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Advocacy group vows to carry control fight into new school year

The fight over mayoral control isn’t over, according to a stalwart group of activists who convened a meeting Saturday to plan how to increase local control of city schools.

Comptroller candidate John Liu and mayoral candidate Tony Avella joined an energized and sometimes raucous crowd of around 70 public school parents, teachers and advocates at the launch event for the Coalition for Public Education, held at the lower Manhattan headquarters of the municipal union District Council 37.

The coalition could be one legacy of this spring’s protracted debate over school governance. That debate was finally settled, at least for the next six years, when Gov. Paterson signed into law a new bill that continues a modified version of mayoral control. Vowing to keep the fight against mayoral control going into the new school year, coalition organizers announced rallies in four boroughs for the first day of school next week.

“The struggle continues on this battle,” said Esmeralda Simmons, director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. “Do not be fooled into thinking that because something has happened in Albany, there’s nothing else that can be done.”

Conference organizers were joined by two of the state legislature’s staunchest mayoral control opponents, Senators Bill Perkins and Eric Adams.

Avella and Frances Villar, another mayoral candidate, also called for greater checks on mayoral power and for the phasing out of the city’s charter schools. Liu and public advocate candidate Norman Siegel made pitches for greater transparency and oversight of the Department of Education.

By the end of the afternoon, small groups of parents, teachers, students and activists had developed broad guidelines for the coalition’s continued work. Most recommendations revolved around the need for an independent parent union and more well-developed teacher training.

But, organizers said, if changes to school governance structure don’t happen soon, they will take increasingly vocal action. Organizers are already planning rallies at four schools around the city on the first day of school, though they have yet to decide the exact locations.

City Council member Charles Barron asked the audience to continue lobbying politicians for change in school governance. But if major change doesn’t come, he said, activists should organize massive nonviolent resistance to schools controlled by the mayor. More audio highlights from the event are below:

The smooth stylings of the “Say No to Mayoral Control” rap greeted parents and teachers as they arrived at the meeting:
Democratic mayoral candidate Tony Avella said that he would choose the next schools chancellor based on his or her experience as an educator in New York City schools:
Avella also argued that charter schools are a diversion from the real task of improving all of the city’s public schools:
Frances Villar, the 26-year-old Party for Socialism and Liberation mayoral candidate, explained why she also opposes charter schools:
Comptroller candidate John Liu praised the new school governance bill for granting the comptroller greater oversight over Department of Education contracts and said that he was eager to exercise that power:
Public advocate candidate Norman Siegel called for greater oversight of the Department of Education.
New York State Senator Eric Adams discussed the role parent involvement should play under the new school governance structure.