who rules the schools

Election sets the stage for fresh debate over mayoral control

While school technology funding was the main education item on the ballot across the state on Tuesday, voters are also be setting up a debate over the control of New York City schools.

That’s because lawmakers have a looming task in the next legislative session: to revisit a 2002 law giving control of the city’s schools to its mayor. The law is set to expire at the end of June, meaning that lawmakers will have to agree on any changes by then or risk letting mayoral control lapse.

A drag-out fight over mayoral control doesn’t appear likely, given that most of its past opponents are now allies of City Hall. But the intensity of the debate will depend on which state lawmakers win at the ballot box on Tuesday.

“Who controls the Senate will be an important factor,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who supports the renewal of mayoral control.

Current law gives the mayor the power to appoint a schools chancellor, oversee the system’s $20 billion operating budget, and make decisions about how the city will try to lift student achievement across 1,600 district schools. The landmark legislation passed in 2002 after Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s election and amid a bipartisan wave of support for dismantling the city’s 32 local school boards. The law also created a citywide board, now called the Panel for Educational Policy, which votes on policy decisions.

The last time the mayoral control legislation expired, in 2009, lawmakers were unable to settle on revisions before the “sunset” deadline. They ultimately revised the law to limit the mayor’s power in a few relatively minor ways, such as by creating a public review process for when the city decides to close or move a school.

“I think that the opposition to mayoral control had to do, to a large extent, with groups that were battling reforms introduced by Mayor Bloomberg and his chancellor,” said Kathryn Wylde, head of the Partnership for New York City, a coalition of business leaders that was an early advocate of mayoral control.

But that doesn’t mean tackling the school governance law will be a cakewalk for legislators.

The legislative session, which begins in January, will offer opportunities for advocates to air their grievances about how schools in New York City are managed. Last year, de Blasio clashed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state senators over education, which led to an erosion of the mayor’s power when it comes to finding space for new and expanding charter schools.

Charter school advocates have spent $4 million supporting Senate candidates who could tip the balance for Republicans, according to Capital New York, and their top legislative priority will be to increase their numbers. State law permits 256 charter schools to open in the city, but only 28 charters remain unclaimed. Advocates are hoping to raise or eliminate that cap next year.

Complicating matters is that support for mayoral control in New York City doesn’t split neatly along partisan lines. In 2009, charter school backers, now de Blasio’s critics, were mayoral control’s most vocal supporters. Senate Democrats, now de Blasio’s allies, for a time stood in the way of a deal to renew mayoral control.

On this issue, some the fiercest critics of de Blasio’s education policy are finding themselves on his side.

“Mayoral control gives the district a fighting chance by wresting governance away from special interests, but it’s up to the mayor in power to lead the way forward for kids,” said StudentsFirstNY’s Jenny Sedlis.

And in a sign of remaining tensions, a number of de Blasio allies want a school structure that would wrest some control from City Hall.

Even some of de Blasio’s own PEP members say they want to see changes. Norm Fruchter, an education policy analyst and mayoral appointee to the PEP, said parents should be given some authority to approve school co-locations or closures that the city is proposing in their district.

Though de Blasio has made efforts to involve parents, “I think where the law is wrong is it eclipses any form of democratic decision-making at the local and neighborhood level,” Fruchter said.

Diane Ravitch, another supporter of de Blasio’s, said she wants to see a model in which the PEP, not the mayor, is the chancellor’s boss and the mayor can only select panel members who have been recommended by another independent body.

“The key issue is who appoints the chancellor and who can fire him or her,” Ravitch said.

As the issue inches into the spotlight, a remaining question is how outspoken de Blasio will be in support of mayoral control. As a city councilman, de Blasio praised the role that community school boards played in elevating the voice of parents before mayoral control. But as a candidate for mayor, he made it clear he didn’t want to see the mayor’s powers diluted and said he would only support tweaks to the law.

De Blasio hasn’t spoken publicly about the issue since taking office, and his office didn’t respond to questions about the city’s legislative priorities for renewing mayoral control.

But when the issue comes to the fore, there are signs that the administration will be ready. A top lobbyist for renewing mayoral control five years ago, Peter Hatch, is now a senior policy advisor to Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris.

De Blasio will have to grapple with Democratic colleagues in the legislature. Assemblyman David Weprin of Queens is sponsoring a bill to strip the mayor of his power to appoint the schools chancellor and take away its supermajority on the Panel for Educational Policy. (The mayor appoints eight of 13 of the PEP members under the current structure; Weprin’s legislation would cut that number in half and require more appointees to be public-school parents.)

“It’s an institutional thing,” explained Weprin. “I don’t think you can do legislation based on one particular mayor.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.