Last night's Town Hall in Brooklyn was the first of many, according to City Council member Bill deBlasio, that will address issues raised by mayoral control of the city's schools -- a state law that's slated to sunset in 2009.
Most speakers described the erosion of public influence on public education due to mayoral control: Community Education Councils as weak substitutes for elected school boards; policy decisions (and PR disasters) enacted by remote DOE leadership; and the mayorally-appointed (and thus beholden) Panel for Educational Policy in lieu of the former Board of Education, whose antagonism to the Mayor -- any mayor -- was legion.
Parents brought specific and legitimate complaints about the high-school admissions process and the exclusion of special-education parents and students from many policy-level conversations. Martine Guerrier, head of the Office of Family Engagement, was present; more than a few charged her office with "Orwellian" practices and a dismissive, "we'll get back to you" philosophy. Notably, veteran school leaders said that parents are reluctant to step into leadership roles because of fears that their questions will lead to repercussions for their children.
In a practical reflection of the Mayor's corporate ethos, small-business providers of resources for English Language Learners said their bids were no longer welcome at the DOE, which restricted some bids to businesses worth $5 million or more. The irony is particularly stinging given that Local Law 129 provides preferential bidding practices for small businesses, especially those headed by minorities and women -- and that the DOE is apparently exempt from that ruling.