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2nd March

First Published in The New York Sun, March 2, 2007

By Andrew Wolf

When the history books are written, it will be noted that the beginning of the end of New York’s grand experiment with mayoral control of the schools came at 6:30 a.m. on January 29, 2007. It was then that the city’s school buses began to roll on new routes suggested by an extraordinarily expensive outside consultant, hand-picked without competitive bidding by the Department of Education.

In a certain sense it is a sad reflection of our times that the outrage over the direction of the schools came as a result of the peripheral issue of bus routes. That eighth-grade reading scores haven’t budged in eight years, a reflection of educational stagnation impacting tens of thousands of our students, doesn’t seem quite as compelling as one child waiting in the cold for a bus that never comes.

The outrage over the bus plan has re-energized parent activists. When the mayor eliminated the 32 school districts and their superintendents four years ago, protests were held throughout the city. A time-tested strategy was employed to defuse parents and activists: give them jobs and contracts. The creation of the job of “parent coordinator” in all city schools converted more than 1,000 possible foes to true believers.

Other jobs were found for citywide parent leaders such as Ernest Clayton, then the head of the United Parents Association, once the city’s most visible parent group. When was the last time you heard about the United Parents Association?

On Wednesday, the mayor and chancellor announced, at a hastily called press conference, the appointment of a “chief family engagement officer” for the public schools, Martine Guerrier, who had been the appointee of the president of Brooklyn, Martin Markowitz, to the Panel for Education Policy.

The cost of all this has risen. Mr. Clayton was brought into the fold as a parent support officer in Queens for a mere $60,000 salary. Ms. Guerrier is being paid a cool $150,000.

The announcement was made just hours before a rally was held at St. Vartan’s church in Murray Hill. The rally was sponsored by the Working Families Party, the political arm of the city’s unions and left-wing “organizing” groups such as ACORN.

This must come as a disappointment to the mayor and chancellor, who have gone so far as to give groups like ACORN and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition control over some of the new small high schools.

Certainly, the United Federation of Teachers is doing all it can to encourage the outrage. But the concern of parents throughout the city is real. It emanates from the mistakes made by a top-down structure that has systematically excluded New York’s greatest strength, our communities.

Last week, scores of angry parents couldn’t get into a forum with the chancellor in the South Bronx because the room was filled. In Forest Hills, parents at a middle school are upset that one of the new small high schools will be placed in their building. In Riverdale, parents are livid that their 5-year-olds who are accepted into a long awaited gifted and talented program may be bused to another school miles from home.

In Throggs Neck, parents are shocked that one of the city’s top middle schools, M.S. 101, is being dismantled. One of Brooklyn’s state senators, Carl Kruger, is upset that the gifted and talented programs in his district are being compromised, while Korean-American parents at the Bronx High School of Science feel their children have been discriminated against on foreign language offerings. There is plenty of grassroots outrage over the direction of the schools.

It’s no wonder that the chancellor, when in Albany on Monday, got a grilling by legislators. It is convenient for many, such as the editorialists at the New York Post, to lay all this at the feet of the UFT. But this is not a case of the dog eating the homework. The mayor and Mr. Klein are being graded by the public here, and the public is concluding that unfettered mayoral control has failed.

I favor the mayor running the schools, but under the watchful eye of an entity that can apply some restraint on foolishness when it occurs. The logic would be a reconstituted independent board of education. With the mayor term-limited, the principle of electoral accountability is, for the Bloomberg administration, moot. This issue will surely come before the Legislature, perhaps sooner than we think.

© 2007 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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