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Suit May Block New York Board Elections

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A New York State judge has agreed to rule quickly on several key points of a lawsuit that could block the scheduled May 2 election for representatives to New York City's 32 community school boards.

The suit filed by a group of 29 politicians, board employees, and other interested parties seeks to overturn a new law designed to prevent conflicts of interest on the community boards.

About 20 of the plaintiffs in the suit are candidates for posts on the nine-member community boards but could be barred from serving under the new law. The law prohibits board employees and political leaders from sitting on the panels.

The lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of the city's decentralized school-governance system, saying it violates the one-man, one-vote principal inherent in the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause. The rationale for that claim is wide variance in size of the community districts, which range from 73,000 to 620,000 residents.

The community boards oversee the city's elementary and middle schools. Control of the city's high schools and responsibility for monitoring the entire system rests with a central school board appointed by the mayor and the five borough presidents.

At a hearing last week, lawyers for both sides in the case agreed that the facts regarding these issues were not in dispute and agreed to abide by a summary judgment on the legal issues.

A ruling is expected early this week on those issues and on the plaintiff's request for an injunction to prevent the elections, said Robert A. Muir Jr., the lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit also alleges that the structure of the decentralized boards discriminates against minorities because it dilutes their voting power, Mr. Muir said.

The judge has ruled that that issue will have to go to trial, he said.

Despite the challenge, community activists are optimistic that the elections will help restore confidence in the district's 20-year-old decentralized governance system, which has been battered in recent months by a wide-ranging corruption scandal.--ws

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