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A harsh audit of education department travel sparked a Twitter debate over mayoral control

City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Alex Zimmerman

A critical audit of how New York City school officials spent taxpayer funds on travel expenses set off a Twitter debate Wednesday between politicians over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of public schools.

The audit by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has been pointedly critical of de Blasio’s administration, was first reported by New York Daily News. It found that the city education department spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on unnecessarily expensive flights and hotels without complying with city rules that govern justifying those expenses.

As the report set off criticism on social media, it caught the attention of Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island and ran for mayor against de Blasio in 2017.

Responding to a reporter’s tweet about the story, Malliotakis said the state legislature should not renew mayoral control of the city’s school system — up for renewal at the start of the new legislative session in Albany in January — until changes are “made to safeguard taxpayer $$ & ensure state funds get to classroom.”

Mayoral control gives De Blasio the power to oversee the city school system instead of boards of elected officials.

“Millions wasted on trips while teachers have to pay for supplies out of their own pocket,” she tweeted from her official Twitter account.

In another tweet about the audit, Malliotakis said she was going to ask the Assembly’s Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan, a Queens Democrat, to hold a hearing.

Stringer, through his official Twitter account, shot back: “To twist a performance audit into dismantling mayoral control and returning to the days of no accountability at the board of ed is irresponsible. For the sake of our kids, what’s left of the Republicans in Albany should not try to mess with mayoral control.”

In a back and forth, Malliotakis called Stringer, whose position is a political office, out for endorsing de Blasio but issuing reports critical of de Blasio’s administration, and also for criticizing her own desire to call a hearing.

Assemblyman-elect Mike Reilly, who will represent Staten Island, chimed in: ”We are not looking to dismantle Mayoral Control. We are looking to ensure safe guards that will bring more focus & resources to the classroom. I have been highlighting necessary changes to Mayoral Control for several years.”

Malliotakis stepped her suggestion back a couple of tweets later.

“I believe Mayoral Control should be extended BUT with accountability,” she tweeted.

In a statement, Department of Education spokesman Doug Cohen said officials have installed “strict protocols” so that field trips and travel costs “serve our kids and are at the lowest cost to taxpayers,” noting that 70 percent of travel is school field trips.

“We’ve strengthened our expense reporting procedures, increased trainings for staff, and are implementing or reinforcing the recommendations in the Comptroller’s report in addition to reviewing more steps we can take to further strengthen our system,” Cohen said.

In the past, when Republicans controlled the state Senate, mayoral control was used as a bargaining chip and political bludgeon against de Blasio, who only received one and two-year extensions.

Several progressive Democrats helped flip the state Senate from Republican leadership earlier this month, but some oppose the idea of mayoral control. Still, it’s not likely they’ll nix control altogether because it could create new complications to return the old, fractured system of governance.

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