One outcome of Albany's debate over mayoral control may have nothing to do with state law. The political wrangling may end up leaving the city with permanent parent advocacy groups.
Last Friday, Democratic state senators reached a deal with Mayor Bloomberg (that may or may not pass), essentially ending the drawn-out negotiations. Yet groups that were in the thick of the political fight just last week are intent on remaining active, even if the mayoral control debate has largely ended.
Learn NY, which was set up roughly a year ago by allies of the Bloomberg administration to campaign for mayoral control's renewal, will continue to exist until the Senate passes a bill bringing mayoral control back. After that, the group's future is uncertain.
Learn NY spokeswoman Julie Wood refused to comment in greater detail.
On the opposite side of the debate are groups like the Campaign for Better Schools, the 3Rs Coalition, and the Parent Commission on School Governance, all of which advocated for significant changes to the 2002 school governance law, but favored keeping mayoral control in place. Each them face their own existential questions.
Bloomberg administration officials are ending a sleepless week in Albany today with no idea whatsoever of how to get mayoral control renewed, along with the unsettling realization that the stalemate could go on for the rest of the summer.
In the end, it wasn't that the mayor's office couldn't strike a deal with the largest group criticizing mayoral control, the Campaign for Better Schools, or with the city teachers' union, which had pushed for checks early on. All three parties signed onto a deal together earlier this week, writing down a Memorandum of Understanding that would have put in place parent-training centers that senators said they wanted to add.
But Senate Democrats ultimately did not go along with the deal.
"It's not like we couldn't agree on terms. It's like they couldn't agree on terms amongst themselves," an exhausted and depressed city official, speaking on background, said in an interview today.
"They clearly were saying one thing to us yesterday and doing something different," said teachers union president Randi Weingarten. "That was very frustrating."
The Senate may be nearing an agreement on mayoral control, but now there's a new debate — over how to increase parental involvement, and what involvement means.
At the center of the debate are the two parent groups most actively lobbying Albany, and each has its own slightly different vision.
The Parent Commission on School Governance is pushing for a kind of parent union, which it calls an Independent Parent Organization and Training Academy.
According to Patricia Connelly, a member of the Parent Commission, the organization would act like a think tank-cum-lobbying force for parent advocate groups and would be modeled on the now-defunct United Parent Association.
"It can be a place where people come together and learn from one another," Connelly said, adding that the group would also do research and train less experienced parents.
"Right now we don't have an institutionalized role and people say well there's OFEA [Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy], but that's just an arm of the Department of Education and it's more about delivering PowerPoint presentations rather than what we really need to know to be effective advocates," she said.
As Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg warn of "total chaos" and ominous "uncharted territory" if mayoral control expires tonight, another, less-frenzied possibility is emerging. The possibility hinges on the success of efforts underway right now to produce a compromise mayoral control bill in the Senate, according to a spokesman for the Campaign for Better Schools, which is pushing a compromise.
A compromise would find a middle ground between the bill introduced by state Senator Frank Padavan, with the support of Mayor Bloomberg, and the one introduced by Senator John Sampson, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, who favors adding checks to the mayor's power. But it would still mean the June 30 deadline would pass without a new school governance law to replace it.
That's because in order to become law, both houses of the legislature have to vote for the same bill. But a compromise bill would be different from the one the Assembly passed two weeks ago.
"Our point is that schools will open up as usual tomorrow, even if mayoral control expires," said the spokesman, Shomwa Shamapande. "Let’s get the legislation right and make sure parents have a voice."
Shamapande would not disclose details of the talks he said are underway, saying he does not want to jeopardize the effort. I asked him if he is confident the talks will produce a compromise. "We’re hopeful. I’m not going to go with confident," he said.
The mayor and chancellor say a post-mayoral control world would be fraught with litigation. But it's not clear who would be filing the lawsuits.
Some of the most obvious potential litigants said today that as long as Mayor Bloomberg follows the new law, they want to stay out of court. They say they will trust that Mayor Bloomberg plans to respect the current law's expiration if a new city school board is convened on Wednesday. That board would have only two mayoral appointees.
