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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

      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
      Education Committee.

      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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