Rupert Murdoch and Arne Duncan. (Images via Creative Commons)
The New York Post patted its own back today, hard, for helping the state renew the mayor's control of the public schools. The surprising thing is that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined in, thanking the newspaper, owned by the ambitious Rupert Murdoch, for its "leadership" and "thoughtfulness."
New York City newspapers have a proud tradition of waging campaigns both on and off the editorial page, and then congratulating themselves when they hit their marks. But having a cabinet member for a sitting president join the cheering is more unusual.
"I think that must be out of context, that Arne Duncan is giving the Post credit for mayoral control," the president of the principals' union, Ernest Logan, said when I called to ask his impression.
The news series the Post ran extolling mayoral control
Richard Colvin, who directs the Hechinger Institute for education journalism at Columbia University, said he found the whole news story baffling. "It reads like nothing I've ever seen. It reads like the worst kind of back-patting, self-congratulatory press release that has no perspective whatsoever," he said.
Duncan's quote does illustrate a strange alliance that fought hard for mayoral control's renewal, Murdoch and the secretary of education among them.
New York state senators resurrected mayoral control today, voting 47 against 8 to pass the legislation this afternoon.
According to the Daily News' Liz Benjamin, debate over the bill lasted for two hours and turned personal when critics of mayoral control attacked the bill's supporters, Sens. Daniel Squadron and Frank Padavan. The Senate also passed four amendments that will create a parent training center, an arts council, yearly school safety meetings, and expanded oversight of principals by superintendents.
Jimmy Vielkind at Politicker reports that the dissenting senators were Bill Perkins, Ruben Diaz Sr., Shirley Huntley, Kevin Parker, Velmanette Montgomery, Eric Adams, Carl Kruger, and Tom Duane. Perkins and Diaz also voted against all four amendments.
Standing on the Senate floor, Diaz forecast how tomorrow's editorials would receive his vote. "You read it, tomorrow they're going to call me a monkey, they're going to call me a clown, they're going to call me stupid. They're going to call me all kinds of things," he said.
The NY Post, which has been mayoral control's biggest cheerleader, is reporting the news with an exclamation point in its lede.
"Mayor Bloomberg is still the undisputed educator-in-chief of New York City public schools!"
Earlier this week, the New York Civil Liberties Union held a debate among the candidates for public advocate, moderated by Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News. Gonzalez quizzed the five candidates about mayoral control — the following are their responses (video courtesy of the NYCLU). Next Tuesday the organization is co-hosting a debate for the mayoral candidates.
Bill de Blasio said the issue is "very personal" for him, citing his children, who attend public schools, and his service on a school board. "I think we need profound reform of mayoral control," he said, but did not go into specifics.
"I'm offended at any effort to reduce the democratic participation of parents in our school system. I believe there's a way to do mayoral control right. I think there are virtues in the system if there is transparency, if there are clear checks and balances, if there is a forum for actual debate, if there is a role for communities and for local residents and for parents."
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.
After several hours of heated discussions, Democratic state senators emerged from a meeting today declaring that they had reached an agreement with Mayor Bloomberg on mayoral control.
Standing outside of 250 Broadway, where a dozen of the city's senators met and others listened in by phone, Democratic conference leader John Sampson said, "One thing you can say today is, we have an agreement with respect to school governance."
Senators cautioned that the deal's language has yet to be finalized on paper, but what they described mirrors an earlier agreement that fell apart last week. Today's agreement would add extra checks to a mayoral control bill passed by the Assembly, including a parent training center based out of CUNY, an increased supervisory role for superintendents, and a new citywide arts panel. According to a statement released by Sen. Carl Kruger's office, the deal also includes the creation of a Senate subcommittee to oversee the Department of Education.
"All's well that ends well," said outgoing UFT president Randi Weingarten, who said that she has been acting as a "go-between" for the two sides, spending Thursday night on the phone helping to broker today's deal.
A spokeswoman for the mayor's office, Dawn Walker, released a statement saying:
The agreement "preserves the accountability and authority necessary to ensure that the gains we've made — in math and reading scores, graduation rates and school safety — continue. At the same time, the agreement addresses concerns that have been raised by legislators in a way that makes sense."
