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Republican takeover of Senate could solidify mayoral control

The Republicans appear to have seized control of the State Senate today, in a dramatic Albany afternoon that could end up solidifying the mayor’s control of the public schools.

With Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith vowing to maintain mayoral control for the most part, the fiercest opponents of the law had pinned their hopes on a group of rogue Democratic senators. The idea was that these senators could force Smith, whose grasp of power in the Senate was quite thin, to revise his position. The opponents had already gathered at least three lawmakers to sponsor legislation they proposed.

But a Senate controlled by Republicans would offer a much less friendly reception. Mayor Bloomberg has generously supported many GOP campaigns, and Republican Senators are likely to take that to heart. When the mayoral control law was first written in 2002, the Republican Senate followed essentially in lockstep with Bloomberg’s wishes, letting him essentially negotiate on their behalf, Steve Sanders, an architect of the law and then the chairman of the Assembly’s education committee, told me this morning.

(UPDATE: City Hall News says the change could hurt mayoral control’s chances, by making it impossible for the legislature to come to an agreement by the June 30 sunset deadline.)

Opponents of mayoral control were responding to the news unhappily today, circulating disappointed e-mail messages and phone calls. “It’s terrible what happened in the Senate, just terrible,” Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and a member of the Parent Commission on School Governance, told me on the phone just now. “The Republican party is completely controlled by Bloomberg. I don’t know whether it’s going to stick or not, but if it does stick it’s terrible.”

The parent commission had recently picked up a third Democratic Senate sponsor of its legislation, John Sampson, adding to Eric Adams and Shirley Huntley of Brooklyn. Nine Senate Democrats are also among the sponsors of legislation proposed by the Campaign for Better Schools, another effort to wrest control from the mayor. The two groups are scheduled to hold a joint press conference in Albany tomorrow expressing their shared desire to give parents more power in the public schools.

Sanders, who is pushing for clarified checks and balances in the law as a consultant to the school board association, said that it’s too soon to know how the change will affect the mayoral control debate. “But one thing for sure is that everything is affected by this now,” he said in a followup call this afternoon. “All bets are off.”

UPDATE: Billy Easton, a member of the Campaign for Better Schools and the executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, just told me that he is holding out hope that the mayoral control law will be revised.

“You have the Republicans that the mayor can count on, but there’s no guarantee where Espada and Monserrate stand,” Easton said. “This fundamentally does not change the fact that there needs to be changes in the system, and it hasn’t changed anybody’s opinion up here about what needs to happen.”

Easton said that opponents of mayoral control still have a powerful piece of leverage: the June 30 expiration deadline, at which point, if no new law is written and agreed on, the system would revert back to its state prior to 2002. “That’s the worst case scenario for the mayor,” Easton said, and it could force him to agree to a compromise with real checks and balances.

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