"If the mayor acts in good faith on that measure, at least changing the structure on top, then I think its wrong to foresee any potential litigation," said Udi Ofer, the policy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has been agnostic on the principle of mayoral control.
But a DOE official said the city is worried most about litigation coming not from good-government groups but from individual teachers, principals, and vendors with gripes against the system.
"Every decision has a winner and a loser, and a loser would argue that the person who made the decision didn't have the authority to do it," the official said. For example, a teacher who was fired could argue that the principal who initiated his termination was not legally appointed, the official suggested.
ALBANY, NY — One branch of the state government is functioning today. Lawmakers in the Assembly pushed Silver's mayoral control bill through the ways and means committee this afternoon, readying the bill for a final vote tomorrow.
The bill immediately passed with no discussion. At least three Assembly members voted against Silver's plan, including Mark Weprin and Jeff Aubry of Queens and Deborah Glick of Manhattan.
Aubry said he was concerned that the bill did not place fixed terms on members of the citywide school board and that it gives the mayor a majority of the appointees to the Panel for Educational Policy. Both he and Glick are supporters of the "Better Schools Act."
Tomorrow, the Assembly will vote on the bill, and even its most vocal critics agree that its passage is guaranteed.
UPDATE 2 (from Elizabeth): Billy Easton of the Campaign for Better Schools points out that nothing is final, even if the Assembly bill passes. "Tomorrow is an Assembly vote on their initial proposal," he said. "That does not mean that that’s the final vote that they will take on this matter. We have to see what unfolds." Easton added that lobbyists for the campaign are meeting with members from both the Assembly and the Senate.
Exactly how negotiations between the two houses will unfold, however, is almost impossible to figure out. Anna reports from Albany that she only persuaded one senator to talk to her about mayoral control today — and his response was to say, "It can’t stay the way it is," and walk away laughing.
Protesters derailed the monthly city school board meeting last night, filing out during the middle of the meeting with chants of "Hey hey, ho ho, one-man-rule has got to go!"
The protesters are part of the Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups that is pushing the state legislature to add checks to the mayor's control of public schools. They argue that the school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy, is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the mayor's school policies. Panel members have almost always voted with the administration since Mayor Bloomberg fired three members who signaled they would oppose a third-grade promotion policy in 2005.
The group began the meeting, at Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, with a rally outside the school, then filed quietly into the meeting room, nearly filling the lower level of an auditorium as they listened to a presentation about swine flu. But as Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who chairs the PEP, tried to shift the topic of conversation to test scores, the Campaign for Better Schools protesters stood up, and one member launched into a speech encouraging panel members to "think for yourselves."
"In the meantime, for those of you who cannot, we have brought you something that we hope you can use moving forward," the speaker said, referring to actual rubber stamps the campaign had made that read "PEP approved."
As the protesters left the auditorium, one of them, William Hargraves, launched into an impassioned speech of his own, which starts at the beginning of the second minute of the video above. "Yo, chancellor," he said. "What did you prove? Ninety percent of your audience left. ... You'd rather be in front of nobody so that you can say what you've got to say, than to hear what the majority got to say?"
In the debate over the future of mayoral control, one sticking point has been the proper role of the city school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy. Today, a coalition pushing for significant changes to mayoral control is taking its PEP recommendations to the panel's front steps, at the same that state lawmakers are powwowing in Albany about the panel's future.
Advocates for checks on the mayor's power say that the system needs an independent school board whose members can freely vote against mayoral proposals when appropriate. But Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have said that changing the composition of the PEP would introduce policy gridlock and undermine the mayor's accountability on education matters.
The Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups, is calling on state legislators to change the panel's composition so that the mayor no longer controls a majority of seats. Campaign members are planning to rally in support of that position at 5:30 p.m. today outside Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, where the PEP is holding its monthly meeting at 6 p.m.
"We want to highlight the fact that the PEP is simply just a rubber stamp for the policies of the mayor," said Shomwa Shamapande, a campaign spokesman. About 200 campaign members are expected to protest before the meeting, then enter Stuyvesant's auditorium for the meeting itself, he said.
By tonight, it's possible that a deal will have been struck about the future of the PEP.