Assemblyman Benjamin: Senate Amendments to School Control Are a ‘Political Statement’

ALBANY—When the State Senate returns on Wednesday, it will take up a school governance bill passed by the Assembly as well as a separate bill amending it.

This means that the Assembly bill—which David Paterson has said he will sign—would become law, and any changes or input that some Senate Democrats hope to make will sit in purgatory.

Two sources involved with the internal negotiations in the Democratic conference say those changes will be codified into a chapter amendment, which would revise the law already on the books. If it were ever to pass the Assembly.

"If we didn't do it he first time, I don't see why we'd come back," said Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, a Bronx Democrat who is a strong proponent of legislation that vests power in the hands of the mayor. "It would be a political statement to the UFT and some of the other folks, but I don't think that's where we should be spending our educational dollars, training parents to be professional parents."

Dan Weiller, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, declined to comment on the chapter amendment.

As Benjamin suggested, a major component of the chapter amendment will be a provision to have an outside organization contracted to train parents to be involved, according to Senate sources. The Senate plan will also provide for more direct election of the members of community education councils, and create a commission to examine the effects of police officers in schools and another group to look at how the arts can be integrated into curricula. The chapter amendment will not add fixed terms for members of the Panel on Educational Policy or change the provision in the Assembly bill allowing the mayor to appoint a majority of its members

Some senators are still insisting that more has to be done to dilute the mayor's power over the schools, but they seem to be an shrinking minority. Sources predicted the Assembly bill—carried in the Senate by Frank Padavan, a Queens Republican—will pass with significant support from Republicans and several Democrats.

When asked what the Democratic conference's plans were regarding the bill, Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Senate president pro tem Malcolm Smith, said, "There is certainly an expectation to have a vote on mayoral control this week."

"It's an issue that's of grave importance to our conference especially due to the fact that an overwhelming majority of our members are products of our public-school system, and they want to make sure that the parents and the children that they represent have input into the system," he said.