JOEL'S IN 'CONTROL'
RETURNS FIRE AT HEARING
By BRENDAN SCOTT in Albany and CARL CAMPANILE in NY
Last updated: 4:47 am
May 6, 2009
Posted: 1:48 am
May 6, 2009
Unflappable Schools Chancellor Joel Klein skillfully fended off a firestorm of criticism yesterday from Democratic state senators and other foes of mayoral control.
The hostile reception for Klein in a tense Senate committee hearing sent a clear signal that the battle over the school-governance law was near the boiling point. The seven-year-old law expires June 30.
For more than an hour, Klein counterpunched and landed blows as he touted accountability amid a flurry of questions.
State lawmakers announced plans to weaken City Hall's oversight over the massive school system in the name of increasing parental involvement.
Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan) dismissed Klein and called mayoral control a "disaster" and a "failure" and condemned Bloomberg's promotion of charter schools in his Harlem district.
"In communities of color, parents are fleeing their schools," Perkins charged. "How can we move forward to continue mayoral control as it is when in fact it has failed in terms of parent participation and racial polarization?"
Klein shifted in his chair as he listened and then responded firmly.
"Truly, I see it so differently from you," Klein replied. "When you create options for parents, what you're doing is giving them a lifeline for their children. The politics of it is very different from the reality."
Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) said he supported giving district school boards "some teeth" and warned Klein that the Senate was prepared to make drastic changes.
Klein said he opposed any proposal that would remove the mayor's control over the Panel for Education Policy.
"In the end if the PEP can overrule the mayor, then we're back to the old school make-up," he said.
"That is at the heart of mayoral control and mayoral accountability. In the absence of clear lines of accountability, school systems will not change."
The hearing room was packed with education advocates, parents, students, representatives of the leftist activist group ACORN and others bused up by the United Federation of Teachers-backed Campaign for Better Schools.
They held up signs asking "IS ONE-MAN RULE WORKING FOR OUR SCHOOLS?" until Education Chairwoman Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Westchester) noted that placards were banned from the room.
The hearing followed a nearby rally organized by the Campaign for Better Schools.