As Mayor Bloomberg presses forward with his proposal to close 26 public high schools, including eight in Queens, some state legislators are crying foul over his newest attempt to shutter the institutions and are looking to curb the leader’s power he has had over the city’s education system for the past decade.
State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Manhattan) have introduced legislation that would change the makeup of the city Panel for Educational Policy, the decision-making body that votes on such matters as school closures, and decrease the number of mayoral appointees in the group.
Currently, the PEP includes 13 appointed members and the schools chancellor. Each borough president selects a member of the PEP, many of whom are often opposed to the plans to close schools, and the mayor appoints the remaining eight. Because there are more people representing the mayor than anyone else, the PEP is often criticized as being a rubber stamp for Bloomberg.
“They all just fall in line with whatever he wants,” said state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), a cosponsor of Senate bill S6915. “The mayor cannot have that kind of power. This would change that and would give parents more input.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
While Huntley and other supporters said they do not expect a vote anytime soon on the bills —and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) vowed there would be no vote at all — they did say they are optimistic change could come to a system that likely will ensure the closures of the eight Queens schools, slated to be voted on by the PEP at its April 26 meeting. The schools pegged for closure — which would then reopen with up to half the teachers replaced, a new name and potentially another principal — include August Martin High School in Jamaica, Richmond Hill High School, Flushing High School, Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Long Island City High School, Bryant High School in Long Island City, John Adams High School in Ozone Park and Newtown High School in Elmhurst.
The Senate and Assembly bills vary slightly as to plans for a new PEP. Montgomery’s legislation stipulates that the borough presidents would continue to appoint one member each, the City Council would tap four members, and the mayor would select four. Of those appointed by the Council, there must be a representative of a college or university, a member of a parent organization and a representative from a community district education council.
The Senate bill would also mandate that the PEP would elect the schools chancellor, now selected by the mayor.
“By removing mayoral control over the selection of a chancellor, there will be checks and balances, and a chance for public review of decisions made by the board, to ensure transparency and accountability,” the bill reads.
The Assembly legislation would again task each borough president with selecting a PEP member, but also mandate that the state Commissioner of Education appoint one member, the City Council one and the mayor two. It would not grant the PEP the right to vote for a schools chancellor.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said he supports granting parents more of a voice on policy, though he stressed that the mayoral control system — granted by the state Legislature to the mayor in 2002 — has been more functional than the previous one run by the Board of Education.
“I remember dealing with the old Board of Education,” Addabbo said. “I’ve dealt with mayoral control and the Department of Education, and I certainly prefer the Department of Education, only because I think with a mayor in control there is more accountability.”
Addabbo added that “increasing the voice of the CEC or parents, that’s a good discussion.”
State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) has been a longtime vocal opponent of many of Bloomberg’s policies, but also warned against returning to a system with no mayoral control.
“The community, and the parents who live in the community, need to have input into the decision-making process,” Lancman said. “But we don’t want to go back to the chaotic situation of having school boards.”
Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said she supports curbing the mayor’s control.
“We can’t wait until 2015,” Meng said in reference to the year mayoral control is set to expire.
“The expiration date should be immediate,” state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) agreed.
See separate stories on the closure threat to individual schools in Queens in the local news sections here at qchron.com.