(The City Council Education Committee has drawn up its own proposal for what should replace community school boards. Although committee chair Eva Moskowitz and committee member Bill de Blasio presented the proposal to the Task Force on School Governance Reform on January 16, the plane had been devised earlier, before Mayor Bloomberg announced his plan to eliminate district superintendents. The following is an excerpt of the council proposal.)
Parent and community involvement in New York City's public schools is essential to their well being. When Mayor Bloomberg assumed control of the public schools in 2002, it was mandated that community school boards be disbanded by June 2003. Essentially, this new system of school governance poses a serious threat to the participation levels parents and community members will be afforded. There is a legitimate and widespread concern among parents and community members that they will have no voice in shaping local education policy and no means of channeling complaints and suggestions about the schools in their district.
The Education Committee of the City Council convened hearings to help determine what mechanism should replace community school boards. Based on the testimony, the committee has created a proposal for Parent and Community School Councils to replace Community School Boards.
The committee believes that the proposal creates a mechanism that is accessible, local, accountable, transparent and consistent with the democratic process. The plan also prevents the political infighting that distracts attention and energy from the work of providing a quality education. (This proposal sets aside the important discussion of parental involvement on the school level and focuses on district-wide mechanisms.)
SCOPE AND COMPOSITION
- A council would be created in each of New York City's school districts.
- Each council would consist of nine appointed members. City Council members would appoint five and borough presidents four. When more than one City Council member represented families in a community school district, each would appoint members in proportion to the percentage of the population he or she represents.
- Members of the Parent and Community School Councils would have term limits of four years.
- The majority of the members would be parents of current New York school students but other community members may also be appointed.
The primary function of the new Parent and Community School Councils is to enable parents and other stake holders to hold school officials accountable for school performance. To that end, the boards will:
- Propose broad policy priorities on the district level.
- Complete formal evaluations of the district superintendents at least once a year;
- Provide advice on superintendent selection and termination to the chancellor;
- Review school performance on a regular basis and hold superintendents accountable for performance improvements;
- Review district budgets on a regular basis;
- Advise the chancellor on city-wide policy issues;
- Raise parent concerns to the superintendents and chancellor and hold them accountable to respond.
Parent and Community School Councils cannot be expected to play a vital role in school governance without sufficient resources and support. We must be careful, however, to build a lean structure that gives school council members the support they need to participate effectively with the least cost possible to the system.
Parent and Community School Councils should be allotted a modest annual budget. This budget should be sufficient to ensure consistent meeting space and support for council activities. Equip the borough presidents' offices to provide administrative support to the boards by handling mailings and phone calls to notify parents of meetings. This will avoid rebuilding district-based staffs. School district offices can provide local support, such as photocopying and phones. The City Council Education Committee and all other City Council members will be available to assist the Parent and Community School Councils in obtaining any relevant information needed to carry out their duties.
By reinventing Parent and Community School Councils in this way, we can create meaningful mechanisms for accountability and participation, without risking a return to many of the problems that limited their effectiveness in the past.