Vol. 16, No. 1   Jan. 2 - Jan. 15, 2003



     
 

Debate Over School Boards Continues at Bronx Hearing

By HEATHER HADDON

The much anticipated and long delayed Bronx public hearing on the fate of community school boards attracted many impassioned speakers, many from the local Board 10 area, on both sides of the controversial issue. The session, held on Dec. 19, packed the conference room at Hostos Community College with parents, education activists and local politicians concerned with the future of parent input in public schools.

"We have a constitutional right to choose," said Josette Santana, co-president of PS 246's Parent Association in North Fordham. "Without that, we will have only one person to take care of so many schools."

About 10 of the 20 members of the task force appointed by the state legislature to quickly devise an alternative to the board system, in operation since 1969, heard a full day of testimony in the panel's third citywide session. They will listen to hours of input from all five boroughs before making final recommendations in February. 

Many parent activists present at the Bronx session focused on ways to strengthen school leadership teams - six-year-old organizations of parents, principals and other staff in each school to guide decisions on budget and policy. 

"Leadership teams have not been used as they should," said Carmen Maldonado Santos, a member of Mothers on the Move (MOM), a south Bronx grassroots group. "Principals are holding on to their power in the teams."

Lucretia Jones, one of MOM's founding members, agreed that parent roles on the teams are often not effective. "Most parents on the school leadership teams are hand-picked by principals," Jones argued.

The Parent Organizing Consortium (a citywide membership organization that includes MOM) presented their own proposal that suggests several reforms of the teams including better training of new members, a mandatory parent majority and better publicity of elections. MOM members also discussed grouping schools in neighborhood clumps instead of entire districts. 

Others speakers were not so quick to dismiss the boards. "[The board] is not just about casting votes, but a personal . . . way to get parents involved," Santana said. 

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who represents part of Norwood, also defended the boards at length. "My board works," Dinowitz said. "Don't eliminate it." 

Board 10 has continued to advocate for the preservation of the boards, passing a resolution in November recommending their continuation. Board president Cordell Schachter, who read the entire resolution to the panel, hopes the extent of their changes will be to "reduce the size of District 10 [the largest in the city] and equalize the size of all the districts." Task force chair Assemblyman Steven Sanders of Manhattan did indicate that the panel is trying to determine what would comprise a manageable district.

Other board members offered more tempered support. "I don't have any illusions that come July the board will continue to exist," said Ted Weinstein, executive vice president of Board 10. "But I think we have made a difference."

Whatever proposal the panel agrees upon will still have to be approved by the federal Justice Department. In the meantime, many parents are anxious. 

"It's very scary," said Elba Velez, a District 10 parent coordinator, who said she finds the prospects of diminished parent input "appalling."

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