New York

As Albany huddles, a rally against "rubber stamp" school board

In the debate over the future of mayoral control, one sticking point has been the proper role of the city school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy. Today, a coalition pushing for significant changes to mayoral control is taking its PEP recommendations to the panel's front steps, at the same that state lawmakers are powwowing in Albany about the panel's future. Advocates for checks on the mayor's power say that the system needs an independent school board whose members can freely vote against mayoral proposals when appropriate. But Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have said that changing the composition of the PEP would introduce policy gridlock and undermine the mayor's accountability on education matters. The Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups, is calling on state legislators to change the panel's composition so that the mayor no longer controls a majority of seats. Campaign members are planning to rally in support of that position at 5:30 p.m. today outside Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, where the PEP is holding its monthly meeting at 6 p.m.   "We want to highlight the fact that the PEP is simply just a rubber stamp for the policies of the mayor," said Shomwa Shamapande, a campaign spokesman. About 200 campaign members are expected to protest before the meeting, then enter Stuyvesant's auditorium for the meeting itself, he said. By tonight, it's possible that a deal will have been struck about the future of the PEP.
New York

To kindergarten shutouts, top schools official says, "I'm sorry"

Anyone who stayed until the bitter end of a three-hour meeting last night about kindergarten waitlists in Manhattan got a surprise: an uncharacteristic apology from a top DOE official. Hundreds of parents turned out for a meeting of the parent council for District 2 to vent about having been shut out, at least for now, of their neighborhood schools. Last week, Manhattan parents protested at City Hall after 273 children were put on waiting lists at many elementary schools. Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm arrived late to the meeting after spending her afternoon dealing with the swine flu outbreak in Queens. She sat quietly in the audience and listened to a tense back and forth between school officials and angry parents. The auditorium had mostly emptied and council members were preparing to adjourn when Grimm approached the microphone to make a surprise statement, which I captured on video above. Here's a key part of what she said: I also want to say something that I thought I heard people from the DOE say tonight, but just in case you didn't, I want to say, I'm sorry. We're sorry. We have stumbled on some of this planning. The two officials leading the meeting told parents during the meeting that most schools should be able to eliminate their wait lists by the middle of June, after families find out where they've been offered seats in gifted and talented programs. John White, who heads the Department of Education's efforts to manage school space, said that more children in each area qualified for gifted admissions than there are children on the waiting list.