NYTimes.com Article: U.S. Backs Parent Councils to Replace School Boards
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U.S. Backs Parent Councils to Replace School Boards
December 31, 2003
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
The federal Justice Department granted preliminary approval
yesterday to a plan to replace New York City's 32 elected
school boards with parent councils, city officials said.
The councils were created in a new state law earlier this
year, as part of the continuing effort to reshape
governance of the city schools. Last year, the State
Legislature gave Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg direct control
of the system.
The new system, which was meant to give parents a bigger
voice, calls for the P.T.A. president, treasurer and
secretary - the three officers required in each school - to
cast two votes each in picking the nine parent members of
the new councils.
For each council, the borough president will appoint two
additional community members and the local school
superintendent will name a nonvoting student member.
The 32 councils will assess superintendents and will
approve school zoning lines, but have little real power
with no budgetary authority or control over hiring school
Supporters of the plan said the federal government's
approval heralded an end to the city's school boards and
their long history of corruption and political patronage.
"The final approval by the Justice Department, I think,
ushers in a new day for more effective community
representation," said Assemblyman Steven Sanders, a
Manhattan Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly's
Mayor Bloomberg issued a statement applauding the decision.
"We are pleased that the Department of Justice has
pre-cleared our plan to replace school boards with
community district education councils," the statement said.
"These new education councils are part of our school reform
plan and aim to increase the role of parents. Where parents
are involved, schools work, which makes this is a great
victory for our 1.1 million schoolchildren."
The new system was subject to clearance by the Justice
Department's Voting Section because it will have an impact
upon voting practices in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx,
three counties that are specifically covered by the federal
Voting Rights Act.
In a two-paragraph letter faxed yesterday afternoon, Joseph
D. Rich, the chief of the Voting Section, told the city's
corporation counsel, Michael A. Cardozo, that the attorney
general would not oppose the new parent councils. But the
letter also noted that the Justice Department's decision
does not prevent opponents of the plan from suing to stop
A chorus of critics had urged the federal government to
reject the plan, saying that it tramples on the voting
rights of minority parents because schools lacking parent
associations tend to be predominantly minority and because
at racially mixed schools, white parents are more likely to
be P.T.A. officers.
In New York, schools have the option of having parent
associations or parent-teacher associations. But many
schools in the city have neither.
In a letter to the Justice Department this month, Cordell
Schacter, the president of Community School Board 10 in the
Bronx, wrote that the new councils "will be selected using
methods that fail to protect the suffrage of minority
Under the previous system, all citizens - even those
without children in school - were eligible to vote. And
some opponents argued that the new plan disenfranchised
citizens whose taxes help pay for the school system but
cannot vote because they do not have school-age children.
Assemblyman Sanders said city officials were now obligated
to set a schedule for council elections and to ensure that
all parents have an opportunity to elect the parent
association officers at their school.
"That election process must ensure that every parent in
every school has had an opportunity to help select the
parent association representatives who will in fact be the
electors for these new councils," he said. "That now
becomes the critical part of this process."
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