State lawmakers are warning that if the Department of Education doesn’t comply with the new governance law immediately, they will try to force them to.
School officials came under attack earlier this week when they laid out their time-table for implementing changes ordered by the legislature. The law required that community superintendents work exclusively “predominantly” with schools in the districts where they are assigned. Education department officials said that it would take a full school year to make that happen.
Assembly members critical of the department said this week that was too long.
“It’s violating, certainly, the spirit of the law,” said Assemblyman Alan Maisel of Brooklyn.
Maisel said that if the department continued to defy what he said was the intent of the law, legislators in Albany do have one recourse–amending the legislation. “There’s no law that says we couldn’t come back and come up with another piece of legislation,” he said.
“You’d have to spell it out so clearly that it would be beyond anybody’s ability to misinterpret,” he said. “I’m not sure quite how we’d have to do that, but it can be done.”
Maisel and others also charged that even when the superintendents are working in their districts, the education department is not giving them enough support to do their jobs properly.
The law added to the list of superintendent’s duties. But it only requires that the Department of Education hire “sufficient staff” to carry out their new tasks.
During Wednesday’s City Council hearing, Micah Lasher, the education department’s executive director of public affairs, told council members that three employees in each community district office — the superintendent, the district family advocate, and an administrative assistant — would be enough to carry out the responsibilities newly assigned to the superintendents in the new law.
When education department chair Robert Jackson expressed surprise that the department thought so few staffers would suffice, Lasher argued that it was too early to know whether the superintendent’s offices would need more staff to fulfill their new roles.
Community superintendents are legally mandated to supervise, evaluate and support principals in their school districts. Under the Bloomberg administration, they were also assigned to support rosters of sometimes more than 20 schools outside their district. Those responsibilities frequently kept superintendents from visiting and working with their in-district schools. The new legislation was intended to remedy that problem, lawmakers said.
Legislators also wanted to strengthen the superintendent to improve parental involvement. Superintendents are seen as the best direct line between parents and schools. Indeed, one of the two people who report to the superintendent is the district family advocate, who work with parents to resolve problems at schools. This is a change from last year, when family advocates reported to the central Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy.
But Queens Assemblyman Mark Weprin acknowledged that the phrasing of the law was unspecific and opened the door for wide interpretation by the education department. “I wish the record was a little clearer on what was meant,” he said.
Both Maisel and Weprin voted against the current legislation both when it passed through the Assembly’s education committee, on which they both sit, and when it was passed by the entire Assembly.