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Boro educators air opinions on mayor’s control of schools

School governance is a hot topic in Queens even though the next time it is up for mayoral review will be when Mayor Michael Bloomberg steps down in 2009. But Borough President Helen Marshall convened a panel Tuesday at Borough Hall so that parents and educators could speak their minds about it.

"Parents come to meetings with concerns and nine times out of 10 the answer is we have to wait for direction from the Department of Education," complained one man from District 24. "Parents ask why do we come to these meetings if you can't do anything for us?"

With Bloomberg's controversial policy of mayoral control of the city's schools to sunset at the end of 2009, education advocates at the city and state level want to make sure they have plans to offer.

Marshall and Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the new Queens member of the city Panel for Educational Policy, and members of the city public advocate's Commission on School Governance heard opinions for two hours, which will be reported to the state Legislature.

Marshall did not sugarcoat her thoughts.

"I have never been in support of mayoral control," she said, likening policymaking to a democracy where all can participate.

Some of the speakers offered their own plans for the Education Department of the future, suggesting ways to increase transparency and community input.

"The present system would decentralize into district congresses" across the state, suggested Leo Fahey. "The state Legislature would establish a task force to investigate this governance model."

Gertrude Gonesh of southeast Queens asked for a return to monthly meetings with the community.

"Before you make a decision, bring it to the community and listen to the community," she said.

Others presented bullet point complaints about the system, its impenetrability and lack of communication.

"The Department of Education has very good programs, but they're not passing the information to parents," said LuMing Lee of District 26.

Jeannie Tsavaris-Basini, president of the Community Education Council of District 30, panned the DOE's treatment of special education programs.

"[If] a child is referred for a special education evaluation, it's not being done in a timely manner and the child is not being given services," she said.

Stephen Aiello, chairman of the Commission on School Governance, said he and his colleagues were meeting with borough presidents, the community and the public advocate to shape the city's education policy after 2009.

"Help us focus as we look at the law as it is now," he asked the speakers.

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