Fix City's Flawed School System Once And For All

Ruben Diaz

February 12, 2007

"Here we go again!" is the usual reaction of many parents and community leaders to Mayor Bloomberg's plan to restructure the city's flawed public school system yet one more time.

On Feb. 8, state Sen. Rubén Díaz (D-Bronx) - not one to mince words - wrote the mayor an open letter expressing his concerns. He had this to say to the Daily News:

"I supported him and his education plans," Diaz said, remembering that he had gone against his party and backed the election of Bloomberg, a Republican, in 2001. "But he has created chaos in our school system, and I have a right and a duty to say so."

Actually, Bloomberg went to great lengths to bring Díaz into his camp, taking him in 2000 to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on his private plane. During those trips, he told Díaz that he wanted to be "the Education Mayor" and that he planned to overhaul the school system.

"I was impressed," Díaz said. "I was well aware of how badly the former Board of Education had failed our children and we all were looking for a savior - and thought we had found him."

But as it turned out, Bloomberg would not be the messiah after all. Díaz makes that clear in his letter in which, among other things, he asks for Chancellor Joe Klein and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott to resign.

Klein and Walcott "are supposed to advise you and clean up the mess; instead, it is sad to see that the Department of Education you created in place of the School Board is a mess," the letter reads in part. "You created school districts to fix the problem and that was a mess that now you are dismantling to create something new."

No one knows what this "something new" really is, Díaz said. "They are creating another monster and have not said what it is. They only say it is a 'done deal.'"

The mayor disagreed, and said so later in remarks he made before testifying on Gov. Spitzer's budget proposals.

"Senator," he said, referring to Díaz, "I think, unfortunately, you missed the day when the news covered my budget on education where I did point out the disgraceful disparity between some schools getting up to $2,000 more per capita than others and where we talked about how Dennis Walcott and Joel Klein and the rest of our administration were trying to even that out and rectify something that's been done based on politics over many, many years. The good news is that we are making progress."

Díaz is not the only one who is disappointed. Parents and community members also are up in arms.

They have not been consulted, they say, and most of the mayor's promises to fix the school system were, as far as they are concerned, just empty words.

"To radically reorganize the system once again is completely irresponsible," said Lenore Brown, a NYC Coalition for Educational Justice leader. "Since 1999, the percent of eighth-graders reading at the state standard has gone up by only 1%, to 37%. The new reorganization does nothing to turn this around."

Parents say that it also does little to address critical issues facing the city's lowest performing schools in low income black and Latino neighborhoods.

As Díaz says in his letter, "Our schools are still overcrowded. The dropout rate among minority students continues to grow. Our students continue without materials and without the necessary resources compared to other areas. Now, another mess has been created with the bus transportation for our children."

The coalition, formed by Make the Road By Walking, ACORN and the Brooklyn Education Collaborative, also says that the mayor and the chancellor do not pay attention to what parents and the community have to say.

They "came up with this scheme without ever asking parents or teachers what's working and what needs to change," said parent leader and coalition member Ana Cartanega. "It's our children that will continue to suffer."

Originally published on February 11, 2007