2012-04-20 / Top Stories

Look To Strip Mayor Of School Control

By Howard Schwach

Mayor Bloomberg Mayor Bloomberg When Mayor Michael Bloomberg first came to office ten years ago, he convinced state legislators that only the mayor could control the public school system and restore it to greatness.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, who then represented Rockaway in the state body, was one of the movers and shakers who worked hard to give the mayor control of the school system, convinced that the failing system could be saved through the business model.

As the years went by, however, Pheffer became disillusioned with the way the mayor and his chancellors were running the system and with the high-stakes, testing-is-all mentality.

“This mayor has not been good for education, but that doesn’t mean the next one won’t,” she told us shortly before she left office to become the Queens County Clerk.

Now, however, many of her colleagues, disillusioned with both Mayor Bloomberg and his politicizing of the educational process, are moving to end mayoral control even before it expires in 2015.

Two state legislators have introduced legislation that would repeal mayoral control of the city school system — a move that would undo what Mayor Bloomberg believes is his major crowning achievement, according to published reports in the New York Post.

Brooklyn State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem claim that the 10- year experiment giving City Hall sole power over educational matters has been a failure.

And Montgomery has won the support of the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, Suzi Oppenheimer, who has signed on as cosponsor to the measure.

The mayoral control law is not up for renewal until June 30, 2015. But under their bills, the two legislators call for overhauling the law this year.

“There’s a lot of support for reversing mayoral control and creating a more independent board in terms of setting educational policy and hiring the chancellor.

This bill does that,” Montgomery told the Post.

Bloomberg’s office charged that the legislators are doing the bidding of the powerful United Federation of Teachers, whose clout has been diminished under mayoral control, rather than serving the interests of kids.

“While we understand that the teachers union would like mayoral control repealed so it can run the school system again, we are confident that the Legislature won’t return the city to those bad old days of dysfunction and corruption,” said mayoral spokesman Mark Botnick.

The state Legislature passed the law in 2002 putting Bloomberg directly in charge of the schools — giving him a majority of appointments to the Board of Education to set educational policy and the authority to hire the chancellor.

At the time, there was broad sentiment that the “independent” policy board was often divided and dysfunctional as it churned through chancellors and hindered school reform.

Legislators agreed it made more sense to make the mayor responsible and accountable for education, like other city services.

Under mayoral control, Bloomberg’s Department of Education has closed more than a hundred mostly large, lowperforming schools and replaced them with smaller schools and charter schools.

It has co-located charter schools in already overcrowded public buildings, taking vital resources away from the existing schools, critics charge.

Some locals point to the fact that before the mayor took over the system, there were 17 schools in Rockaway, each with its own principal, supervisors and staff.

Today, under Bloomberg, there are 26 schools in Rockaway, each with its own principal, supervisors and staff.

It’s precisely these changes that the lawmakers cite in fueling their bid to roll back mayoral control. Both Montgomery and Wright have opposed school closings and co-locating charter schools in facilities with traditional public schools.

“It’s been a very unpopular process having this top-down decision-making with no one able to weigh in. Having a singular authority with total power on all the decisions has not worked out for all of the children,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery’s bill would strip the mayor’s control over school policy by cutting his appointments to the 13- member citywide school board in half, from eight to four members. The City Council would appoint four members and the borough presidents one apiece.

And the board, rather than the mayor, would select the chancellor.

Wright’s slightly different bill would create a nine-member board with just two appointed by the mayor.

Five others would be named by the borough presidents and one apiece by the state education commissioner and City Council.

Senate Republicans moved quickly, however, to derail the bill.

Majority Leader Dean Skelos gave the controversial issue an “F” and indicated that he would not even allow the bill to come to the floor of the Senate.

“Senate Republicans support increased accountability in education,” Skelos said. “There are no plans to take up this bill.”

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