New York City
March 2003

Recommendations Issued on New Councils to Replace Community School Boards
by Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Recently the 20-member Task Force on Community School District Governance Reform submitted its recommendations to the Leg-islature and the Governor on what should replace the community school boards, which go out of business on June 30th. Along with Terri Thomson, I had the honor of co-chairing the Task Force, whose recommendations were developed after hearing over 50 hours of testimony from nearly 300 witnesses at hearings held in each borough in the past two months.

When the Legislature voted to abolish the community school boards as part of the legislation giving the Mayor accountability for the school system and the right to pick the Chancellor, it decided to wait for recommendations of the Task Force before acting on additional legislation this Session to implement a new district-by-district community- and parent-based governance structure. Assuming the Legislature meets the challenge and enacts legislation in the next few months on what replaces the existing school boards, and assuming the Justice Department gives its approval under the Voting Rights Act to the new changes, every community should have an effective and meaningful role in certain local school district decision-making, and be a focal point for debate and assessment of how the new central administrative structure under the Mayor and chancellor is working.

The Task Force recommendations are predicated on the principle that governance structure should support classroom instruction and insure that the school system is run in a way that reflects partnership with parents, provides accessibility in each community to address local concerns, has clear lines of authority at every level, and is readily comprehensible. An unapproachable and impenetrable bureaucracy is unacceptable.

Additionally, in fulfilling its mission, public school districts must be organized in such a fashion so as to insure that parents are real partners in the education of their children, and not just placed in an organization chart as window dressing.

The Task Force has proposed the creation of a District Education Council in each of the 32 community school districts. Each would be comprised of 11 membersó8 parent members elected by the parents of students who attend a public school within the district, one of whom must be a parent of a child with special needs, educated through an Individual Education Plan within the school District; 2 business, civic or community members appointed by the Borough President, and 1 high school senior appointed by the superintendent.

The district superintendent responsible for the community school district shall be the person interacting, collaborating and working with that community District Education Council.

The councils will hold a monthly meeting with the district superintendent to engage in a dialogue about the local schools and about progress made toward the implementation of the districtís comprehensive education plan, plus a separate monthly public meeting with the superintendent during which the public may speak, so that parents and the community have a voice and a public forum to air their concerns.

Among the councilsí other responsibilities will be: to review the quality of the districtís educational programs and assess their effect on student achievement; to submit an annual evaluation of the district superintendent to the chancellor; to submit an annual evaluation of the superintendent; and to hold public hearings and provide comment to the district superintendent on the districtís proposed operating and expense budgets.

Additionally, they will provide comment before collective bargaining negotiations to the chancellor and Mayor concerning provisions in union contracts that impact the schoolís quality of life; be responsible for zoning of elementary and middle schools in the district; hold a public hearing on the districtís annual capacity plans recommended by the superintendent and based on data from the Chancellor on enrollment/utilization of each school; and submit the plan, approved by the council and the superintendent, to the Chancellor for his review.

The councils will be required to have regular communication with all parents and parentsí associations in the district; to share information regularly with school leadership teams as may be necessary and to provide assistance to them whenever possible; to provide important information on student achievement and to seek input from the parents on school improvement; and to give input to the chancellor and the citywide Panel for Educational Policy on matters of concern to the school district.

I believe that these recommendations, if enacted, would foster an environment for meaningful parental and community representation and input at the local community school district level and provide a forum for vigorous discussion and assessment of the newly centralized system.#

Steven Sanders is chairman of the NYS Assemblyís Committee on Education. You can e-mail him at sanders@assembly.state.ny.us or phone him at (212) 979-9696.

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