What exactly does it mean to be a “partner”? When Learn NY, the group fighting to preserve the mayor’s control over the school system, announced partnerships with three racial-minority groups last week, it seemed like evidence that the groups would join its lobbying battle.
But the president of one of the three groups, Lillian Rodriguez Lopez of the Hispanic Federation, told me late last week that “partner” in this case has a “very contained and limited” meaning. The Hispanic Federation will not adopt Learn NY’s position on mayoral control; it will come up with its own, separate position, after talking to parents, she said.
That keeps Lopez open to maintaining the scathing critique of mayoral control that she provided to Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum’s commission on school governance last year:
“The dial towards improvement has moved very, very slowly during the years of mayoral control and in certain communities we have seen the dial moving in the opposite direction towards a worsening of the schools,” she said in testimony that you can read here (page 130 — UPDATE: sorry about broken link, should work now).
In her testimony, Lopez blamed both the Bloomberg administration’s “corporate” approach to school policy and the mayoral control system itself, which she said silenced debate. She also challenged the idea promoted by Learn NY board chairman Geoffrey Canada that mayoral control brings a clear line of accountability. Lopez said that under mayoral control it has been impossible to know who is responsible for what. “Too many of us are unsure of what the system really looks like now,” Lopez said.
So why is Lopez partnering with Learn NY? She said that the resources the group offered her, combined with the chance to boost the voice of the Latino community, sealed the deal. Learn NY is covering the costs of questionnaires that Lopez will design and hand out to her community members. The questionnaires will ask what parents feel is working in the law and what isn’t. “Whenever you do that engagement, it requires support,” Lopez said.
She said she was also happy that Learn NY approached the Hispanic Federation in search of a partnership, rather than simply asking the group to sign onas an afterthought. “That’s what I care about,” she said. “I care about my community knowing and being involved in major decisions that always happen on the rooftop, and we’re knocking on the door trying to figure out what’s happening and trying to get in.”
Lopez hinted that her partnership could also work in the reverse, bending Learn NY more towards her skepticism of mayoral control as it’s currently written. After she signaled several times her happiness that a Latina woman, Rossana Rosado, the publisher of El Diario, has joined Learn NY’s board, I asked her whether she hoped Rosado would persuade Learn NY to think more critically of mayoral control. “Yup,” she replied.
“I think you would agree it’s important to be able to work and inform systems and processes from the inside as well as the outside,” she said.