Sens. Sampson and Pedro Espada were vague about when they would return to Albany to pass the Assembly's mayoral control bill. Espada said it would happen "before children start school in September." But Walker's statement sets the date as the first week of August.
The Bloomberg administration and Senate Democrats reached a tentative deal on school governance last night, with the mayor agreeing to some extra oversight of police in schools, a $1.6 million parent training center, and a new citywide panel on arts education, sources familiar with the deal confirmed this morning. The deal would also require the city to add a new factor in superintendents' reviews of principals: the quality of instruction and curriculum.
Hashed out by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and the two top Senate Democrats, Malcolm Smith and John Sampson, the agreement is several steps away from being finalized. The rest of the Senate's Democratic conference will have to sign onto the agreement — and so will the state Assembly. Even more difficult, for the deal to become law before the next school year, both houses of the legislature will have to return to Albany this summer to pass legislation.
The Assembly already passed a bill renewing mayoral control of the public schools, with some tweaks, before the end of its regular session. The bill enjoyed the support of the Bloomberg administration, but senate Democrats, once they solidified their thin majority, pushed back against signing onto an identical copy. They pushed for extra tweaks including a way to guarantee parent involvement in the public schools.
Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. delivered a speech in Spanish against no-bid contracts. (<em>GothamSchools</em>)
The circus around the State Senate intensified today as half a dozen senators gathered to complain that Mayor Bloomberg would not meet them at the bargaining table. Immediately afterward, senators confirmed that negotiations are, in fact, ongoing.
"We will not be dictated to, we will be negotiated with," said Senator Bill Perkins, a persistent critic of mayoral control. Joining Perkins on the steps of City Hall were Sens. Shirley Huntley, Hiram Monserrate, Pedro Espada, Eric Adams, Ruben Diaz Sr., and City Councilman Robert Jackson. All of the senators were among those who supported a failed bill that would have curtailed mayoral control.
After the press conference, Monserrate acknowledged to reporters that negotiations were already in progress. "We're at the table," he said. "There are some meetings occurring."
Those meetings, which began on Monday after mayoral control talks fell apart last week, are being held by Democratic conference leader John Sampson's staff and deputy schools chancellor Christopher Cerf.
Senators would not discuss the details of the negotiations today, but they reiterated their support for increased parent involvement, funding for art programs, and fixed terms for citywide school board members. A source close to the discussions described the talks as "fragile."
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."
A day after mayoral control's expiration, the Board of Education has been resurrected, but there are no signs of life for community school boards.
Instead, the Department of Education is planning to continue the Community Education Councils — despite the fact that they no longer legally exist. These parent councils replaced school boards in 2003 and, with the law's expiration, have been legally stripped of their authority and responsibilities.
Chancellor Joel Klein, who was voted back into office unanimously today by the new Board of Education, sent a memo to principals today outlining his plans for the CECs. He said he is urging the CECs to continue meeting "at least until September when we hope to have more clarity."
"If the Councils decide not to continue their work, we've asked them to notify us immediately," Klein wrote.
The decision to create of a Board of Education and vote in a chancellor while leaving the rest of the power structure as it was under mayoral control has divided the system into old and new. The school system's top half is in compliance with pre-2002 law, while its lower quarters legally don't exist.
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.
<em>Courtesy of the Bronx borough president's office</em>
No one can accuse Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. of being unprepared for the possibility that mayoral control will expire tonight. Diaz just named his potential appointee to the theoretical Board of Education.
That person is Dr. Dolores Fernandez, a professor of urban education at CUNY's Graduate Center who retired as president of Hostos Community College in 2008.
Fernandez's appointment will become effective at midnight tonight if the 2002 mayoral control law expires and the Senate does not pass a law to replace it.
Diaz said in a statement today that he is "a supporter of some form of mayoral control." Asked if Diaz would recommend that his appointee to the board vote to retain Joel Klein as chancellor, John DeSio, a spokesman for the borough president, would not comment yesterday. "He has mixed opinions on the chancellor," DeSio said.
