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Mayor’s Management Report for 2005: Thinner, Less Useful

by Glenn Pasanen, Oct 11, 2005
 

Michael Bloomberg released his mayor’s management report for fiscal year 2005 on September 12, one day before the Democratic primary election, a preemptive strike against his political opponents. Fair enough: The report is required by the city charter in order to give voters a useful measure of mayoral accountability.

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In this latest report, the mayor says that his administration has achieved “high levels of service delivery…[and] in some cases, historic progress.”

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But much like last year’s report, this one gives voters little help. It includes too many insignificant indicators, lacks any overview or sense of priorities, and says little or nothing about such major (and problematic) policies as the reorganization of city schools, big changes in homeless services, the costs of school construction, and high levels of overtime among the city’s uniformed services.

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And a number of recent surveys and independent management studies challenge the mayor’s rosy assessment, identifying some real problems and providing an alternative view of mayoral accountability.

SMALLER, BUT BETTER?

The printed version of the 2005 Mayor’s Management Report is much smaller than the ones put out during the administration of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (276 pages in 2005, compared to 1,162 pages in 2001). Many observers admire this change, including most participants at an expert panel sponsored by the mayor’s charter revision commission on April 4. But one dissenter on that panel, deputy city comptroller Greg Brooks, pointed out that smaller is not necessarily better.

Brooks noted a net reduction of 1,087 indicators (from 2,606 in 2002 to 1,519 in 2004), a 42 percent cut. He also noted that 16 percent of the 1,519 remaining indicators are related to 311, creating what he characterized as a “soft indicator of the quality of city services…[that] could in fact skew results.”

The good news is that the mayor’s management report does have a number of useful statistics, if not many performance indicators. It provides glimpses of current city demographics and some social conditions. The basic problem is that the report does not connect the dots between those facts and city policy.

Some of the more glaring examples include:

    Graduation Rates
  • Between 2001 and 2004, the percentage of students graduating from high school within four years increased, from 51.0 to 54.3 percent.
  • But in the same period, the percentage of students graduating from high school within seven years declined, from 69.5 percent to 68.0 percent.

  • Issue to connect the dots: What improves/impedes graduation rates?
    Special Education
  • From 2001 to 2005, NYC student enrollment has decreased by nearly 30,000, to 1,075,300.
  • But in the same period, the number of special education students has increased by 5.5 percent, from 167,800 to 177,100.

  • Issue to connect the dots: Is a higher percentage of students in special education good or bad?
    Homeless Families
  • Between 2001 and 2005, the average number of homeless families in shelters per day has increased by 55 percent, to 8,623 (including 14,849 children).
  • In the same period, in spite of a focus on “prevention,” there’s been a 46 percent increase in families entering the shelter system for the first time (6,618 in 2005).

  • Issue to connect the dots: What’s the actual impact of prevention work?
    Crime
  • Since 2001, major felony crimes have decreased by 21 percent (murders by 15 percent, rapes by 11 percent), from 172,646 to 136,491.
  • But the number of uniformed officers has decreased in the past four years by 3,141, or eight percent.
  • And in the same period, police overtime has increased by 20 percent, from $338 million to $406 million.
  • And over four years civilian complaints against police officers increased by 46 percent, to 6,358 in 2005.

  • Issue to connect the dots: Are officer levels, overtime, crime statistics, and civilian complaints related?

THE VIEW OUTSIDE CITY HALL

What The Customers/Constituents Say On Education

One performance indicator that would improve the mayor’s management report in many agencies is the constituent/customer survey. In June the city council’s education committee published an education oversight report card , based on a survey of 689 parents and 30 teachers. Using a state-based grading system (1=Not Proficient, 2=Basic, 3=Proficient, 4=Advanced):

  • Three of 14 categories – class size, teacher and principal morale, special education, and operations -- got the lowest score of 1.
  • High school admissions got a 3, and competition and choice a 4.
  • All other categories (including instruction, communication, and parent involvement) received 2’s.

The Quinnipiac University September 22 poll of 1,504 NYC registered voters reported mixed public judgments of school performance: Some 66 percent of voters are dissatisfied with the public schools (an improvement from earlier polls over the past three years that showed dissatisfaction ranging as high as 78 percent). But the mayor got a 52 /33 percent approval/disapproval rating for his public education role, and chancellor Joel Klein a 40/33 percent rating.

Overall, 12 percent of voters were “very satisfied” with the ways things are going in the city, with 51 percent “somewhat satisfied,” 22 percent “somewhat dissatisfied,” and 13 percent “very dissatisfied.”

