Damn the Courts and Close the Schools
July 19th, 2010

See it as a strength or a weakness but it’s hardly a secret that Michael Bloomberg does not like to let courts, public sentiment or dictates of other levels of government stand in the way of what he thinks is best for the city. And so it should not come as a surprise that the mayor is resisting two court rulings that have stopped the city’s closing of 19 schools Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein consider to be failing.

Last month, the Department of Education put the schools on its list of closings for next year. And on Friday, the city released numbers showing that few city students had enrolled in the school’s ninth grades for this year.

In his weekly radio appearance Friday, the mayor seemed to indicate these numbers could give the city an excuse to thumb their noses at the courts and begin phasing out the schools anyway,

“Some of these schools are going to have 20 people,” he said. “And if there’s only 20 students, most of the teachers and the staff is not going to be there because the schools get funded based on the number of kids.”

He also cast aspersions on any parents who selected those schools for their children. “If your logic is such that you want your kids to go to a bad school, you need an education,” he said.

Certainly the numbers are low. According to the city’s figures, only 20 students have signed up for the first year class at the School for Community Research and Learning and just 22 for Paul Robeson High School. But the numbers do not necessarily reflect wholesale dissatisfaction with the schools.

Only a year or two ago, many of these schools had far more students enrolled. In 2008-09, the most recent year available on the department web site, Robeson had 328 teenagers in its first year class. Norman Thomas High School, with 118 now in its class of 2014, had 899 students in it first-year class three years ago. Jamaica High School, with 58 students set to enter in September, had 422 first-year students two years ago.

By most accounts, students this spring were encouraged not to select one of the closing schools. As Anna Phillips wrote in Gotham Schools, “This year, students who listed any of the then-closing schools as one of their top choices were matched to other schools. But after a judge’s ruling postponed the closures, the city sent those students a letter giving them a second chance to pick a high school this time including the would-be closing schools on their list of options. To make its preference clear, the citys letters discouraging parents from sending their children to the schools marked for closure.

In that letter, the department referred to the March trial court decision blocking the closures and said, “We wholeheartedly disagree with this ruling and we are appealing. At this time however the court ruling requires us to permit students to enroll at these schools.”

The city has said that, by September, it expects the numbers of incoming students at these schools to rise.

In their rulings, the courts found the city did not comply with provisions of the new school governance law requiring the city hold public hearing on any school closing and provide information on what effect the rulings might have. Essentially, the judges found the hearings and information provided were merely pro forma.

In comments that speak volumes, Bloomberg later conceded the city probably did not follow the law — but that it should not matter.

“We’re playing with children’s lives, not whether the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed,” Bloomberg said on his radio show earlier this month. The judges, he continued, “should look at the context of it, and for them to think, ‘Well, you know, I’m just here to interpret the law,’ that’s not true. They are part of society.”

Those comments grew quick — if little noticed reaction, since it was July 4 weekend. “He’s telling the judges that ‘I am so right on the issue that your interpretation of the law doesn’t matter. It’s Bloomberg law. I am the philosopher king. I know best,'” Baruch College public affairs professor Doug Muzzio told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s outrageous, but characteristic of the mayor and his attitude.”

“So as far as Mike Bloomberg is concerned, there is one narrow set of rules for him-and a more detailed one for the little people,” the Neighborhood Retail Alliance blog commented. And when it comes to a choice between his own interests, and the rule of law itself, the mayor unhesitatingly comes down on the side of what’s good for Mike Bloomberg.

Meanwhile the education department last week also released a plan, negotiated with the United Federation of Teachers, on where it would locate new schools slated to open in September. Seven new schools will operate from inside the schools tagged for closure with two going into Jamaica High School. In addition, two existing schools be placed in the supposedly failing schools. Originally, 13 schools had been slated for the schools slated for closure.

As part of the deal, the city, according to teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said, would make an effort to “improve the academic experience for children in all 19 that are part of the lawsuit.” This reportedly would include extra support, including teacher training.

But the city may already be trying to wriggle out of that. According to the Daily News, the education department now says that any extra teachers or services will have to come from the schools’ budgets — meaning, of course, it’s not exactly “extra” help at all.

By on July 19, 2010, 11:08 am
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