2012-05-04 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Put Moratorium On School Closures; End Mayoral Control
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Good news everybody! New York City will be opening 54 new schools next year. Hey, one or two will even be in our area. Now the bad news, they are replacements for schools that have been closed by the mayor. Example: the Wave Preparatory School will be replacing the now-being-phased-out PS 215. Not really bringing in the needed additional seats for the City’s, much less Rockaway’s, children. As a matter of fact, since 2002 there have been 589 new schools opened in the city, not including next year’s total. Most of the new schools are located in buildings where once there was one school and now there are three or four small schools crammed in. Under mayoral control of the city school’s Mayor Bloomberg has closed more schools than any other mayor.

To many in the city, mayoral control has not been the success Bloomberg touts it as being. According to a NY1/Marist Poll released on April 24, 34 percent of voters approve of Bloomberg’s handling of the city’s public schools, 56 percent disapprove and 10 percent are unsure. Also, 62 percent believe the next mayor should move schools in a new direction, 27 percent say Bloomberg’s policies should be continued, and 11 percent are unsure.

“Clearly there is significant dissatisfaction with the school system in New York,” said Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, in an article on New York Times’ SchoolBook page.

The State Assembly may soon begin to see the error of its ways, giving Bloomberg total control over the schools in 2002. Assemblyman Keith Wright is sponsoring a bill that would repeal mayoral control. The bill’s summary reads that it, “Relates to the reorganization of the NYC school district; removes mayoral control and restores provisions changed in 2002.” Unfortunately, any such bill is considered dead before arrival in the State Senate.

Currently the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) consists of 13 appointed members and the Chancellor. Each borough president appoints one member and the mayor appoints the remaining eight. The Chancellor serves as an exofficio non-voting member. The legislation in the Assembly would continue the city’s Board of Education (PEP). Here is where the changes would lie. There would be nine board members. One each appointed by the borough presidents, one appointed by the commissioner, one by the City Council and two appointed by the mayor.

At a recent forum, Democratic candidates hoping to be the city’s next mayor said they believe mayoral control should continue. At the same time there is opposition to the closing of so many schools in the city. Mayoral candidate and current Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said, “The rush to closure without evidence that it could produce a different result has led to a very bad policy.” Candidate and former president of the Board of Education Bill Thompson endorses a moratorium on any school closures during Bloomberg’s last year in office. As a matter of fact, he also endorses a plan enacted when Rudy Crew was chancellor in 1996. It calls for extra attention to struggling schools, capping their enrollment, emphasizing professional development and regimenting curriculum.

Thompson said, “Those schools went up and up and up and in almost every case came off the [closing] list.” He called Bloomberg’s policy of closing schools and moving students from a closing school to another struggling school “a shell game.”

Mayoral control – one person, eight votes – has also decreased what parents have to say in their children’s education. In addition, the curriculum has undergone several incarnations since mayoral control began, thus making guinea pigs of the city’s students.

A few years ago in Nashville I saw one of their local papers in a street vending machine. The headline said something about the city considering mayoral control of the schools. I literally said out loud, “Don’t do it.” Now I say to the Assembly, “Do it.” Repeal the current law so it is not just one person deciding on the educational future of the city’s young people. The time has come. Let the Assembly lead and then, hopefully, the Senate will follow. In the meantime, put a moratorium on any school closures during Bloomberg’s last year in office. Action must be taken now before the entire school system is in such a shambles that the new mayor will not be able to fix it.

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