State Department of Education gives parents more input in New York City schools

State Department of Education gives parents more input in New York City schools
By Anna Gustafson

A ruling last week by state Education Commissioner Richard Mills gives parents more of a say as to what goes on in their children’s schools, according to Queens parents, area legislators and city education advocates.

Mills ruled the city Department of Education illegally changed in December 2007 a regulation about School Leadership Teams, a group made up of parents and school staff. City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein then said the SLTs did not have the right to finalize schools’ budgets and comprehensive education plans, and he instead handed that authority to principals.

While Mills said principals, not the SLTs, have the right to finalize budgets, he decided members of the SLTs and school principals need to together develop and finalize the comprehensive education plans.

“The chancellor’s revised SLT regulations were yet another insidious way in which this administration has systematically attempted to strip away the ability of parents to have a voice in how their children are educated,” said Douglaston resident Marie Pollicino, who has a child enrolled in Flushing’s PS 98, in a statement.

Pollicino filed the complaint about the SLTs with the state Department of Education in December 2007. The United Federation of Teachers; Community District Education Council 26, of which Pollicino is a member; and Melvyn Meer, a parent of two children in PS 188, added themselves to Pollicino’s complaint.

CDEC 26 covers 31 schools in Fresh Meadows, Bayside, Flushing, Queens Village, Floral Park, Little Neck, Bellerose, Glen Oaks and Douglaston.

State lawmakers in 2002 gave Bloomberg control of the city’s school system, effectively dissolving the 32 local school boards and creating Community Education Councils. City officials have lauded the change, citing higher graduation rates, but parents and education advocate groups like Class Size Matters have railed against mayoral control, arguing the centralized system dissuades DOE officials from answering parents’ concerns.

Forest Hills resident Deborah Dillingham, president of the Parents’ Association at PS 101, said she was elated with Mills’ ruling.

“I’m thrilled by this decision,” Dillingham said. “My job as part of the SLT is not to go and eat cookies and tell the principal they’re doing everything great. My job is to go and improve things like the reading and writing programs.”

State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D−Little Neck) agreed.

“Parents have almost no say whatsoever,” Weprin said. “School Leadership Teams should have the ability to make changes in schools because they’re the ones who know what’s going on in the schools.”

City DOE officials said they plan to revise the language of the regulation that was changed, as ordered by Mills.

“We are pleased the commissioner ruled that under state law principals make final decisions about school budgets,” said Maibe Gonzalez−Fuentes, a DOE spokeswoman. “It has always been our position that a school’s comprehensive education plan should be developed collaboratively with the School Leadership Team. School Leadership Teams are an integral component of local accountability for student outcomes and key to our family engagement strategy.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.