Fernandez could not immediately be reached for comment. In a release put out by Diaz's office, she said:
"For me, it is an honor to be thought of by Borough President Diaz to represent The Bronx on the Board of Education. I look forward to serving our borough, and its children, in an admirable and professional way."
Between 1988 and 1990, Fernandez was deputy chancellor for instruction and development for the Board of Education. She served under chancellor Richard Green, the system's first black chancellor, who died suddenly a year into his tenure of an asthma attack, leaving the school system in disarray. Fernandez has a Master's in Education and a professional diploma in Educational Administration.
The full press release follows.
The NYCLU and Sikh community members demanded protection against discrimination at a press conference this morning. They said their push could be helped if mayoral control is revised.
Mayor Bloomberg refused to take questions on mayoral control at a press conference this morning, and two school-related groups staged protests outside City Hall and Tweed Courthouse without addressing the 2002 law directly.
That's despite the fact that mayoral control is set to expire in 12 hours if the state Senate doesn't pass legislation today. With the Senate still locked in a court battle, chances of a resolution look dimmer by the minute — and a reconstituted Board of Education looks more and more likely.
Bloomberg said he will address the small matter of the deadlocked legislature at 12:30 today, at a press conference where he will virtually appear next to Governor Paterson, who is in Albany.
Meanwhile, a group including the New York Civil Liberties Union and Sikh community members demanded more protection from discrimination this morning, in a protest outside the Department of Education's Tweed Courthouse headquarters. The group accused the DOE of not enforcing a regulation that is supposed to protect children from discriminating against each other in school.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, said the issue relates directly to mayoral control. The NYCLU has argued the current mayoral control law wrongly insulates the school system from following city law. "The refusal of the DOE to protect kids has to be looked at in the context of mayoral control," Lieberman told our Anna Phillips, who is at City Hall this morning. (The Assembly's version of a revised mayoral control law does not clarify whether the Department of Education must follow city law, as NYCLU advocated.)
One of the first things that's likely to happen if the state Senate allows mayoral control to expire tomorrow is a vote on whether to retain chancellor Joel Klein.
Four of the five borough presidents, who will make that decision, have already committed to keeping the chancellor in power.
Letting mayoral control expire would revert the school system to its pre-2002 structure, which is run by a seven-member Board of Education. The borough presidents would appoint five of these members and the mayor would name the other two. It would fall to these appointees to select a schools chancellor, and there's little doubt they would name Klein.
The lone hold-out is Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. "He has mixed opinions on the chancellor," said John DeSio, a spokesman for Diaz.
Asked if Diaz would instruct his appointee to vote in favor of Klein, DeSio would not comment.
All of the other borough presidents, or their school board appointees, have said they would favor retaining Klein as chancellor.
As early as this Monday, Mayor Bloomberg refused to countenance the possibility that mayoral control could expire June 30, spiraling the system back to a power-share with 32 community school boards and superintendents, plus a citywide Board of Education.
But with the state Senate still deadlocked, the mayor is agreeing to meet with the Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer, and discuss contingency plans, Stringer said this morning.
Department of Education officials are also burrowing into education law — and what they're describing is a school system that would become almost anarchical if the 2002 mayoral control law expires.
School officials explain a chain of events that would lead to the power vacuum in a memo that is circulating inside Tweed Courthouse and City Hall. The first problem is that if the system abruptly reverts to pre-2002 status, there would be no community school boards. The pre-2002 law prevents board elections from happening until May 2010, and no one has the authority to appoint temporary members:
"Therefore, community school boards will exist, but they will have no members — and will thus be incapable of taking any action," the memo says.
No community school boards means no acting community superintendents, which means several crucial school matters would be left without anyone to OK them. According to the memo, the matters include filling teaching vacancies, firing school employees who commit crimes, and deciding whether to promote students to the next grade after summer school.
Classroom decisions could also be affected, the memo says:
"While principals have the authority to make curricular decisions, those decisions will require the superintendent's approval, and without a superintendent, it is not clear how schools can make needed instructional decisions at all."
It's important to remember that these predictions are based not just on conversations with lawyers, but also probably political calculations. The department has been pushing strongly for mayoral control to be renewed, and so threatening doomsday if the Senate doesn't act is in their interest.
