Friday, January 30, 2009

Committee On Education Debates Mayoral Control Of Schools by Grace Rauh - NY1

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A packed crowd attended the first of five public hearings over mayoral control of city schools in Queens on Thursday, as Education Chancellor Joel Klein continued to press for extensive school faculty cuts. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg hits the campaign trail, he'll be touting his record at City Hall, and that includes his takeover of the city schools.

But with the mayoral control law up for renewal, top education aides are already making the case.

"It's very important to me, and it's very important to the future of the city that the mayor be held accountable for the decisions about the school system. The model that doesn't work is if you have divided authority," said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

State legislators have final say on whether the law stays in place, and Assembly members on Thursday conducted the first of five hearings on the contentious issue.

Some of the toughest criticism is coming from parents, who complain they are shut out of the centralized school system.

"It's not saying that everything we say is right, but we have to be brought to the table. Unfortunately, too often, that's the problem. We are not at the table," said Zakiyah Ansari, a concerned parent.

"The mayor and Chancellor Klein serve as dictators. There is no open dialogue between them and the parents," said David Quintana, a concerned parent.

But education officials dispute that claim.

"I think they have more information and more access than ever before. Are there things we can do to improve it? We are always listening and looking to improve the system," said Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott.

Bloomberg's top Democratic opponents in the mayor's race support mayoral control, but that doesn't mean it won't become a campaign issue. City Comptroller Bill Thompson already has said parents need more say over the schools -- an opinion shared by other lawmakers.

"For the most part, parents are not feeling involved in the process and the schools are not being involved in the process. There's a real disconnect and that's got to change," said Queens Assemblyman Mark Weprin.

Debate on the issue is sure to intensify as lawmakers near the deadline to renew the law.