Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, is joining the chorus of voices urging state lawmakers to add checks and balances to the mayor’s authority over the public schools, but she’s proposing a different, slightly softer kind of check.
Rather than strengthening the citywide school board, as the teachers union, the comptroller, and several parent groups have suggested, Quinn wants lawmakers to empower the City Council to do stronger oversight of the mayor’s school policies.
In written testimony Quinn submitted to the state Assembly this week, she describes the arrangement she’d like to see as “municipal” rather than mayoral control. Currently, the Council’s ability to check the mayor’s education policy extends only “up to the door of a school,” she says, citing last year’s cell phone brouhaha as evidence. (The city argued that the council’s legislation overturning Bloomberg’s cell phone ban, which Bloomberg vetoed, but council members over-rode, did not have any effect on the final policy.)
Only state lawmakers have the authority to override the mayor’s school policy, Quinn argues. But she says that doesn’t make sense. “I would never look to weigh in on local education policies in Elmira County, and I don’t think a State legislator from Elmira (no matter how qualified her or she may be) should or wants to be responsible for decisions made about New York City schools,” she writes.
Politically, Quinn’s testimony puts her at a distance from Mayor Bloomberg, who wants the legislature to keep mayoral control essentially as it is. But Quinn, who was considered a likely mayoral candidate before Bloomberg decided to run for a third term, is not making suggestions that are as far afield as Comptroller William Thompson Jr., who is still a mayoral candidate, and who is pushing for a strengthened citywide school board.
Her testimony is also far less critical of the mayor’s work with the schools than Anthony Weiner, the congressman and possible mayoral candidate who says he is in favor of mayoral control but sharply criticizes Bloomberg’s work in the schools.
Quinn is also keeping her testimony relatively quiet; while other Council members testified at the Assembly hearings, she submitted hers in writing rather than coming in person.
Quinn singles out the department’s contracting process and budget data as being especially opaque to outside oversight, saying that the Council has struggled to “follow how funding is being spent.” She adds:
An example of this was last year, in early 2008, the DOE reduced school budgets by $100 million, but the Council was unable to track and report the impact of this budget cut on school programs because DOE has a different internal budgeting system. This is not only a problem experienced by the Council but has been sited by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, the Independent Budget Office as well as the City Comptroller’s Office.