By Alex Davidson
Borough politicians opposed to Mayor Bloomberg’s consolidation of local school districts into larger regional zones have introduced state and city legislation in attempts to block the reforms that are scheduled to take effect in September.
State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), along with City Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside), said he was opposed to the mayor’s plan to lump together the 32 school districts into 10 regions. Padavan is the sponsor of a senate bill that would make the changes illegal, while Weprin and Avella put forth a bill that would urge the state Legislature and governor to work against the reforms.
“We didn’t give him this authority last year and this new legislation clarifies that,” said Padavan, who as a legislator gave Bloomberg limited power to reform the city’s public school system. “Closing district offices and removing talented and dedicated superintendents won’t improve parental accessibility, it will hamper it.”
Padavan, who first talked about his legislation April 4 at an education meeting in Brooklyn, is offering an amendment to the state’s education code that would require each community school district to have its own superintendent and office support staff. Right now, the education code says each district must have an adviser but not specifically its own superintendent, staff and office.
The amendment would thus end speculation as to whether the 10 new regional superintendents could satisfy state law by doubling as both local and regional superintendents. State Sens. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), Ada Smith (D-Jamaica) and Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) pledged support for Padavan’s amendment, a spokesman for Padavan said.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no superintendent shall be assigned to more than one community district at the same time,” the amendment reads.
Padavan and other borough legislators have opposed the Republican mayor’s reorganization plan for the city’s school system since it was introduced in January. In February, Padavan and Maltese wrote the mayor a letter requesting he stay in more frequent contact with state legislators before announcing any more reforms.
Weprin said the revised state law would require the 32 individual school districts to each have its own superintendent and district staff, which would contradict the mayor’s consolidation plan. He said he and Avella sponsored the resolution to ensure parents have a local contact and are not shut out of the educational process.
“We are urging the Legislature and the governor to draft legislation and sign it to basically prevent the mayor and chancellor from dismantling the legal entities of the districts,” Weprin said. “The benefits of involvement by parents and community members in supporting local schools as well as having an input into shaping educational policy is a very important part of our civic fabric.”
Weprin’s 23rd Council District covers Districts 26 and 29, including the communities of Little Neck, Glen Oaks, Queens Village, Hollis and Bellerose.
“You’re telling (parents) they can’t go to a local office in their district,” said Weprin, who is frustrated that District 26 parents would have to travel to former District 25 or District 29 headquarters to be in contact with city education officials. He said he has received lots of angry phone calls and letters protesting the mayor and chancellor’s proposed reforms.
Avella, whose 19th Council District covers School District 26 and the communities of Bayside, Douglaston and Fresh Meadows, said he was unsure if the City Council would approve the resolution. He conceded that he and Weprin represent two of the best school districts in the city and have an interest in maintaining the current organization of the school districts.
“Other council people represent school districts that are not doing so well and want change,” he said. But he added that eliminating the 32 school districts and putting the remaining 10 “super” superintendents in Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan “goes in the direct opposite of having local control.”
Avella said he and Weprin decided to introduce the legislation following a suggestion by Padavan at a March 13 forum held by District 26 school officials and parents to block the proposed reforms.
Bloomberg and Klein have said they hope to initiate the 10 regional zones and eliminate the 32 school districts for the next school year that begins in September. The mayor and chancellor have already introduced plans to make old district offices into classrooms and have not renewed contracts with current superintendents — contracts that expire June 30.
“The mayor can improve curriculum and streamline bureaucracy without eliminating community school districts,” Padavan said. “Parents throughout our community are justifiably concerned and outraged.”
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156