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Saying mayoral control is at stake, a charter leader asks de Blasio for support

If Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to retain control of the city’s schools, he would do well to offer charter schools some support, advocates said Friday.

At a press conference this morning outside City Hall, New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman said de Blasio should get behind the effort to raise the state’s cap on charter schools to “make his politics better” on issues he cares more about.

“What I hear constantly up there when I meet with legislators is, why give him this power if he can’t do a simple, obvious thing and support eliminating the charter cap?” said Merriman, who has been a prominent lobbying presence for nearly a decade.

Merriman’s request is unlikely to be fulfilled, of course. De Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña have been clear that they do not support raising the cap, which allows 24 more charter schools to be authorized by the Board of Regents and one by the State University of New York. (In New York City, 231 charter schools are already open or approved.)

“We believe the existing cap allows for growth and innovation in the charter sector,” de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said in a statement.

But the press conference illustrated that the charter sector is mobilizing, with five weeks left in the legislative session during which they want to see that cap lifted.

Indications came this week that negotiations over mayoral control are in the works, an issue that has a clearer deadline, since that law is set to expire in June. After initially holding out for a seven-year renewal of the school governance system, Assembly Democrats agreed to back the three-year renewal proposal pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Senate Republicans have not yet signed onto the mayoral control deal.

Lawmakers and Gov. Cuomo have talked about the two issues as being paired in the past. On Friday, Merriman insisted that was still the case, with a final deal on mayoral control currently tied to negotiations over the charter school cap.

“There is little else that the mayor could do to improve the odds of getting what he wants on mayoral control than if he stood up today and stood with us,” said Merriman, who was flanked by charter-school parents and operators at City Hall.

The United Federation of Teachers disagreed.

“Not sure who the charter cheerleaders are talking to,” President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “When we meet with elected officials we constantly hear stories of charter advocates who give them misleading information and make veiled threats of backlash from charter billionaire backers if the legislators don’t fall into line with whatever the charters want.”

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not respond to Merriman, but said that the Assembly’s position on raising the cap was unchanged.

“There is no need to raise it because there is still plenty of room under the cap,” the spokesman, Michael Whyland, said.

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