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Boro presidents demand stronger Board of Ed and a meeting

The Manhattan and Brooklyn borough presidents are turning back on a tacit alliance with Mayor Bloomberg on school governance, demanding that the newly reconstituted Board of Education become emboldened and that the city reconstitute community school boards.

The presidents made the request in a letter to Deputy Mayor and Board of Education President Dennis Walcott today, asking for a Board of Education meeting as early as this August. They wrote:

The political situation in Albany remains unsettled, and while the Senate may return in the fall, experience has sadly shown us that even weeks of negotiation can prove fruitless. We must prepare for the possibility that the stalemate will continue and the Board as presently constituted will be the governing authority of the system and its more than one million children for some months.

The acknowledgment comes 22 days after the Board of Education first met in a scripted eight-minute session during which a majority vote called for the board not to meet again until September.

A third borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr. of the Bronx, endorsed the letter today in a statement, saying he wants to take the challenge a step further:

I would be willing to take their recommendations a step further and demand that the Board of Education meet as soon as possible to vote on each of the issues they have raised.

The three borough presidents alone cannot dictate what the Board of Education does, as they have only 3 of 7 votes. A meeting “as soon as possible” might also be hampered by the fact that Diaz’s appointee, Dolores Fernandez, is on vacation through Aug. 9, according to an e-mail she wrote to GothamSchools. Two other board members were appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, and the other two, appointees of the Staten Island and Queens borough presidents, include Walcott, a deputy mayor, and an ally of the mayor’s.

The full letter from Markowitz and Stringer is here, including a seven-point plan for how to reconstitute the pre-2002 school governance law.

UPDATE: I just spoke to Stringer, who disputed my characterization that he ever had an alliance with Bloomberg. “We never had an alliance,” he said. “We agreed on an approach, and we may all agree with this approach in 24 hours.”

Stringer, a former Assembly member, also predicted that the pre-2002 governance structure could last for “at least a year.” Lawmakers are not scheduled to return to session until January 1, 2010, but major bills like New York City school governance often take an entire session to negotiate.

Stringer said that the political reality means that elected officials must plan to follow the pre-2002 law, even if they support mayoral control, as Stringer and Markowitz both said they do in the letter to Walcott.

“When you quickly have to reconstitute a board, obviously you reconstitute a board so that you keep the system running, we don’t face lawsuits and dysfunction and political gamesmanship,” he said. “Now, going forward, we have to look at ways to make things better.”

Stringer said he is optimistic that Walcott will support his recommendations, noting that Stringer made the first suggestion to reconvene the Board of Education and the Bloomberg administration signed on.

UPDATE 2: The mayor’s office is signaling no interest in holding such a meeting. “We expect the governance debate in Albany to be resolved before the Board would need to meet,” Dawn Walker, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bloomberg.

7 Point Report Markowitz Stringer

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