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Arne Duncan asked Citizens Union to reconsider its position

The executive director of the Citizens Union confirmed today that the group changed its mayoral control position after Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally asked members to reconsider.

At issue was whether to insulate school board members from being fired at will by the mayor by giving them fixed terms. The Citizens Union had supported fixed terms, but Duncan “made it known very clear that he did not support fixed terms and would like the organization to take a look at this position and we did,” CU’s executive director Dick Dadey.

At a press conference today in front of Tweed, the group announced its support for extending mayoral control without fixed terms.

The announcement came after the group received a letter from Duncan and a phone call from Mayor Bloomberg asking them not to endorse fixed terms. According to Dadey, after a year of discussing mayoral control, the group’s board members had reached a consensus to support fixed terms, but that was before the phone call and letters, at which point the board decided to reexamine the issue.

As a compromise, the group is advising that there be a mandatory 90-day notice period before any of the PEP appointees are fired. This, Dadey said, would allay the group’s fears of a Monday-night Massacre-repeat, which was the basis for their earlier support for fixed terms.

The report also suggests that the chancellor not sit on the panel, and that the panel’s size be reduced from 13 to 11, giving the mayor a slim majority of one appointee.

Throughout the presentation, members of the group reiterated their support for mayoral control, but listed objections to the current system’s limited parental involvement, nominal independent supervision, and the powerlessness of the PEP. They also emphasized the need for more racial and ethnic diversity on the PEP and the Community Education Councils.

“I thought it was disappointing,” said PEP member Patrick Sullivan. “They had a lot of recommendations, but on the key one they rolled over to the mayor, which is kind of disturbing.”

For his part, Dadey insists that though he was “flattered” to receive Duncan’s letter, the Education Secretary and Bloomberg’s outreach did not determine the group’s stance on fixed terms. “We were persuaded by a lot of information provided by any number of groups, from the very beginning to now. It wasn’t influenced by one individual.”

Asked whether he was surprised that Duncan had intervened in CU’s deliberations, Dadey said he wasn’t. “They clearly see the model that’s being established here in New York as a model to be followed in the rest of the country.”