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UFT unlikely to fight Silver but will push for a funded parent group

Randi Weingarten’s participation in a press conference today beside two groups who’d like to see changes in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s mayoral control bill doesn’t mean that she’s going to fight for those changes, too. Weingarten is being overall “very positive” about the bill, a union lobbyist in Albany told me.

“It would be very unlikely that we would oppose, because we think there’s so much good in here,” the lobbyist in Albany told me. “It would only be whether or not to issue a memo in support.”

Weingarten is still hoping that a parent initiative will get added into the law, and she met with lawmakers today to promote the idea, the lobbyist said. She and the other two groups are asking the state to fund a separate organization or initiative that would give parents a voice in the policy discussion. The idea is similar to one Weingarten endorsed in a speech last year, when she urged a community coalition that had fought budget cuts to become a permanent organization.

The clarification of her participation follows confusion among lawmakers about exactly where Weingarten stands on mayoral control, a state legislator told me today.

Another sign of ambiguity came in the form of a press release that never arrived. A source with the parent groups said the teachers union promised to take care of alerting reporters to today’s press conference. But no press release arrived in our inbox, and when I asked Ron Davis, a spokesman for the union, to look over a press release a parent group leader sent me, he said he didn’t recognize it.

Accentuating confusion among lawmakers was the fact that last week, a group of about 15 local union officials urged lawmakers to fight for fixed terms for school board members, but Weingarten did not weigh in. The lobbyist told me the union has now decided that fixed terms are not a likely possibility.

Here’s the full press release from this morning’s press conference:

For Immediate Release
June 15, 2009

For Information
Shomwa Shamapande, Campaign for Better Schools, 917-447-5752
Patricia Connelly, Parent Commission on School Governance, 718-812-6728
Brian Gibbons, United Federation of Teachers, 212-598-9233

MEDIA RELEASE

Campaign for Better Schools, Parent Commission on School Governance
and the United Federation of Teachers Call on
Assembly to Add Fixed Terms, Parent and Student Training and other
Key Elements to Mayoral Control Legislation
Albany —The Campaign for Better Schools, the Parent Commission on School Governance and the United Federation of Teachers called for additions to the State Assembly’s legislative proposal on Mayoral Control at the State Capitol today.

The focus of today’s press conference was on specific improvements that could be added to the Assembly proposal before it comes to a vote this week. Participants in the press conference called for:
• fixed terms for members of the PEP in order to ensure independence;
• strengthening parent and community engagement through an independent and publicly funded parent and student outreach and training initiative;
• guarantees that district superintendents will have the authority to do their jobs in their assigned districts;
• further protections for parents and community to have a role in decision making around school sitings, closings and insertions, and that these decisions are based upon an impact study that includes impact on English language learners, special education students, and the closing of the achievement gap; and
• the Department of Education to be required to comply with all relevant State and City laws.
• A two-year sunset to see if the governance changes have worked to increase and improve parent input into decision-making.

“These concepts are all squarely focused on ensuring a governance model that supports schools, engages parents and most of all, improves outcomes for our children,” said Randi Weingarten, President, United Federation of Teachers. “Collectively, these are reasonable and responsible measures that would keep the stability and cohesion of mayoral control while also addressing the shortcomings in the current model by institutionalizing checks and balances, transparency and voice. It’s a best of both worlds approach.”

“There has to be real teeth in this governance structure especially in regards to parent and student participation,” said Zakiyah Ansari a parent leader with the Campaign for Better Schools. “I have served on every parent structure in the school system, the lack of a funded and independent parent and student outreach and training center is a huge shortcoming in the current system and in the Assembly proposal. And locally, our schools need District Superintendents who have the authority to do their jobs in their districts. The Mayor has had seven years and hasn’t got it right. Parents are asking the Assembly to please listen: reform the law to include the voice of parents and students.”

“The Parent Commission is calling for an independent and publicly funded parent and community group to be established to strengthen the parent and community members role in decision making at the school, district and citywide levels,” said Benita Rivera of the Parent Commission.

“The Parent Commission also is asking for a two year sunset for the current legislation
on mayoral control so that we and the legislature can better evaluate whether the new
governance law is working properly,” said Tamara Rowe, President of the Presidents Council in District 2.

“Although there are several positive provisions in the Assembly proposal, on the two fundamental priorities in the debate it falls short of the mark,” said Billy Easton, of the Campaign for Better Schools. “The Panel on Educational Policy has no independence and not enough is done to engage parents and students which is why we are calling for fixed terms on the PEP and an independent and funded parent and student outreach and training center. There is still time to do something to address the need for PEP independence and meaningful parent and student participation.”

The partners in the press conference came together today as parents, teachers, students, community, and community based organizations to stand united in calling on the Assembly to add to its school governance bill a greater role for parents, students and the community in decision making at the school, district & citywide levels.

The Campaign for Better Schools and the Parent Commission on School Governance have sponsors for their separate plans for school governance and reform in the legislature. The Campaign for Better Schools proposal was introduced by Assemblyman Carl Heastie, Senator Kevin Parker and others as the Better Schools Act (A8478/S5576). The Parent Commission proposal was introduced by Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell and Senator Shirley Huntley and others as the Education Through Partnership Act (A8550/S5739). A central feature of the Education Through Partnership Act is a provision calling for a stakeholders’ commission to draft a consensus document, for the legislature’s approval, including the mission, goals and operating principles for the NYC school system.

There are several items in the Assembly proposal the participants in the press conference support including:
• having the Independent Budget Office prepare analysis and evaluations of Department
of Education programs and student outcomes;
• having the New York City Comptroller perform fiscal audits of the Department of Education;
• adding basic public notice and public hearing to various procedures,
• requiring that School leadership teams have the central role in developing Comprehensive Education Plans and School-based budgets.

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