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Three questions that will dominate this year’s school news

To some, it may seem that there’s no way this year can be more exciting than 2008, with its protracted campaigns and historic presidential election. But with questions about governance, leadership, and funding looming large, 2009 promises to be quite the year in the New York City education world.

Here are three big questions that will be answered, at least in part, in the next 12 months:

  • What will happen to mayoral control? The law giving New York City’s mayor full control of the schools expires at the end of June. Before then, the State Assembly must decide whether to renew the law, alter it, or let the city’s schools revert back to the way they were organized before 2002.
  • Few in the city are saying that the law should simply be permitted to expire. Many local advocates are instead calling for changes to the law that ensure parent involvement and create an impartial entity to review Department of Education data. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said recently that he would vote to renew mayoral control if the new law includes changes like these. But some powerful people are lining up behind the mayor’s opposition to any changes, including the editorial board of the Daily News and wealthy New Yorkers who are planning to spend $20 million to support a public relations campaign in favor of mayoral control.
  • Assembly members will take public criticism and the city schools’ performance into account when they cast their votes. But politics will also play a role. This brings us to the second question:
  • Is Mayor Bloomberg going to stay or go? This fall, the mayor won the right to run for a third term. So far Bloomberg hasn’t said for sure whether he’ll run, or what party he would represent if he does, but his advisers say his campaign could cost him as much as $100 million, a sum that any opponent would have a hard time matching. That hasn’t stopped a handful of public officials from declaring their intention to run for the office, including Anthony Weiner, a state congressman from Brooklyn and Queens who supports mayoral control, and Comptroller William Thompson, who has been a vocal critic of the DOE.
  • If Bloomberg runs again and is elected, it stands to reason that the city’s school reform agenda of the last seven years will persist at least through 2013. But if he decides to move on, or if he’s defeated, a new mayor will move into City Hall, and a new chancellor could take office inside Tweed Courthouse. In that case, we could see substantial changes in the school system as soon as the beginning of 2010.
  • How will the dismal budget situation affect the city’s schools? No matter who the mayor is and how the schools are run, the city needs to be able to fund the school system. Right now, the economic picture just keeps looking worse and worse. The governor’s proposed state budget cuts more than $600 million from the city schools, and the mayor has called for sizable city cuts as well.  The mayor has said that budget cuts of the magnitude proposed would hit the classroom hard. Will the schools see a return to the dark days of the 1970s, when teachers were laid off and classes swelled in size? Or will they weather the downturn and emerge relatively unscathed? Only time can tell.