By Rich Bockmann
It was just after 1 a.m. Tuesday — inside a Brooklyn high school auditorium that seemed all the more cavernous due to its mostly empty seats — that a city education panel approved what most presumed had been decided months ago.
After seven hours of comments and discussions, and with only a handful of people left to witness, the city Panel for Educational Policy voted for nearly 60 school closures and co-locations, including four in Queens.
The panel, composed of eight voting members appointed by the mayor and five by each borough president, was created when Mayor Michael Bloomberg assumed control of the city’s schools in 2002. In 11 years it has never voted against a city Department of Education proposal, a fact that infuriates many who believe ending up on a PEP agenda is a death sentence.
“You’re just here to make it happen — not to deliberate, not to opine. Just to do what you’re told to do, which is raise your hand when you’re told to raise your hand,” said Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan, who accused the mayor’s appointees of acting as a rubber stamp.
Indeed, that is what ended up happening. The mayoral members voted to approve every item on the agenda and, for the most part, the borough presidents’ appointees opposed them.
At the end of the night, the ax had fallen on two schools at the Magnet Campus Complex in Cambria Heights by a vote of 8-4. Beginning next year, the DOE will launch the three-year phase-out of the Business, Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship High School and the Law, Government and Community Service High School and replace them with a single school featuring a career and technical-education component.
Queens borough appointee Dmytro Fedkowskyj — who introduced a resolution to put a moratorium on closures, phase-outs and co-locations that was shot down — said the decision to close the schools reflected more on the mayor than it did the institutions.
“These proposals are divisive, disruptive and demoralizing to the principals, teachers, parents and students. When a decision is made to close a school after 11 years of education reform and mayoral control, it’s really a reflection on how the mayor’s policy failed some of our schools,” he told TimesLedger Newspapers. “The schools that needed specific attention. Our schools did what they were told to do and any decision to phase it out punishes the school community for following the rules.”
The panel also voted 8-4 to decrease student enrollments at Newtown and Flushing high schools to make way for new schools in their buildings that will address the needs of non-native English speakers, a practice known as co-location.
Chris Marzian, a teacher at Flushing High School, did not pull any punches when it came to expressing how he felt about Bloomberg’s education policies.
“The mayor is showing signs of being a communist,” he wrote in an e-mail. “He chose a panel with seven people out of 11 working for him to ensure that whatever he wants passes. He’s disguising it as a democracy.”
Prior to the meeting, the DOE withdrew a proposal to close PS 140 in South Jamaica.
City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, a non-voting member of the panel, defended the unpopular proposals.
“We understand the anger, the reaction on the parts of parents and teachers,” he said. “But at the end of the day the decision is mine.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.