Saturday, March 14, 2009

District 10's Community Education Council blasts mayoral control

The Riverdale Press - March 12, 2009

By Kate Pastor

When Marvin Shelton was first elected to District 10's Community Education Council in 2004, he remembers being given a three ring binder containing information on state law, city law and community contacts. These days, council members are only given a single folder.

The thinning of information provided to council members mirrors the dwindling belief that the councils have a significant role to play under the current system, said Mr. Shelton, who is the council president and a PS 24 parent.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's mandate to run the schools comes to an end in June, and District 10's CEC now joins the list of councils deriding the Department of Education for what they say is illegally bypassing members' consultation on such important issues as opening and closing schools and eliminating or adding programs in them.

Next week, the CEC will consider a resolution demanding that the powers given to them under state law be honored.

New York State Education Law 2590 says CECs must be consulted before schools or programs within them are substantially expanded or reduced. But Mr. Shelton says that over the years, several school programs have been drastically changed without a word of input from District 10's CEC members.

Others on the council share his view.

"The closing of the schools, we should be involved in that," said Denise Sullivan, vice president of District 10's CEC.

According to Mr. Shelton, the Ampark Neighborhood School program was started in 2005 without consultation. The same year, MS 143 on west 231st Street began to be phased out and replaced by The New School for Leadership and Journalism, and in 2007, the department started to phase out PS 79 in the east Bronx — all without council input.

The council also had no say in the creation of a district-wide gifted and talented program in the fall of 2007, or in the decision to expand the program to kindergarten this coming fall.

MS 399 has also been slated for closing by the city, without consultation with the CEC.

At the CEC's last meeting in February, MS 399 families took advantage of a public comment period to speak about the reasons they believed their school should remain open. They were speaking for the record, and to CEC members who sat listening, but were powerless to oppose the closing.

The decision to close the school was made "in the dead of night," said Mr. Shelton. "We were focusing on rezoning and the next thing you know you have a phase out."

The decision to close the school was made "in the dead of night," said Mr. Shelton. "We were focusing on rezoning and the next thing you know you have a phase out."

Mr. Shelton, who is running for reelection to the CEC in May, says he has come to believe that the system of mayoral control as it's been implemented doesn't work. He says the Department of Ed has made it impossible for councils to represent parents, while the mayor faces "no penalty for breaking the law."

The Department of Ed tries to go beyond complying with the law, said Will Havemann, a department spokesperson. He pointed to CEC members' active involvement in District 10's recent rezoning as an example of cooperation.

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