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N.Y. Backs Parent, Teacher Role in School Decisions

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In the face of opposition from school beards, the New York State Board of Regents is pushing ahead with a plan to require districts to include teachers and parents in school decisionmaking.

Nearly a year in the making, the plan had undergone several revisions before the regents agreed late last month to a design mandating the participation of parents and teachers in the development of a school-reform plan. A controversial element of the measure would entitle teachers' unions to select the teacher members of the decisionmaking bodies.

Because the regents amended the proposed regulations, they cannot be adopted formally until March.

Officials of the New York State School Boards Association, however, have intimated they will sue the state if the regents adopt the proposal.

The school-boards association contends that the regulations violate state law by usurping the powers of elected school beards. The association also argues that the plan encroaches on the reform blueprint adopted last year by the regents, "A New Compact for Learning," because it orders local districts to take actions in the name of a reform measure championing decentralization.

The school-boards group also chafes at the role given teachers' unions by the plan. "This is a turf grab," said Louis Grumet, the executive director of the N.Y.S.S.B.A. "We say the teachers' union should not be the appointing body."

Mr. Grumet said his organization wants local school beards to be able to decide individually how to establish the shared-decisionmaking bodies.

Under a version proposed by Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol last November, districts would have had until February 1994 to draft their own plans, as long as in doing so they had substantial input from parents, teachers, and administrators.

But in January, the regents eliminated the voluntary-compliance option, maintaining that some districts would not include parents and teachers unless ordered to do so.

The N.Y.S.S.B.A. views the plan "as a threat to school-beard authority," said Patricia A. Keegan, a spokesman for the state education department, adding, "it's not meant to be." Calling the school boards' position "Neanderthal," Antonia Cortese, the first vice president of New York State United Teachers, said school beards would continue under the proposal to maintain and perhaps even strengthen their power.

"If they're that concerned about it, maybe the [regents] were right. We needed a mandate," she said, adding that no more than 200 of the state's 700-plus districts have voluntarily adopted shared decisionmaking.

"What the regents did was send out a clear message," she said. "They expect the schools to change, and they expect one of the vehicles [to be] a greater involvement of parents and teachers."

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