Here's the full document:
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is asking his office to craft a contingency plan for what he called an "Armageddon" scenario: the possibility that state lawmakers will not renew or revise the 2002 mayoral control law by June 30, its expiration date. In an interview with me this afternoon, Stringer urged Mayor Bloomberg to do the same thing.
"Normally, I would not take seriously this notion that the legislature would not finish mayoral control, do the sales tax, whatever," Stringer told me today in a telephone interview. "But that’s before the thug and crook took control of the Senate."
Stringer, himself a former Assemblyman, said that he is concerned that the Senate will not be in a position to take a vote on a renewed mayoral control law by June 30, the day the 2002 law expires. That would set the city's legal clock back to the pre-2002 days when a citywide school board had the power to appoint — and get rid of — a schools chancellor.
Mayor Bloomberg has said that letting mayoral control expire would cause "riots in the streets." Asked today whether he is preparing for that scenario, Bloomberg told reporters he'd rather not think about it. "It would be a nightmare, but I just cannot conceive of it happening. And we shouldn’t waste a lot of time preparing for it," Bloomberg said. "This will get done. The public will not stand for this not getting done."
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.
After infuriating activists pushing for checks to the mayor's control of the public schools, teachers union president Randi Weingarten today stood next to them at a press conference in Albany, joining a declaration that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's proposed bill does not give enough voice to parents.
Teachers and principals have unions, but parents do not, Weingarten said, according to someone who attended the press conference. That's why she said she is calling on lawmakers to write additional voice for parents into a revised mayoral control law.
In making the statement, Weingarten stood beside representatives of the Campaign for Better Schools and the Parent Commission on School Governance, two groups that have called for stronger checks to the mayor's power than the union ultimately demanded. Members of the Parent Commission on School Governance have criticized Weingarten for giving in to the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg, who has endorsed Silver's bill.
It was not clear exactly how much of those groups' positions Weingarten endorsed. At least five Democratic Assembly members also joined the press conference.
UPDATE: A spokesman for Weingarten, Ron Davis, just called to say she is concerned about this story. The spokesman said that Weingarten had "nothing but praise" for Silver's bill at the press conference, though she did say that she thinks it should be revised to "ensure a greater parental role."
City Council Member Robert Jackson at an Assembly hearing on mayoral control earlier this year. (Via GothamSchools Flickr)
A City Council hearing today on mayoral control became a chance for a chief critic of the power structure to lay out his concerns — a kind of last stand as top lawmakers and advocates move to a more moderate compromise.
The state's top two lawmakers have embraced keeping a majority of power with the mayor, and their statements led union president Randi Weingarten to back away from a push to yank that majority.
But Council member Robert Jackson, who chairs the education committee and served on his district's community school board for 15 years, did not appear to be affected by the changing tide at today's hearing.
For more than six hours, he fielded testimony from people explaining how they have been hurt under mayoral control: schools phased out without consultation from the Department of Education, charter schools operating with better supplies than traditional public schools, and the powerless feeling of serving on the new generation of school boards, Community Education Councils.
Few expressed support for the current system. During cross examinations, Jackson offered his own criticism of mayoral control. At times, he could barely restrain his frustration.
“Talk is cheap,” he told Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, saying he had requested information from the DOE several months ago and had yet to obtain it.
“I wish you’d pick up the phone and call me,” Klein responded.
“I should not have to pick up the phone! It’s a continuous problem,” Jackson shot back.
Randi Weingarten testifying at a mayoral control hearing in February. (<em>GothamSchools</em>)
A group of parent activists and union members is expressing anger with teachers union leader Randi Weingarten, telling her that she has dropped the ball in fighting for checks to the mayor's power over schools.
The frustration began with a May 21 New York Post column, in which Weingarten indicated that she is open to allowing the mayor to continue appointing a majority of members to the citywide school board. A union task force recommended in February that the state legislature reverse that majority as a way to strengthen the board, known as the Panel for Education Policy or PEP.
Weingarten's Post op/ed dismayed some members of her own union. "I was quite disappointed and angry, actually," said Lisa North, a teacher who sat on the union's task force to consider revisions to mayoral control.
