralized school system. The legislature would convene a group of 20 advisers to help dream up the future of community-based school oversight, once the current system of elected district school boards ceases to exist at the end of this school year.
The task force, consisting of elected officials, parents and community business leaders, has two months left to hold public hearings in each of the five boroughs and make recommendations to the state legislature on what should replace the city’s community school boards. There’s just one thing is holding the group up: its members have yet to be named.
The task force’s preliminary report is due by December 15, but Albany’s politics as usual seem to have stalled the appointments. The law requires that the state Assembly and the Senate each name half of the members of the group. According to Steve Sanders, chair of Assembly’s education committe, he and his colleagues have been ready since August 1, but have been waiting for Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to make his appointments before naming theirs. Because the task force members must work together, Sanders says, the appointments “need to be made together–a joint force.”
Bruno spokesperson Mark Hansen insists, however, that his office has been waiting for the federal Department of Justice to weigh in on whether the idea of abolishing elected school boards in New York City is even legal. Because the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan fall under the federal Voting Rights Act, a consequence of their history of voting discrimination, the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department must clear any changes made to state law that affect voting.
Justice Department spokesperson Jorge Martinez says, however, that his agency won’t weigh in on the matter unless the task force sends them something to review.
The task force’s final report is due to the state legislature by February 15, 2003.
Meanwhile, several local school boards across the city are convening emergency meetings to talk to parents about their future. “One hearing, one night, in each borough, would be a joke,” said Steven Greenberg, president of School Board 27 in Rockaway, which hosted a packed room of parents last Monday. “Without local representation, everything’s going to be painted with a broad brush.”