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New York City
March 2002

Should We Abolish The BOE?
By Deborah Young

With the new mayoral administration now in place, the longstanding debate over who should call the shots in New York City school district is once again at the forefront of public discussion. Mayor Bloomberg has picked up where Rudy Giuliani left off—pushing for the last say in all decisions affecting the 1.1 million students in the system.

At a policy conference about educational change held at Baruch College recently, Democratic Assemblyman Steve Sanders questioned the prudency of such a move. His words of caution came on the heels of his admission earlier in the week that some mayoral control of the school district now seems inevitable.

Sanders, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, has long fought against installing the mayor at the head of the district. He made it clear that he has not softened philosophically on the issue during the conference, at which New York City Board of Education President Ninfa Segarra argued in favor of the mayor and city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz also spoke.

“I don’t believe it’s the magic bullet,” Sanders said. “We need to build in more accountability and balance so that his is not the only voice or opinion that matters.”

The 200-year tradition of civic engagement in education sets it apart from other mayoral-controlled areas of government, Sanders said. “There has to be a place where parents and the people have access to the system.”

Although the state legislature is considering how to reshape the administrative structure of New York City’s public schools, dismantling the Board of Education is not an option, Sanders said.

But in what is a recent policy shift, Sanders said he does agree with more mayoral oversight in the school board.

Albany legislators could work out a compromise to keep the idea of a school board intact, but also allow Mayor Bloomberg to appoint more members or to select the chancellor. But Sanders did not discuss the specifics of any proposals on the table.

Regardless of the administrative structure of the system, New York City schools students need more resources to be successful, he said.

“With expectations we have properly set high, we need more resources,” he said. “A blackboard, chalk and a book is no longer the technology we need.”

One possilbe tradeoff for giving the mayor more control could come in the form of increased fiscal oversight from the state.

City budget cuts undermine the quality of education for students, and so does the bureaucratic and inefficient distribution of funds, said Board of Education President Ninfa Segarra.

“I am quite clear the central board should be abolished,” said Segarra, one of two mayoral appointees on the seven-member board. “It’s a pit of inequity.”

Segarra, who has sat on the Board of Education since 1991, has pushed for dismantling the institution since becoming Giuliani’s mayoral appointee in 1994.

The system charged with educating the city’s children is so complex that most parents do not know where to appeal for change, she said. Many people go to the mayor because they believe he controls education the way he does other areas of city policy, she said.

“I’ve never been to a town hall meeting with the mayor where somebody didn’t mention education,” Segarra said. “That would be the expectation, that the mayor makes the decisions.”

But most parents are less concerned with who makes policy than the quality of their children’s education, said Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, a former fifth-grade teacher and chair of the City Council Commission on Education.

“I’m not sure that’s the point at which parents desire input,” she said. “They want to have a say at the school in what affects their child day to day.”

Moskowitz said that no single individual can transform an entire system. “I’m opposed to the ‘great man’ theory of history,” she said. “It’s a question of management.”

Moskowitz and the city councel held a week of public meetings on the subject, inviting leaders in the field of education, Mayor Bloomberg, former Mayor Ed Koch and Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley who oversees education in that city, along with teachers, administrators and parents to speak.#


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