March 13, 2009
After a long wait, a commission of parents led by outspoken critics of the Department of Education is unveiling its own proposal for how to change mayoral control. In testimony delivered to the Bronx Assembly hearing on mayoral control this morning, parents painted an ideal picture in which parent voices would gain power while the mayor would lose it.
Their proposal is topped off by a radical answer to the question of how to change the Panel for Educational Policy — the effective citywide school board — that would both strengthen the powers of the board and reshape who sits on it. The board would include just three mayoral appointees compared to six parent representatives, plus a City Council appointee, an appointee of the public advocate,and four expert members selected jointly by the board.
The commission is also proposing a stronger role for the CEC elected parent councils in each district. A key complaint about Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership has been that parents are not included in decision-making about the schools. Some have criticized the DOE for not consulting those councils when choosing to open and close schools, as is required by law.
Lisa Donlan, a commission member from Manhattan and the president of a CEC, testified that the state should create an “ombudsperson” role who would have the legal authority to advocate for parents when they aren’t comfortable advocating for themselves. This role addresses the DOE’s Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, which Freeman called “a way of distracting [parents], but not a way of helping them.”
The commission also suggests creating a Parent Academy to train parent leaders, who Monica Major declared need “much more than a 45-minute Power Point at an OFEA training.” Major said the commission will call for official meetings to be publicized on the Internet, with agendas posted beforehand and transcripts afterward.
Members testified today that the commission will also ask legislators to require that chancellors have at least three years experience as a teacher and principal. They also want the city’s district attorneys to appoint an inspector general to investigate and report publicly claims of misconduct.
Members argued that structural changes aren’t the only ones they will seek. “What is needed is an explicit and legally binding declaration of purpose for what we are trying to accomplish,” said commission member Josh Karan, who lives in Upper Manhattan. The commission is asking legislators to convene a committee to draft a “constitution” for the city schools that would both provide guidance for future changes and open the door to lawsuits.
Here’s the complete formula the commission presented for a reinvigorated board of education:
- Six parent representatives, with five elected by community education councils and one seat reserved for a parent with a child in special education
- Three mayoral appointees
- One City Council appointee
- One appointee of the public advocate
- Four additional members chosen by the board, each with expertise in different areas