Compromise On School Law Reinstates Districts
Mayor Bloomberg’s radical revamping of the New York City school system faced a serious setback last Tuesday when the city settled a lawsuit forcing it to keep all 32 city school districts intact, prompting the opposing sides to simultaneously declare victory.
A plethora of plaintiffs - including State Senator Carl Kruger, Assemblyman Steven Sanders and President of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators Jill Levy – sued Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein following the Mayor’s attempted restructuring of the city’s public school system in January. The lawsuit contended that the Mayor’s actions exceeded his power violating New York State law by abolishing school districts that were created by the New York State Legislature.
The out-of-court settlement that came after more than a week of negotiations will preserve all 32 superintendents and their offices, but has no bearing on other aspects of the Mayor’s plan to rejuvenate the city’s schools. "Our position is that, in their zeal to reform the education system in the City of New York, they exceeded their legal authority by attempting to do away with community school districts and district Superintendents," said Bruce Baron, attorney for the plaintiffs. "The settlement recognizes that fact."
Oddly enough, both the plaintiffs and the Mayor’s office claimed last Tuesday’s settlement to be a boon to their cause. "This is a victory for all New Yorkers," said Kruger. "After all the hue and cry, the city was finally forced to concede that it made a mistake in its rush to accomplish public school reform, which is itself a worthy and important goal. Reform the public school system all you want – but don’t break the law when you do it."
Klein also claimed the settlement to be a victory. "Now we can focus even more sharply on the business of creating 1,200 great schools," he said. "Today’s agreement demonstrates that people can effectively resolve their differences if they stay focused on doing what is right for New York City’s school children."
Local school board members are far less optimistic about the settlement. "I’ll see victory when I see the kids doing better," said Jim Adams, of Community School Board 27. His colleague offered similarly negative sentiments. "I promise that the Chancellor will do everything in his power to ensure this doesn’t work," said Steve Greenberg, President Community School Board 27.
In January, the Mayor proposed consolidating the 32 school districts into 10 Instructional Leadership Divisions headed by 10 regional superintendents, who would oversee 113 local instructional supervisors, who would each oversee 10 to 12 of the 1,200 city schools. According to the terms of last Tuesday’s agreement the superintendents of the 32 districts will serve double duty, at the same pay, working as a Local Instructional Supervisors (LIS), as well. The new LIS duties will be to serve as the instructional supervisor for 10 or more schools while simultaneously fulfilling all the inherent responsibilities of the superintendent.
"The key point is that we have eliminated the bloated district bureaucracies while also assuring a point of access for parents in the districts beyond those already in the schools and Learning Support Centers," said Klein. Office staff will be reduced to three people in each district office; an LIS - also serving as superintendent, a District Parent Support officer and a clerical worker.
The lawsuit, which had the potential to derail the Mayor’s restructuring of the city schools, has been settled and educators aim to return to the task of improving city schools. "Now there is no question that in September, the entire school system will be operating consistent with existing state law," said Levy. "We wanted to make sure the city’s plan went forward without a cloud of accusations and criticisms. We achieved just that."
Under last Tuesday’s deal, the Mayor’s plan is set to take effect July 1. "The agreement ensures that the Mayor and Chancellor’s central authority will be complemented, as legislators intended it, with local dialogue and interaction between community school district superintendents, parents and local communities," said Steve Sanders, State Assemblyman. "Parents retain local access to the school system through community school district offices and the accountable local community school district superintendents."
While elected officials are confident about the new direction for the city’s school system, the community remains wary. "I have no idea what this settlement means, nor does Chancellor Klein, nor does Michelle Lloyd-Bey, nor does Kathleen Cashin…," said Greenberg. "Nobody has any clue what is going to happen."
Namely, there’s a concern that the children will suffer because no one will be accountable to the community such as the school boards, which will become defunct June 30. Parents with grievances will be sure to find decreased lines of communication when school opens in September. "It is lousy for the community, because there is no representation," said Adams.
Local school officials were contacted for comment but are not permitted to speak with the press. "That in and of itself says something about this administration," said Greenberg.
As the Bloomberg administration concentrates its efforts on reducing the size of the bureaucracy that surrounds the city school system, his detractors maintain that reducing class size will have the greatest impact on improving education. "Till they’re ready to invest the money in reducing class size, you’re going to have problems," said Adams.