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Task force on parent councils calls for mayoral control changes

A task force made up of parents and elected officials is calling on state lawmakers to restore some control over city education policy to elected parent councils in each district.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer formed the task force on Community Education Councils in June, after a disastrous election cycle enraged parent leaders. Today, several parent leaders joined Stringer in announcing the task force’s recommendations.

The recommendations include turning oversight of the councils over from the Department of Education to an independent agency, clarifying and broadening the councils’ responsibilities, and streamlining the election process.

Members of the task force were divided over which independent agency should supervise the councils and what specific policies parent leaders should be able to influence. But they all agreed that the DOE is incapable of engaging parent leaders.

“Our report lays out a road map for reforming the chronic mismanagement of the CECs, especially the ongoing failure to truly engage parents in the electoral process,” Stringer said today at a press conference.

Taking control of the CECs away from the DOE would cut at the heart of mayoral control — and would require state legislators to battle Mayor Bloomberg over the role of parents. When legislators originally gave control of New York City’s schools to Bloomberg in 2002, they created a task force on community involvement that concluded that parents should have a role in educational decision-making. But the school governance law gave the councils only limited responsibilities, chiefly redrawing school zone lines, and the city gave them little latitude.

Stringer said he has already begun “reaching out to our allies in the state legislature, both the Assembly and the State Senate” about introducing legislation in the next session, which starts in January, to hand control of the CECs to an independent agency.

Before that could happen, however, some details still need to be worked out. For instance, parents who participated on the task force — including CEC members Khem Irby, Noah Gotbaum, and Lisa Donlan, who attended today’s press conference — said they wanted an entirely new nonprofit organization created to oversee the district councils. Stringer said he would prefer that his office, and that of the other borough presidents, supervise CECs.

And the task force’s report did not suggest new responsibilities for the parent councils. Gotbaum said he hoped parents would be able to vote on any significant changes proposed to public schools, including closures, expansions and co-locations. While it was brought by parent leaders in prior meetings, Gotbaum said Stringer and other elected officials kept those specifics out of the report to avoid controversy.

“Clearly, we have some different approaches,” Stringer said of the differences. “But we all agree on one thing: the DOE has not proven capable of managing the elections or the CECs.”

Though it could be a long slog to execute some of the loftiest proposals, Stringer said some reforms could be implemented immediately. The parent advisory vote, for instance, which is part of the election process to appoint parent leaders and yielded record low turnout this year, should be abolished, task force members agreed.

“The consensus was that the advisory vote, though well-intentioned, the reality is it doesn’t work,” Stringer said.

The task force conducted surveys of CEC members as well as meetings with parent leaders from each borough. One of those meetings was hosted by Jesse Mojica, who at the time was serving as an education policy analyst in the office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Now, Mojica is on the other end of the criticism, as head of the city’s Office of Family Information and Advocacy.

In a statement, Mojica did not respond to any specific proposal but said that he is in the process of implementing his own changes to the parent engagement process.

“Since my appointment, my staff and I have met with CEC members and parents in all five boroughs to listen to their concerns,” said Mojica, whose title is executive director of family and community engagement. “We are taking steps to ensure that the 2013 election is well-managed and better reflects our commitment to building stronger partnerships with our families.”