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Klein urges CECs to keep meeting, though they don't legally exist

A day after mayoral control’s expiration, the Board of Education has been resurrected, but there are no signs of life for community school boards.

Instead, the Department of Education is planning to continue the Community Education Councils — despite the fact that they no longer legally exist. These parent councils replaced school boards in 2003 and, with the law’s expiration, have been legally stripped of their authority and responsibilities.

Chancellor Joel Klein, who was voted back into office unanimously today by the new Board of Education, sent a memo to principals today outlining his plans for the CECs. He said he is urging the CECs to continue meeting “at least until September when we hope to have more clarity.”

“If the Councils decide not to continue their work, we’ve asked them to notify us immediately,” Klein wrote.

The decision to create of a Board of Education and vote in a chancellor while leaving the rest of the power structure as it was under mayoral control has divided the system into old and new. The school system’s top half is in compliance with pre-2002 law, while its lower quarters legally don’t exist.

DOE officials say they cannot bring back school boards because the law does not allow for an election until May of 2010. Sources who have worked under the old system said in interviews that they disagree. They contend that the chancellor could appoint interim trustees to fill school board seats, or he could go to court and ask that CECs be converted into school boards.

According to the DOE’s own internal memo, without school boards, the city’s superintendents cannot obtain legal contracts. Although Klein can select and pay superintendents, under the pre-2002 school governance law, superintendents can only sign a contract with school boards.

From there, the situation only becomes more confusing because the existing superintendents will have no legal authority to hire or fire teachers.

Asked whether superintendents will have any control, DOE spokeswoman Melody Meyer said, “We’re trying to figure that out.”

Administrative assistants to the CECs will continue to be paid.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of the nonprofit group Class Size Matters and a member of the Parent Commission on School Governance, said keeping the CECs in operation was a good idea.

“At this point they’re the only legitimate voice of parents out there,” she said. “Whether they have legal status or not makes no difference to me because whatever legal status they have had in the past has been ignored.”

The CEC for District 1 has already taken matters into its own hands. CEC president Lisa Donlan said the council met this morning and passed a resolution requesting that the DOE appoint its current members to a community school board.

Klein “says he can’t appoint trustees, so that’s why we made the resolution,” Donlan said. “We’re trying to avoid that legal pitfall of inaction. Do I know if it’s illegal? No. We did this completely based on our interpretations of the situation we’re in now.”

Chances are that CECs will not be reincarnated as community school boards. “There’s no provision for that type of thing,” Meyer said.

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