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When Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the Renewal program in November 2014, he said the city would "move heaven and earth" to help the struggling schools improve. (Photo: Twitter/NYC Mayor's Office)

When Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the Renewal program in November 2014, he said the city would “move heaven and earth” to help the struggling schools improve. (Photo: Twitter/NYC Mayor’s Office)

Twitter/NYC Mayor’s Office

De Blasio rejects Cuomo’s school takeover plan, citing city’s turnaround program

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that the governor’s plan to let outside groups take over struggling schools is unnecessary in New York City, since the city is going to “enormous lengths” to turn around those schools.

He also repeated his pledge to close troubled schools that fail to improve after three years, and said that his authority over the city’s schools means that voters can hold him accountable for their progress.

“The fact is, mayoral control already makes it clear who is responsible for struggling schools in New York City – I am,” de Blasio told lawmakers at a budget hearing in Albany where he argued that mayoral authority over the city school system should be made permanent.

The mayor’s remarks follow Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education-focused state budget proposal last month, which included a plan to appoint nonprofit groups, school-turnaround experts, or other school districts to oversee schools that have fallen on the state’s lowest performing list for three years. Under the proposed law, those “receivers” could restructure the low-ranked schools, overhaul their curriculums, and override labor agreements in order to fire “underperforming” teachers and administrators.

That proposal increased the already-intense pressure on de Blasio’s $150 million “School Renewal” program to turn around 94 of the city’s lowest performing schools by flooding them with extra services and teacher training. Critics question whether the plan will make changes drastic enough to end the schools’ struggles, and even state officials have said schools that fail to improve quickly should be shut down. (The pro-charter school group Families for Excellent Schools, which has criticized the city’s turnaround program, called on the state Wednesday to take control of 178 low-performing city schools.)

De Blasio responded to that pressure by saying that the turnaround program would provide the schools with “extraordinary support,” making the type of takeover recommended by Cuomo unnecessary. (The city teachers and principals unions have also come out against Cuomo’s takeover plan.) But de Blasio also took pains to insist that the city would shutter schools that do not make progress in three years or less.

“We will also not hesitate to close schools that have the opportunity to improve and do not,” he said.

In his testimony Wednesday, de Blasio listed several actions the city would take to improve the Renewal schools: replace unsatisfactory leaders, send in teams of veteran educators to lead the turnaround efforts, and add an extra hour of class time to each school’s day.

But it is unclear how quickly the city will take those steps, and whether they will extend beyond a small subset of struggling schools identified by the state as in need of immediate overhauls. So far, those two state-identified “out-of-time” schools are the only ones to see major shakeups: The city installed a veteran principal in one, and required the staffers at both to reapply for their jobs. Meanwhile, Renewal program schools do not expect to get the extra instructional hour until next school year.

As a result, some principals of the 94 schools are questioning the turnaround timeline that de Blasio has proposed. Because the program is just starting and this school year is reserved for mainly for planning, some say it is unrealistic to expect serious progress within three years.

Andrew Turay, the recently retired principal of a Bronx high school in the turnaround program, said last month that the city has been slow to roll out the program and has shared little information with schools about the changes they are expected to make. Echoing other principals, he said he agrees with the program’s philosophy but questions whether it will lead to major improvement at the schools within a short timeframe.

“I think it can work,” Turay said, ‘but I don’t know whether it can work in three years.”