North said the task force never seriously considered recommending that the mayor keep his majority of appointments, and so when union delegates ratified the committee's final recommendations, she expected Weingarten to promote them. "The delegate assembly is supposed to be the highest authority of the union, and it voted for it," she said.
In an interview today, Weingarten acknowledged that people have reached out to her with concerns about her position, including her own union members. "I did get a couple of e-mails from members saying, 'Why are you doing what you're doing?'" she said. She said that she empathizes with those concerns. "I totally and completely understand and concur with the frustrations that many have that this mayor and this chancellor have not listened to and respected enough the voices of those who go to our schools, their parents, and those who teach them," she said.
But she also said that she has to weigh concerns about checking the mayor's power against the reasons she supported giving the mayor control in 2002. "It's always been a balance of stability, cohesion, and responsibility, which is what mayoral control brought us, and modifying it to create sufficient checks and balances and transparency," Weingarten said.
A group of New York City mothers are appealing to divine intervention to stop the renewal of mayoral control, with a daylong fast that starts a minute before midnight tonight.
"I am hoping that the legislators in Albany, if they don't have direct knowledge of how bad things are for our children, that they will be influenced by the hand of the Lord on their heads," said Benita Lovett-Rivera, one of the event's organizers.
From tonight until 8:19 p.m. tomorrow — the official sunset — opponents of mayoral control citywide will abstain from eating and drinking. At 7 p.m. they will gather in small groups for "fervent" prayer and to sing the protest song "We Shall Overcome," Lovett-Rivera said. She told me she has heard from nearly a thousand people who said they would participate.
The fast was the brainchild of a small group of mothers who attended a recent town hall meeting about mayoral control in Brooklyn (that Elizabeth moderated), where Major Owens, the former longtime congressman from Brooklyn, said he wished opponents of mayoral control would mobilize to stop the school governance law from being renewed, rather than just hold forums about it.
The state Senate ground to a standstill on the question of who should control the city's public schools this week, but a consensus among members of the Assembly looks like it will be easier to come by — and it could come soon.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told New York City members this week that he will hold the Assembly Democrats' first conference on the issue next week, according to a member who was there, Mark Weprin of Queens. The conference will kick off formal talks within the Democratic conference about whether to reauthorize, revise, or scrap the 2002 law that granted control of the city's public schools to the mayor.
Several Assembly members are already putting together legislation on the subject, much of it influenced by the constellation of advocacy groups that are bombarding Albany this week. A slew of Assembly members are standing behind recommendations put out by the Campaign for Better Schools, while bills in line with the recommendations of Betsy Gotbaum's commission on school governance and the Parent Commission on School Governance are said to be on the way. Assemblyman Alan Maisel of Brooklyn today introduced a bill, backed by the city principals' union, that would beef up the power of superintendents.
But the conference would be the first chance for Democrats to try to work out a consensus on the issue. The bills currently in circulation clash with each other on several points. More importantly, they also clash with the position of the powerful speaker, Silver, who supports giving the mayor a majority of appointees on the citywide school board.
While lawmakers in Albany battle over how much to limit the mayor's control of the public schools, a City Council member from Brooklyn is zeroing in on another part of the city school system he wants revised: the parents' "bill of rights" — which apparently exists! Bill De Blasio, who is running for public advocate this year, is using the bill of rights to illustrate his argument for a "bottom-up" rather than "top-down" approach to improving public schools.
The current version of the list, created by the Department of Education and published on the department's Web site, includes five rights that parents have (the right to file a complaint, the right to "be actively involved") plus seven responsibilities (they must send their children to school "ready to learn," they must keep track of their children's performance, they must treat educators with respect).
The version drafted this week by Bill de Blasio, a City Council member from Brooklyn, outlines 10 rights that would give parents much wider latitude to participate in policy-making (plus the crowd-pleaser right to a "reasonable approach to cellular phones.")
De Blasio has been telling supporters that he would improve the city schools by using the public advocate's office as a kind of organizing arm of government that would empower parents to get more involved in improving their schools — and to supply them with the information required to do that.
De Blasio explained his position at a recent fundraiser in Harlem tied to education issues that I attended, where supporters brought toys to donate along with cash for the campaign and De Blasio's two children, both public school students, made an appearance.
