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As Albany huddles, a rally against "rubber stamp" school board

In the debate over the future of mayoral control, one sticking point has been the proper role of the city school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy. Today, a coalition pushing for significant changes to mayoral control is taking its PEP recommendations to the panel’s front steps, at the same that state lawmakers are powwowing in Albany about the panel’s future.

Advocates for checks on the mayor’s power say that the system needs an independent school board whose members can freely vote against mayoral proposals when appropriate. But Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have said that changing the composition of the PEP would introduce policy gridlock and undermine the mayor’s accountability on education matters.

The Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups, is calling on state legislators to change the panel’s composition so that the mayor no longer controls a majority of seats. Campaign members are planning to rally in support of that position at 5:30 p.m. today outside Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, where the PEP is holding its monthly meeting at 6 p.m.
“We want to highlight the fact that the PEP is simply just a rubber stamp for the policies of the mayor,” said Shomwa Shamapande, a campaign spokesman. About 200 campaign members are expected to protest before the meeting, then enter Stuyvesant’s auditorium for the meeting itself, he said.

By tonight, it’s possible that a deal will have been struck about the future of the PEP. State Senate Democrats are conferencing right now to develop a “statement of intent” about mayoral control (even before they finish holding public hearings on the subject), the Daily News’ Elizabeth Benjamin reported today. Benjamin said one lawmaker told her that it is likely that Mayor Bloomberg ultimately would get his way on the PEP’s makeup.

Shamapande told me that even if Bloomberg is permitted to continue controlling the majority of appointments to the PEP, the campaign is suggesting other ways for state lawmaker to make the PEP more independent. For example, the law could be changed so that appointees serve terms of a fixed length, rather than at the will of the mayor, he said.

“There seems to be considerable support in Albany on that,” Shamapande said. He told me that two lawmakers are planning to introduce bills “in the next couple of days” on the campaign’s behalf. On the House side, he said, the bill is set to be introduced by Assemblyman Carl Heastie of the Bronx.

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