Thompson: Governance OK- With Changes
New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. recently unveiled a proposal to improve accountability and transparency in the New York City Department of Education by establishing a committee to appoint a stronger educational board and increase involvement of parents in the education of their children.
"As we look ahead to the sunset of mayoral control, we should reauthorize the law, but we must strengthen it and do a better job of enforcing its existing provisions," Thompson said in testimony before the New York State Assembly Education Committee in Brooklyn. "With an enormous stake in their children's educational success, parents must have a true voice in the decisions that impact their children's schools…It is time to put the 'public' back in public education."
This was the second time Thompson testified before the Committee on mayoral control. The Comptroller testified at a February 6 hearing, expressing his support for mayoral control but sharply criticizing the Mayor and Schools Chancellor for shutting out parents and allowing no-bid contracts to balloon.
At last week's testimony, the Comptroller proposed that the Department of Education's (DOE's) current Panel for Education Policy (PEP) be replaced with a 9-member school board appointed by the Mayor from a pool of nominees recommended by a nominating committee comprised of a cross-section of New Yorkers committed to student success. The board would serve fixed, two-year terms, be responsible for all matters of policy and serve as an appeal board for certain actions of the Chancellor.
Additionally, Thompson proposed that the nominating committee have 19 members, consisting of:
• Five members appointed by the Mayor;
• One member apiece appointed by Borough Presidents;
• Four parent members chosen by the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council;
• A teacher selected by the United Federation of Teachers;
• A principal chosen by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators;
• A college or university president selected by the New York State Education Commissioner;
• A member of the business community appointed by an organized business entity selected by the Mayor; and,
• An education school faculty member selected by the college or university president member.
Accordingly, the committee would nominate three candidates for each of the nine positions on the board - to be chosen by the Mayor. At least four of the nine must have a professional background in education, finance or business management.
"Under this system, based on models from Boston and Cleveland, the Mayor would continue to appoint the Chancellor," Thompson said. "The mayor and the Chancellor would also continue to exercise broad authority to direct policy, with the difference that - unlike the current system - voices representing students, parents and individuals with a wide range of education expertise will have a means to be heard."
Thompson concluded his testimony in noting that he and others are calling not for an end to mayoral control, "but a commitment to making it more transparent, more accountable, and more inclusive." Thompson added: "We must commit ourselves to the goal that every child entering the New York City school system is given the best opportunity to walk out of high school prepared for college and ready to take his or her place in the new economy of the 21st century."
Additionally, the Comptroller unveiled other proposals to improve mayoral control:
School Leadership Teams
Thompson recommended amending State Education Law to specifically state that District Superintendents' annual evaluations of principals consider a principal's record in developing an effective, collaborative School Leadership Team. "There must be a meaningful effort by principals to engage parents, not just lip service," Thompson said.
Community Education Councils
The DOE routinely ignores existing statutes governing Community Education Councils (CEC), rarely consulting them before schools open or close and not involving them in developing district report cards. The DOE has narrowly interpreted the Councils' statutory role in school zoning, denying them a voice in program offerings in their districts and schools. Additionally, Thompson noted that 9 of the 11 voting members of the CEC must be a parent of a child attending a school in the district and is selected by the President and Officers of a Parent Association (PA) of Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Thompson instead proposed that all PA and PTA leaders in a district meet and select from their members the nine to sit on the CEC.
Thompson called for an independent body to audit test scores and graduation rates. He said that concerns over data manipulation have arisen over the Department's trumpeted gains in test scores and improvements in graduation rates. "If the public is to trust the City's claims of gains, we must remove both the incentive and the opportunity to manipulate results," the Comptroller said.
"This goes to the heart of the educational mission to give our young people the skills they need - and the city needs - to compete in the new century," said Thompson.
Thompson noted that the DOE's budget nearly doubled - from $12.5 billion to $21 billion - since the mayoral control law was passed. "A lack of improved achievement to align with increased resources," he said, "threatens not only our students' future, but the very future of our city."
In earlier testimony, Thompson faulted the DOE for avoiding fair and open competition in the awarding of City contracts, noting the soaring rate of non-competitively bid contracts. Thompson said the DOE has executed millions of dollars in contracts forged outside the competitive bidding process. "With its top-down approach, the current administration has sought to avoid debate and public scrutiny, while fundamental decisions regarding education reform have been made by executives with no education background," Thompson said.