Vol. 12, No. 25 Dec. 30, 1999 - Jan. 12, 2000


A Window of Opportunity in District 10

Community School Board 10 made the right decision by giving Superintendent Irma Zardoya a new contract. Even if it is only for one year, the district's 40-plus schools have been saved from a rancorous superintendent search during an already tumultuous period.

The school board needs time to recover from the divisive battle over the expansion of a Riverdale middle school and refocus on issues of concern to the entire district. Though the vote took place before Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew was dismissed by the central Board of Education, had Zardoya been handed a similar fate, the resulting instability could have seriously jeopardized progress in District 10.

Also, the new school board has only been in office for six months. The seven member majority includes four new members. It's unreasonable to expect that any of those members yet have a firm grip on the successes, problems, and challenges of a district with more than 40,000 students. To get a handle on that, members need to visit schools, meet parents, talk to teachers and principals. It is unlikely that they have yet done so, especially since the board, over the last six months, has addressed little other than the Riverdale school proposal.

Though the district is struggling with the same test score problems that districts citywide are grappling with, Zardoya has a reputation as an effective and tireless administrator, particularly among principals and parents, as evidenced by the strong turnout by both at the public meeting where her contract was discussed. In a year, when Zardoya's contract will be discussed again, the school board, if it has truly done its homework, will be better able to evaluate her performance.

The board originally planned to vote to advertise for a new superintendent, but elected Assemblyman Roberto Ramirez and others expressed their support, and the large turnout of principals and parents at the board meeting was probably expected. Though the mixture of politics and schools has led to corruption in the past -- promises of jobs for political support, for example -- the type of political participation engaged in here is appropriate. Ramirez' job -- and that of all elected officials -- is to voice the concerns of his constituency. That is what he did when he called Board president Oliver Koppell. And of course, it is the right of every parent, teacher and administrator to publicly state his or her views.

Now that this matter is behind us, it is time for the board to widen its focus to include issues relevant to the entire district. The hearing it held on school construction and repairs earlier this month was a good start. Now the board must act. It should draft a list of district priorities not addressed in the five-year capital plan -- and there are many -- and badger the Giuliani administration and the central Board of Education until significant funds for new schools and repairs are restored. It should also work closely with the parents and administrators who know more than they should have to about crumbling roofs, flooded gymnasiums, and playgrounds that no longer exist.

This is a no-brainer issue that can and should unite the board. Overcrowding plagues all of District 10, the largest and second most crowded district in the city. It should be the priority of all nine board members to press for a solution to a crisis which has gone on for much too long. Unlike stagnant reading and math scores, there is no disagreement about what it takes to build and repair schools. It simply takes money. The board, whatever its other differences, needs to unite and fight for more of it.


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