The Senate and the Schools
April 28th, 2009

A Senate report on mayoral control of city schools has attracted lots of attention, largely for the major changes it would make in the current system, preserving, some say, mayoral control in name only. While the report has widely circulated in the past days, it remains unclear how much the document reflects the thinking of the Senate Democratic majority — and how much it is the work of a few senators, or perhaps even just one.

The Senate, of course, will have to sign off on any agreement to renew mayoral control, adjust it or simply let it die when the bill giving the mayor his iron grip expires at the end of June. (For more on the issues involved in the debate, see The Mayor’s High Stakes Test.)

The cover letter from Sen. Martin Malave Dilan of Brooklyn describes the report as being written by the Task Force Majority on School Governance, which conducted seven hearings on the issue in New York City. While “mayoral control has brought about some encouraging changes,” the letter says, “the system is still in need of significant improvements.” And then the report goes on to suggest some.

It calls for restoring community school districts, largely gutted under the current system, and restoring the role of district superintendents. It gives more power to the community education councils — the largely toothless heirs to community school boards — including “explicit authority to review and approve proposals to close, lease or sell any school buildings.” Given the many hot disputes around the city over closing schools and placing privately operated charter schools in public school buildings, this would constitute a major change.

Perhaps most explosively the bill would clip the wings of the all-powerful chancellor by creating “a countervailing body as a check” on the chancellor’s authority. This group would “approve or disapprove all budgetary and policy decisions made by the chancellor, all contracts exceeding a certain amount and all collective bargaining agreements.”

The report remains agnostic on what this body should be called or how it should be configured but leaves no doubt the Panel for Educational Policy — a largely meaningless body the mayor controls — is not up to the task. “It must be significantly reformed if it is to take on this role,” the report says. Otherwise “a new body or resurrected Board of Education should be formed.”

In today’s Post Carl Campanile, who has emerged as a cheerleader for the mayor’s position on school governance, outlines the report. (Interestingly he describes it as a draft, although the copy we have does not include that word even once.)

Asked by Campanile for a response, mayoral spokesperson Dawn Walker said the report “explicitly advocates a return to an unaccountable central policy-making board. That model failed our kids for decades, and we would not support returning to it.”

Meanwhile, Dilan may be beating a retreat. Earlier today, the State Senate Democratic Majority sent out a statement by the Brooklyn legislator calling the report an internal report [that] was made public”

The document, he continued, “does not reflect the views of the Senate Democratic majority, nor does it reflect the findings and views of all the members of the task force.” Instead, he said, “This report reflects my own findings as co-chair of the Task Force on New York City School Governance. It is a draft that serves only to outline public response and recommended action.

By on April 28, 2009, 1:18 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Eye on Albany | 3 Comments »

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3 Responses to “The Senate and the Schools”

  1. Ellen Says:
    April 30th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I wish the mayor and DOE would define what they mean by “accountable.” Judging by the mayor’s behavior, “accountable” means “I know what’s best and I’m not about to listen to anyone else’s suggestions.” Given that definition, a different kind of “unaccountable” system would be highly preferable.

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