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After Senate standstill, Assembly will start mayoral control talks

The state Senate ground to a standstill on the question of who should control the city’s public schools this week, but a consensus among members of the Assembly looks like it will be easier to come by — and it could come soon.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told New York City members this week that he will hold the Assembly Democrats’ first conference on the issue next week, according to a member who was there, Mark Weprin of Queens. The conference will kick off formal talks within the Democratic conference about whether to reauthorize, revise, or scrap the 2002 law that granted control of the city’s public schools to the mayor.

Several Assembly members are already putting together legislation on the subject, much of it influenced by the constellation of advocacy groups that are bombarding Albany this week. A slew of Assembly members are standing behind recommendations put out by the Campaign for Better Schools, while bills in line with the recommendations of Betsy Gotbaum’s commission on school governance and the Parent Commission on School Governance are said to be on the way. Assemblyman Alan Maisel of Brooklyn today introduced a bill, backed by the city principals’ union, that would beef up the power of superintendents.
But the conference would be the first chance for Democrats to try to work out a consensus on the issue. The bills currently in circulation clash with each other on several points. More importantly, they also clash with the position of the powerful speaker, Silver, who supports giving the mayor a majority of appointees on the citywide school board.

One clue about how the differences will be resolved came yesterday from Randi Weingarten, the president of the city teachers union who has close ties to Silver. In a surprising reversal, Weingarten indicated in a New York Post column that she is willing to give up her union’s push for yanking majority control of the school board from the mayor. Instead, she listed “alternative” ways to check the mayor’s power, such as erasing the his power to fire any appointee who disagrees with him by giving members fixed terms.

Coming to a consensus is likely to be much easier for Assembly members than for state senators, whose bitter division earlier this week reflects majority leader Malcolm Smith’s weak power over fellow Democrats — and the Democrats’ own narrow majority in the senate. Smith, the majority leader, favors preserving the law nearly as it is, but he is facing fierce opposition from a group of renegade Democrats who have clashed with him on other issues, like gay marriage. These Democrats say they want to see the mayor’s power slashed.

Weprin said that he thinks Assembly members will agree to give up the possibility of taking a majority of school board appointments away from the mayor. “The writing’s on the wall,” he said. “If you’re going to have mayoral control – and it seems to be most people still want mayoral control – you got to give him the most votes on that board.”

A spokesman for Silver would not confirm that a conference on mayoral control is happening next week. He said that the speaker’s office has a policy of not commenting on conferences before or after they happen.

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