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Assembly Democrats Join Calls To Ax N.Y.C. School Board

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Democratic leaders in the New York Assembly have joined New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the City Council, and other state and local officials in calling for the elimination of the city's current school board.

Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the legislature's lower house, announced on Feb. 15 the proposed elimination of the current board structure by 2000 as part of an overall plan to reorganize the governance of the nation's largest school system.

Though elements of the proposal differ widely from a reform plan offered by the mayor last fall, Mr. Sheldon's announcement puts nearly every major player in the state behind the movement to overhaul New York City's schools.

"All of these things suggest that if there was a time the legislature would act, this is the time," said Robert Berne, a co-director of the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. "All of the pieces of the puzzle are on the table."

The Democratic proposal is the latest offered by state and city officials that criticizes the district for a lack of accountability at its top levels and for political patronage and corruption at its lower levels.

"It's now so complex and so diffuse that no one takes responsibility," said Raymond Domanico, the executive director of the Public Education Association, a New York City education-advocacy group.

The Democratic plan calls for a new board of five mayoral appointees and 14 elected members. Currently, the city's five borough presidents each appoint one school board member, and the mayor appoints the other two.

Proposals Differ

While supporting the abolition of the current board, officials in the mayor's office said the Democratic plan to replace it with an even larger one would do little to solve the problem of accountability in the massive district.

"If you don't like education in New York, you can't hold anyone accountable for it," said First Deputy Mayor Peter J. Powers.

Mr. Giuliani's plan would create a new city agency for education by allowing the City Council and mayor to choose a commissioner of education, who could hire and remove principals and other administrators.

The Democratic proposal also would eliminate the school boards that now choose superintendents and elementary, middle, and junior high school principals in the school system's 32 community school districts.

In some of those districts, allegations have surfaced that members have used their authority to appoint principals for personal financial gain.

The 32 boards would be replaced by an even more localized network of 11-member councils to address policy concerns at individual schools.

Even though the Democratic plan includes those local councils, Mr. Domanico said it would leave too little power at the local level. The plan would also give greater management authority to the system chancellor, he noted.

Currently, Mr. Domanico said, most of the chancellor's powers concerning individual schools are limited to investigating charges of corruption and abuse, rather than managing schools that fail to meet academic standards.

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