Here's the full bill of rights, below the jump:
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.
Mayor Bloomberg's school leadership has been characterized by secrecy, defiance of the law, and a heavy hand in school discipline, the New York Civil Liberties Union declared today in a report titled "The Price of Power."
The report details NYCLU's experiences with the Bloomberg-controlled Department of Education stalling on responding to Freedom of Information Law requests, refusing to comply with student safety-related laws passed by the City Council, and refusing to provide basic data about military recruitment that the organization said the U.S. Armed Forces provided freely.
The report deliberately avoids some of the major questions of the debate about mayoral control of the city's schools, including whether the mayor should appoint the chancellor and whether the mayor should control the number of seats on the citywide school board. But it does offer recommendations on the law, which is set to sunset June 30 if it's not renewed or revised.
The recommendations include making the public school system a city, rather than state, agency, which would bring it under a slate of good governance regulations about public notification of policy changes; opening the school system to audits by the city comptroller and public advocate; and requiring that schools contracts get publicly vetted.
Transforming the Department of Education into a city agency would also allow the City Council to make laws about the public schools that the DOE would be accountable for implementing. Like others recommending changes to mayoral control, NYCLU is saying that the city's Independent Budget Office should get the right to receive and review DOE data, but the group adds the idea that the department needs an "inspector general" who would investigate systemic wrongdoing.
Last week one state politician said he would revamp mayoral control by changing who makes decisions about school policy. Two others said they are proposing legislation that would take a different approach to reforming school governance, by clarifying the constraints under which current decision-makers must operate.
Two state politicians, Assemblyman Rory Lancman and Sen. Daniel Squadron of Brooklyn, announced last week that they have introduced legislation that would require the city Department of Education to be treated just like any other city agency when it comes to budgeting, oversight by the comptroller and public advocate, and public notification about policy changes. Currently, the department occupies a no-man's-land between city and state authority, a position that has allowed the DOE to escape some of the scrutiny regularly applied to other city agencies and to avoid following laws passed by the City Council.
Lancman and Squadron say their bill is not meant as a comprehensive way to address the school governance question, which lawmakers must tackle by the end of next month. Instead, they say, it's meant to close a big loophole in the law that has been open since 2002, when the state gave control of the city schools to Mayor Bloomberg. The loophole allowed the nonprofit organization that raises money for the DOE, the Fund for Public Schools, to avoid disclosing its donors, saying that disclosure rules apply only to groups working with city agencies. The DOE has also used the loophole to justify its decision not to follow state law that says elected parent councils must be consulted before the department can close schools.
Lancman told me he doesn't expect the bill to become law, in part because it addresses only one component of the school governance question. The final school governance bill will deal with other issues including the makeup of the school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy, and how much input parents should have in DOE decisions. Lancman told me he sponsored a partial bill to raise awareness about the particular issue of whether the DOE should be a city agency. "This legislation is a vehicle for driving this issue into the final bill," he said.
Lancman and Squadron's bill would firmly establish the DOE as a city agency.
A bare majority of New Yorkers say the mayor's school leadership is strong, but that doesn't mean they want him to keep control of the city schools, according to poll results released today.
New Yorkers approve of Bloomberg's handling of the public schools more than they approve of how he is handling the economic crisis, public transportation, and taxes, according to a new Marist Poll. Only his handling of crime (78 percent) and swine flu (74 percent) got higher marks in the poll. Still, the proportion of people surveyed who think the mayor's school handling is a success was low, at 51 percent, up from just 40 percent in Marist's February poll.
Fewer people want Bloomberg to retain control of the schools than approve of how he is leading them: 60 percent of those polled said they thought state lawmakers should take Bloomberg's school control away when they pass a new law about the system's governance structure, which must happen by the end of next month.
Those respondents instead said that responsibility for running the schools should be given instead to "an appointed citywide Panel on Education Policy." The city's school board is currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy, and how much power it should have has been a central question in the school governance debate. (The Department of Education is already questioning the poll's findings because of its wording.)
Among parents, the proportion who would strip the mayor of his schools control was even higher, at 67 percent.