By Julie Shapiro
Parents do not need a role in decisions like new school sites or school zoning, Mayor Mike Bloomberg told The Villager last Friday.
Bloomberg said parents need only be involved in the micro issues of their childs education, like the students attendance, behavior and grades. It does not make sense for parents to be involved in larger issues like overcrowding, because those issues take years to resolve, Bloomberg said.
When youre talking about siting schools, youre not talking about parental involvement, he said, because the process from deciding you want to build a school, siting it and building it and moving your kid in your kids going to be through graduate school by that time. These things dont happen overnight. Youre talking about a different group of people who want to have some input: community activists. Nothing wrong with that, but its not parents.
Bloomberg drew the distinction between parents and activists during an hour-long interview Friday with reporters and editors from The Villager, Downtown Express, Gay City News and Chelsea Now, the group of four newspapers owned by Community Media.
Earlier this year, the state renewed mayoral control of the citys schools, keeping Bloomberg in his position of oversight and responsibility. Some parents opposed the renewal because they wanted a greater voice in the citys education policies.
In Lower Manhattan, parents pointed to the persistent elementary school overcrowding and the Department of Educations incorrect population projections. Those parents, who raised the problems months before the city acknowledged or addressed them, and who have sometimes suggested the solutions the city ultimately implemented, said the city could benefit from being required to listen and respond to parents.
For example, it was a local parent who first identified the site for P.S./I.S. 276, the soon-to-open green school in southern Battery Park City. And it was parents, together with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who successfully advocated for the city to open kindergarten classes this fall in Tweed Courthouse, on Chambers St., when it became clear that nearby P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 would not be able to handle the influx. In many cases, the parents fought for the new school seats even though their children did not directly benefit.
The new version of mayoral control does include provisions for parents to have more input in Department of Education decisions through the Community Education Councils, but many parents still want a larger say. Asked if the new version of mayoral control gives parents enough input, Bloomberg replied, I dont know what enough is.
He continued, Parent involvement should not be parent control. We have professional principals, administrators and teachers experts. They should design the classroom.
Bloomberg then described the improvements he has made in sharing information with parents about their childrens performance and their childrens schools, including parent coordinators, school report cards and surveys. Parents have more input now than they had under the old school board system, Bloomberg said.
For the first time, they really are involved, he said of parents. Is it enough? You know, most parents say yes.
But when asked about parental involvement in larger decisions, Bloomberg said they could have influence through the city councilmembers and mayor they elect.
You would never build Central Park, you would never build anything, if you always had nothing but community involvement, Bloomberg said. We have a democracy, not a republic, and the reason is you dont want to have a referendum on every single thing. You would never do anything that way.
And if thats the complaint, Bloomberg continued, if theyre talking about siting schools and that sort of thing, Im not unsympathetic, I think they [activists] should be involved, in fact they are, but its not parents.
Bloomberg said that whatever peoples criticisms of mayoral control, they cannot argue that test scores arent up and that this system of governance isnt better than the previous one: a politically hampered Board of Education.
Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is challenging Bloombergs bid for a third term in the Nov. 3 general election, argued in a separate interview last week that Bloombergs control of the schools has not been successful.
I dont think theyre better, Thompson said of the schools. I think the public relations is better.
But Thompson, who led the Board of Education in the 1990s, also said the two systems could not be compared, because the governance is so different now and the annual budget for the citys schools has nearly doubled to $20 billion since Bloomberg took over. Thompson had much less influence as head of the Board of Education than Bloomberg has now, because of the political structure of the old system.
Thompson also questioned the rise in student test scores over the past eight years, pointing to a recent report of fraud as supervisors feel pressure to show improvement. He also questioned the usefulness of focusing on test performance.
Youre taught to memorize things, Thompson said. Its not about critical thinking or comprehension
. I dont think our children are being prepared
to be able to compete.