Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Notices from the Panel of Educational Puppets

In a notice dated 12/2/09, DOE announced a public review period for a new procurement policy, the closing of 20 schools (euphemistically, "significant changes in school utilization") and revisions to "regulations." The scope of the latter was not made clear until DOE posted the full list on December 11th: no fewer than ten Chancellor's Regulations, including those governing Parents' Associations, School Leadership Teams and district and citywide councils, were to be voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy at its January 26, 2010 meeting. No notice was sent directly to the organizations affected by the proposed changes, not even to CPAC, the parent body set up by the Chancellor himself to "advise" him.

Sensing the growing fury against wholesale closing of schools without a proven plan to improve the education of the children in them, Klein evidently decided the PEP should at least pretend to listen to the populace at the January meeting. But he took pity on the members and dispatched a spokesman to Gotham Schools with news of a shortened agenda--no pajamas needed because the regulations would be considered at a "special mid-February meeting." However, DOE did not bother to change the notice on the website, leaving many parents confused about what exactly was going to be taken up on January 26 besides closing schools (a letter from CPAC's co-chairs asking for clarification on the agenda and requesting that the meeting on the regulations be deferred until late February went unanswered).

After the meeting, the PEP website (fittingly, just a tab on the DOE website) was revised to indicate that "At the January 26, 2010 Panel meeting, the Panel voted to postpone the vote on Regulations until February 10, 2010." To view the text of the regulations on the agenda, one must "click on the [corresponding] public comment period"--December 11, 2009 - February 8, 2010. However, the web page that actually lists the regulations still indicates that "Oral and written comments on these Regulations will be accepted from December 11, 2009 to January 25, 2010." The public is obviously entitled to assume comments will be taken until February 8th, but it is telling that-- as with practically everything DOE does that involves parents-- DOE feels no need to put out information (even legal notices) with a minimal level of professionalism.

Moreover, the website notice was silent as to the time and place for the meeting (Murry Bergtraum High School, 7:15 pm) until today. The PEP Bylaws provide that notice for a “calendar” (a.k.a. regular) meeting must be sent at least 10 business days in advance of the meeting and must include date, place, time and the agenda. If this were a regular meeting, the PEP arguably met the 10-day deadline, but with a defective notice since place and time were not timely included. However, the meeting on the regs will be a “special calendar meeting,” for which the bylaws provide only that notice must be given "where possible …. to each panel member .. not less than 24 hours in advance of the meeting.” In other words, the PEP bylaws do not provide for public notice of a special meeting.

Assuming no more stealth revisions were made to the regulations after December 30, the PEP has apparently also met the minimum requirements of its bylaws for a public comment period (45 days, including 15 days’ if substantive revisions are made) by posting the proposed regs on its website on December 11. Of course, these are minimum requirements that may and should be expanded where appropriate, as urged by CPAC in two separate letters to the PEP and Chancellor Klein. CPAC requested the regulations be considered at the March calendar meeting or, if at a special meeting, no earlier than late February in order to give parents and parents’ associations time to review and thoughtfully comment on these rather dense documents. Silly CPAC for believing a response might come from puppets—the PEP marches on with whatever schedule and agenda DOE dictates.

In the regulations expected to be rubber-stamped on February 10, DOE mandates parents’ associations send written notices to individual parents (by mail or backpack) at least 10 school days in advance of all meetings. No exceptions. Notices must include date, time and agenda. No exceptions. And those of us who have had dealings with OFEA and/or its predecessor (OPE) know that DOE interprets these requirements very strictly when it comes to PAs, missing no opportunity to tie them up in grievances for months. You see, DOE believes PA officers—volunteer leaders of organizations with little money and no staff support--must do their utmost to give actual notice to individual parents; a website posting or even an email will not do. Obviously, DOE does not subscribe to the old adage that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. (incidentally, the PEP bylaws repeatedly refer to notices and other items being made available to the public “including including via the Panel’s official internet web site.” Query: where else are these things made available?)

The PEP bylaws also provide that the PEP “shall make available to the public…..an assessment of the public comments concerning the item under consideration prior to 24 hours before the Panel vote on such item.” With the school closings, boilerplate prepared in advance and cut-and-pasted was passed off as the required assessment. This won't be as easy to manage with comments on the regulations. I suggest parents inundate the PEP with last-minute comments (see here for the list of regulations and DOE staff to whom comments should be sent). Since they will not be considered seriously in any event, we can at least have the satisfaction of making them sweat to come up with plausible "assessments" between midnight on February 8th and 7:15 pm on February 9th.

1 comment:

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