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Senate Democrats seen as last hope for mayoral control critics

As the fate of New York’s school governance legislation shifts to the Senate, groups advocating for language that would curb the mayor’s power are left to weigh their options.

Initially, many hoped that the bill passed in the Assembly would contain fixed terms for members of the Panel for Educational Policy, or would prevent the mayor from appointing the majority of the panel’s members. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s bill that sailed through the Assembly on Wednesday did neither.

Yet groups like the Parent Commission and the Campaign for Better Schools remain optimistic that the bill that is eventually enacted will look different.

Some opponents believe that they’ve oddly benefited from the Senate meltdown. With the Senate Republicans saying they’ll support Silver’s bill, Democrats there could perceive going along with the Speaker’s bill as capitulation, the opponents reason. Instead, opponents hope Democrats will seek to distance themselves from the Republican position by offering amendments to the bill.

Another source of hope for opponents is the rise of Senator John Sampson to the position of Democratic Conference Leader. On Wednesday, Sampson told reporters that he would advocate for more checks on the mayor’s power than are in Silver’s bill.

Taking this as their cue, opponents have begun to vigorously lobby Sampson and other senators, who they see as their last chance to amend the bill.

On Wednesday, several members from the Parent Commission met with Sampson’s policy staff. According to Shino Tanikawa, a member of the Community Education Council for District 2 and an affiliate of the Parent Commission, the report from those who attended the meeting was positive.

“The e-mail after the meeting indicated that he [Sampson] did not want the status quo, he would really like to fight it out rather than push through a mediocre bill that he doesn’t feel passionate about,” Tanikawa said.

“Sampson wants the improvements that matter,” said Billy Easton, director of the Campaign for Better Schools. His group is lobbying senators to amend the bill to include fixed terms for school board members and funding for a parent-student training initiative that would encourage involvement in school politics.

Despite this optimism, with 12 days to go until the school governance law sunsets, advocates for changes to the 2002 law are reconsidering what change means.

Some groups continue to push for an end to the mayor’s ability to appoint the majority of the PEP, but others have decided that’s no longer possible.

After emerging from a meeting with Sampson today, Silver reiterated his opposition to fixed terms today. His press office issued a statement saying the Speaker thought the bill passed in the Assembly “addresses the concerns raised by legislators in both houses,” and “would not support an extension of the law that included fixed terms for members of the Panel for Educational Policy.”