Private Schools Get A Subcommittee

Private Schools Get A Subcommittee

What Orthodox councilman’s new body can — and can’t — achieve for day schools.

Amy Sara Clark writes about politics and education. A Columbia Journalism School graduate, she's worked at CBS News, The Journal News, The Jersey Journal, Mom365, JTA and Prospect Heights Patch. She comes to journalism from academia where she earned a master's degree in European History with a focus on Vichy France.

Private schools now have their own City Council subcommittee, chaired by an Orthodox councilman from Midwood.

There’s no doubt Councilman Chaim Deutsch’s subcommittee will give private schools of all stripes more attention at City Hall. But it’s not clear that will translate into cold hard cash.

Deutsch, who represents a heavily Jewish district that includes Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and parts of Midwood, said he pushed for the subcommittee to get private schools their fair share of public funds.

“I’m looking to … give our children in nonpublic schools the same resources as children in public schools,” he told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview last week.

And while the lion’s share of funding decisions happen in Albany, there are some areas where the City Council has the final say.

Take school security, for example.

Every public school has an unarmed security guard provided by the NYPD. Deutsch hopes his committee can help pass pending legislation, introduced in June by Borough Park Councilman David Greenfield, that would require the NYPD to provide safety officers to private schools upon request.

He also hopes to secure additional funding for nurses, afterschool programs, services for students with special needs and textbooks.

But while it remains to be seen whether the new subcommittee will bring additional funding to the schools, it will do so for the councilman: Like all committee and subcommittee chairs, Deutsch’s appointment comes with a stipend added to his $112,500 salary, in his case $8,000.

And, like all appointees, the yeshiva graduate backed Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito in her bid for speaker. He jumped on the bandwagon particularly early, something that the Bronx councilwoman promised she would “never forget” in a statement last December.

While committees are permanent and meet at least one a month, subcommittees are created year by year and can meet as often (or infrequently) as they wish.

Traditionally, committees and subcommittees have had about the same amount of power: not much.

But that may be changing said Ester Fuchs, who teaches political science and public affairs at Columbia University.

“The way it’s been structured in the past is that legislation doesn’t go to the floor unless it goes through the speaker, and Melissa Mark-Viverito suggested that she would be changing that,” she said.

And while most school funding decisions happen at the state level the city often has power over the specifics, said Marty Schloss, director of day school and government relations at The Jewish Education Project.

“There is a lot that comes from Albany, but there is a lot that comes from Washington through Albany and is implemented through the DOE [Department of Education],” he said.

“More importantly,” he said, the committee creates a “formal mechanism to represent the interest of the nonpublic schools.”

Plus, the subcommittee could be involved in regulatory oversight, said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, executive vice president of the haredi umbrella group Agudath Israel of America and chair of the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials, which represents nearly all private schools in the city.

If universal, full-day Pre-K comes to pass, the subcommittee could influence whether or not it would apply to private preschools, which, he pointed out, have more than 270,000 students, more than 20 percent of the city’s school population.

“When you speak about such a substantial constituency it’s about time that the council pays attention to it and does everything within their power to make sure these schools continue to survive and thrive,” he said.

Fuchs agreed. “That’s no guarantee that new policies will emerge, but it’s significant because it opens up the city council to a public conversation concerning nonpublic schools,” she said.

The appointment also shows that while Deutsch may be newly elected, he’s got City Hall politics down.

“He’s used his early support of the speaker to create a subcommittee that’s of critical importance to his constituency,” said Fuchs. “That’s smart.”

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