Sunday, February 1, 2009

Report from the Queens hearings on school governance

I arrived a Borough Hall at about 9:30 am and was told that the "mayoral fillers" were already there trying to take up all the front seats. The seating arrangement was changed so that scheduled speakers could actually sit towards the front. I was #7 and assured I should be up soon, as I had to be at a work-related event at noon.

Ms. Gotbaum [the Public Advocate] spoke about her commission's findings and then speakers #2 & #3 were Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and Martine Guerrier [head of DOE's Office of Family Engagement]. They also brought John White, from the Office of Portfolio Development and someone who was a special ed specialist for OFEA (despite the fact that she couldn't answer an Assemblymember's question about monitoring IEPs). They also had a posse of at least 12 Tweedies. [editor's note: as well as lots of political consultants/lobbyists from the Mayor's office, Learn NY, and charter school advocates.]

Dennis Walcott's introduction about himself was extremely too long. I don't really care how many feathers you need to put in your cap. Ms. Guerrier's presentation was also lengthy. Between them they spoke for over 50 minutes. It was a hard sell on all the "accomplishments" of the administration. The spin-doctoring and cooked numbers were out in full force. Despite my knowing the true reality of the wall of Tweed it saddened me to see our legislators making inquiries on issues the DOE should have provided answers to long before today's hearing and obviously had not. All of a sudden Tweedom want to speak to legislators they have dismissed and ignored; all in the name of mayoral control.

Some disturbing and misleading comments were made by the duo. Legislators only hear the whiny complainer parents, everyone else is happy. Dennis Walcott said that they had fulfilled the legal obligation of having District Superintendents. Graduation rates have skyrocketed. The system is better than ever. We are fully transparent and accountable. Martine Guerrier claimed that parental engagement and accountability are flourishing. Examples given included were parent surveys, parent coordinators, and workshops.

CECs [Community Education Councils] and SLTs [School Leadership Teams] are fully functional in the whole city; they have been provided with workshops.

We are now at over an hour and 20 minutes and parents are restless. This is a "public" hearing, after all, not a DOE campaign. It was as if they were using a filibuster, to take time away from parents that were there and waiting to speak. At 12:20 PM, I had to go to work and left. Assemblywoman Nolan, upset I did not have the opportunity to speak had someone read my testimony.

I felt the hearing was important and returned at 5PM. There were still some parents present and some had waited a very long time. I thanked Ms. Nolan and the Assembly members who remained and politely and respectfully commented on the DOE performance I had witnessed earlier. I stated that I truly believed the DOE crew abused the privilege given to them to speak first. I took the time to rebut some of the fiction I had heard in the morning.

Parents from D24, 27, 29 & 25 spoke about the need for more parental involvement and training , DOE's abuses of Title 1 funding, overcrowding, charter schools, and suggestions for empowering CECs and parents. -- Maria Dapontes-Daugherty, President of Presidents' Council, District 30 in Queens

Here are some news clips about the hearings: Debate on Mayoral Control of Schools Is Renewed (NY Times), Back to the chalk board, say parents (Daily News) , Committee On Education Debates Mayoral Control Of Schools (NY 1). For Maria's testimony, see above. Click here for a schedule of future hearings, including next Friday in Manhattan.

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