The School Closing Marathon
January 27th, 2010
The hearing on whether to http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/nyregion/28closings.htclose 19 schools last night certainly testified to rising anger, in some quarters at least, against Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his education policies. The eight hour meeting also provided stark evidence of how absolute the mayor’s power is when it comes to education and how little the legislature really changed when they tweaked mayoral control last summer.
In previous years, all it took to close schools was the Department of Education’s say so. The legislature changed that — but then gave the power of “review” to the Panel on Educational Policy, which the mayor totally controls.
That gave last night’s hearing a touch of the surreal. Every one knew from the get go that the panel would vote for closing the schools — and it did with the eight mayoral appointees and the representative from Staten Island voting yes; the four other borough representatives voting no. Several elected officials in the audience tried to get the vote postponed, to no avail.
Irate parents, students, teachers and activists — some bearing placards, many of them black and Latino — jammed Brooklyn Tech’s auditorium. Speaker after speaker defended one school or another, saying the closed school had particularly challenging student populations. Individual students spoke of what the schools had done for them.
Holding her baby daughter, Rebecca Freeman, a senior at Paul Robeson declared, “I am not a failure and I will never be a failure. … And neither will my daughter.”
People came to the microphones to accuse the administration of closing conventional public schools to make way for privately run charter schools and said the administration had done nothing to help the schools cope with large umbers of special ed students, kids who do not speak English and those who came into the schools with low achievement.
“We have seen the Department of Education’s complete mismanagement and disruption of our student’s lives,” said Karen Alford, a United Federation of Teacher vice president.
Sitting far back on the stage the panel seemed to listen, remaining largely impassive, with the mayor’s eight appointees — – all of whom he could immediately remove if they expressed any independence whatsoever — rarely saying anything. Instead, education department counsel Michael Best called out names, thanked people for their testimony and told them their time was up. People who continued to speak ran the risk of having the microphone shut off.
As covered in GothamSchools, none of the mayor’s appointees told the crowd why they supported the closings although one, Linda Lausell Bryant, reportedly said she was not a rubber stamp.
Expressing frustration with the process, Jane Hirschmann of Time Out for Testing and Lisa Donlan of Community Education Council 1 presented a sock puppet show in which Hirschman played the education puppet. When the parent puppet (Donlan) asked Hirschman (the education puppet), “Did you actually read all the written testimony?” the education puppet answered, “Read? I’m a puppet, I don’t read.”
The microphone got shut off before the duo could deliver their final line: “If Klein and Bloomberg have not fixed the schools in eight years, it’s time to shut Klein and Bloomberg down.”
At least one of the panel members, Patrick Sullivan who was appointed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, also expressed frustration with the mayor’s appointees. After the microphone was turned off during testimony by New York NAACP president Annie Martin, Sullivan assailed panel president David Chang for having Best run the proceeding instead of doing it himself.
“If someone is going to turn off the microphone on the NAACP, let it be the mayor’s appointee,” Sullivan said.By Gail Robinson on January 27, 2010, 11:53 am
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