What The Independent Monitors Say

The city comptroller’s office and the NYC Independent Budget Office, like the the city council, serve as alternative governmental sources of accountability measures, particularly in data and technology areas. For instance, the comptroller’s May 2 audit of "the paperless office system" of the Human Resources Administration showed that a system that has cost $47 million and was (according to the 1996 Mayor’s Management Report) to be completed by April 1998, has yet to be finished.

Furthermore, HRA did not provide complete documentation of the many contracts associated with this project, and gave “the false impression” that the paperless office system “was progressing smoothly.”

The Independent Budget Office’s September fiscal brief, "Follow the Money: Were School Construction Dollars Spent as Planned?” (in pdf format) identified major problems with reporting systems: “Determining how successful the education department was in implementing its $6.9 billion 2000-2004 capital plan was a difficult task, plagued by inconsistent and missing data….The lack of detail linking the spending to individual projects limits the comparison between plan and actual.” (This is just what the mayor’s management reports are supposed to do, but don’t.)

In spite of the data restrictions, the IBO doggedly pursued a projected vs. actual cost study of a small part of the total capital plan -- 14 new elementary and four new high schools. The study found that actual spending was 22.0 percent and 38.1 percent higher per square foot in the elementary and high schools, respectively, than projected in the original plan. (The study suggests those percentages may be understated.)

SPECIAL EXAMPLE: SPECIAL EDUCATION

For decades 110 Livingston Street, the city Board of Education’s central office in Brooklyn, was a notorious symbol of the modern bureaucracy – distant, unresponsive, ineffective. Mayor Bloomberg, newly in charge of public education and sensitive to the symbol, moved central headquarters to the Giuliani-renovated Tweed building, next door to City Hall (although the $100 million cost of its renovations and the building’s association with the city’s most famous crook raised some eyebrows).

But has the mayor simply created a different monster? A new management study of Bloomberg ’s reorganization of special education describes an eerily familiar structure -– “a bureaucratically-driven” agency that has continued bad old policies and created a new set of dubious policies and procedures. Written in a polite and technical academic style, the study lays out an astonishing range of management problems, from complex and confusing infrastructure and ineffective data systems to a central-office reliance on an old “medical model of treatment” that the researchers say contradicts current best practices.

“Comprehensive Management Review and Evaluation of Special Education” was written by a team of seven researchers, headed by Thomas Hehir, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Contracted by the city’s department of education, its purpose was “to critically assess the recent reorganization of…special education evaluation and placement processes and special education oversight in light of the Jose P. litigation.”

The study is independent of both the department and the plaintiffs in that litigation, which has been in place since 1979, when the city was found in violation of the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004).

The report is also the first significant study of the core element of the mayor’s overall reform of education -– a highly centralized operation that has created 10 regions out of 32 community school districts and re-structured special education in those 10 regions.

The study says, in sum, no, the department does not yet have an effective management structure. Of 14 findings, nine are negative. Five positive findings applaud the commitment of the agency’s many teachers and specialists to their work. But six of the nine negative findings show structural and management problems:

  • “The complex …infrastructure…leads to confusion with respect to roles and responsibilities and does not provide sufficient support to principals and school staff.”
  • “The management of special education…is not sufficiently data-driven.”
  • Policies and procedures “are not being communicated to personnel in an effective manner.”
  • Pre-referral measures “are implemented inconsistently and are often duplicative.”
  • “[A]n effective [due process] system is still not in place.”
  • Staff development efforts “are insufficient.”
The other negative findings are more conceptual in nature. The authors question the special education medical model that the mayor and chancellor have inherited but also seem to have adopted. The report argues that the model leads to “treatments” by specialists and therefore unnecessary segregation of services. They suggest shifting to a more comprehensive, integrated, and local set of services.

The 2005 Mayor’s Management Report says nothing about these significant management and policy questions (special education in the 2003-2004 school year represented nearly 25 percent of the education budget, or $3.4 billion). The department press release accompanying the study quotes only its statement that the department is “moving NYC in the right direction.” It ignores the specific litany of structural/ management problems.

The mayor’s recent charter revision commission considered (and ultimately tabled) a mayoral initiative to reduce the number of reports. The thinness of the current mayor’s management report indicates that the problem is not too many reports. The problem is too few that are useful.

Glenn Pasanen, who teaches political science at Lehman College, has been in charge of Gotham Gazette's finance topic page since 2001. 


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