The Panel for Educational Policy, which has overseen some of the most raucous debates over New York City schools over the past 12 years, ended its legacy under Mayor Bloomberg quietly and unemotionally Wednesday night.
Just a handful of audience members showed up for the Bronx meeting, where there were no public comments and little debate among members as they passed two revised building-use plans and three co-location proposals — including the once-controversial plan to put a new district high school in the struggling Boys and Girls High School.
“You can kind of tell they’re just limping over the finish line,” said panel member and Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan, who has served since 2007 and has been one of the panel’s few voices of dissent.
The PEP, the 13-member group of appointees that approves the city’s decisions on changes like school openings, closings, and co-locations, has been the mayor’s mechanism for pushing through his education policies.
It’s unclear how the panel will function and who will serve on the panel under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who has said he agrees that the mayor should appoint the majority of its members. De Blasio has also said he will be revisiting the decisions made by the panel in the last months of the Bloomberg administration.
But last night’s meeting featured relatively few agenda items — a far cry from meetings like the one held in January 2010, when the Panel voted to begin closing 19 schools and change 32 building plans in an auditorium packed with emotional speakers and protestors. A hundred police officers and security guards were on hand then, and the city had even prepared a contingency plan to move the panel members into the gym if the protests grew too loud.
Nearly four years later, the city made sure the final PEP meeting wouldn’t play host to much protest. DOE officials had secured the support of the Boys and Girls High School’s advisory committee in recent weeks for a co-located school honoring Nelson Mandela, though the school had resisted co-location in the past.
Sullivan and the Brooklyn panel representative Fred Baptiste, who was appointed in August, were the only panel members to raised issues with various proposals during the meeting. While Baptiste abstained from voting on the Boys and Girls High School co-location, he made his concerns clear to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
“Our concern is [that] adding another school distracts from the mission of improving outcomes at Boys and Girls,” he said.
Walcott responded by listing additional resources the Department of Education has secured for the campus, including a new mental health center, new football field, and a new transfer school that opened in September.
Sullivan also raised a question about what kind of authority the panel and the DOE have in regulating charter schools. He specifically referenced the Daily News story about a “calm-down” room at KIPP Star Washington Heights Elementary School that is “about the size of a walk-in closet” and is used to pacify children when they get out of hand.
Walcott said while KIPP is a state-approved charter school and the city doesn’t have direct authority over its policies, the city will be raising questions. “I’ve been personally involved in discussions on this particular issue,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, Queens representative Dmytro Fedkowskyj said he was humbled by the opportunity to advocate for the city’s children. Fedkowskyj, who served for five and a half years, said his term will expire at the end of the month.
“It was frustrating and challenging but it was also rewarding,” he said.
Walcott ended the meeting on that note as well, thanking the panel members for serving, even though meetings often lasted long past midnight.
“Thank you for your service as volunteers — to give your time, energy, and your time and time and time, late into the night. And [for] our passionate debate around beliefs … even if they may be different at times.”