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Gearing up for education overhaul - Special town hall held on the future of school governance

The New York City public school system could undergo a drastic makeover next year — and now’s the time for parents to play a part in the redesign process.

That’s the message City Councilmember Bill de Blasio delivered to parents at a town hall at Borough Hall on the future of school governance.

The state law giving the mayor control over the school system sunsets next year, so politicians are getting ready to review the law and decide whether to renew it as is, make changes or create a completely new system.

During these next few months, parents should speak to their State Senate and Assembly members to offer opinions on the effectiveness of mayoral control under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and suggestions for how the system should run in 2009, de Blasio said.

“This is a debate that will affect the lives of our children for many years to come,” de Blasio said. “If we all do this right over the next eight or nine months, there will be a lot of community hearings.”

While de Blasio said there have been some “impressive” reforms under Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Joel Klein, he noted that parental involvement has been lacking.

“To me, it is a lot harder to get information today than when we had a district-based system,” de Blasio said.

The councilman noted that it’s also difficult for parents to reach school officials. Before mayoral control, parents could bring complaints about principals to their local school board, he said.

Under the reorganized city Department of Education (DOE) system, there have been regional offices, district offices and various titles for staffers meant to address parents’ concerns. As a result, many parents have said it’s difficult to determine who to speak to.

Causing further problems, Community Education Councils (CEC), which replaced school boards when mayoral control was instituted in 2002, have limited influence with schools officials, often making them unable to handle parents’ complaints.

“Community Education Councils have not been given the support they deserve,” de Blasio said. “They have not been given the power they deserve.”

In the next few months, local elected officials and education advocacy organizations are expected to host public hearings and forums to give the public a chance to offer comments on mayoral control. The comments will be used to lobby state legislators as they review — and revise — the school governance law.

“We need everyone in this community to get involved in this process,” de Blasio said. “This is a very important time.”

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