Gotham Gazette Wed, 26 Jun 2019 02:12:32 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Mayoral Control of City Schools Helps Students Succeed in a Global Economy - It Must Be Extended mayorofficefirstdayfive

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

In 2007, I was honored to chair the Commission on School Governance, a body appointed by then Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum to make recommendations on the future of New York City’s mayoral control law, which was about to come up for renewal.

I brought a unique perspective to the deliberations. I had served two terms as president of the New York City Board of Education during the 1970s, and had fought hard to preserve the board’s role in hiring and monitoring the performance of NYC school chancellors—as well as the independence of the board from direct political takeover.

Why? Because I believed the system worked.

As in any large, urban school system, there were some bad apples, but most of the central and community school board members impressed me as dedicated, hard-working people who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children.

Two decades later, I had what I like to call “an epiphany of mayoral control.”  

When it came time to made recommendations about the future of the legislation in 2008, I enthusiastically added my signature to the commission’s findings. Our overarching conclusion: “Mayoral control of the schools should be maintained so that the mayor can remain the principal public official who charts the direction of the school system and through the Chancellor is ultimately responsible for operating the schools on a day-to-day basis.”

I am more convinced than ever that a three-year renewal of mayoral accountability is the best thing we can do to move all our students to excellence and the futures they deserve.

Instead of dispersed authority and a rigid bureaucracy, we now have clear lines of accountability and responsibility. This has enabled mayors to allocate unprecedented resources to the city’s public schools and has empowered more parents to become involved in their children’s education.

Since its inception, mayoral accountability has enjoyed the robust support of business leaders like myself, for good reason. As a senior advisor to a global public relations and communications agency, I know that an educated population is essential for any company to compete in the 21st-century. An education that gives all students access to the most in-demand skills will also go a long way toward bringing equity to the workforce. Business leaders have a real interest in shrinking racial and gender gaps in fields such as computer science, where jobs are growing at twice the national average.

The Department of Education’s (DOE) Computer Science for All (CS4All) initiative is an example of mayoral accountability at its best. This $81 million public-private partnership will enable all city public school students, with an emphasis on female, black, and Hispanic students, to learn computer science by 2025. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are laser-focused on empowering more young women and students of color to pursue careers in computer science, where they are currently under-represented.

Now, New York City is leading the nation in ensuring more young women and students of color have access to, and are excelling in, advanced computer science classes. In the past two years, the DOE has seen a nearly six-fold increase in the number of girls taking an Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science test—up from 379 in 2016 to 2,155 last year. I was especially impressed to learn that girls represented 42 percent of these test-takers, versus 28 percent nationwide. An increasing number of girls are also passing an AP computer-science exam: 1,266 in 2018, up from 177 in 2016. The number of black and Hispanic students taking an AP Computer Science exam has also increased by 55 percent and 46 percent, respectively, since 2017. 

CS4All and the city’s other Equity and Excellence for All initiatives would have been difficult, if not impossible, to achieve when I served on the Board of Education. Mayoral control has created and fostered major policies at a much faster pace than we ever saw previously—while keeping responsibility and accountability focused where it belongs: with the Mayor.

I believe New York State legislators understand the benefits of having a mayor at the helm of our school system. They should include a three-year extension of mayoral control in the budget due by Monday, April 1.

It is time to make our collective epiphany a reality.

Stephen R. Aiello is a senior advisor at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in New York City, and served as president of the NYC Board of Education between 1977 and 1979.

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Mayoral Control of City Schools Helps Students Succeed in a Global Economy - It Must Be Extended Wed, 27 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
‘Zombie’ Charter School Agreement Rests on Interpretation of Ambiguous Law de blasio law interpretation

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)

A much talked-about provision of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 13th-hour deal to have his control over city schools extended was the agreement that 22 revoked or surrendered charter school charters could be reissued without counting towards the predetermined state cap on the number of charter schools.

In exchange for a two-year extension of mayoral control of city schools, de Blasio agreed to a series of charter school-friendly administrative maneuvers, including the “zombie” charter provision, as well as others around rental reimbursements and school space allocations. The mayor made the deal with state Senate Republicans, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and their charter sector allies.

What has not been widely noted is that language added to the state Education Law at the end of the 2015 Albany legislative session already allowed exactly 22 charters that had been “surrendered, revoked or terminated” on or before July 1, 2015, to be reissued, raising the question of why it was necessary to clarify that point at all.

The answer might lie around the ambiguity of the language. The law states that “such reissuance shall not be counted toward the statewide numerical limit” – the cap of 460 charters – but makes no mention of the separate limit of 50 charters issued after July 1, 2015, for cities of one million or more people, a criteria only New York City fits.

The mention of the state cap and omission of the city cap could be understood as affirming that charters which were revoked and then reissued in the city would continue to count towards that predetermined ceiling of 50, of which there are now 23 remaining aside from the defunct “zombie” charters. It seems that the mayoral administration’s concession was not to read the law that way.

In a brief phone conversation, Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Toya Holness said Monday that the administration “agreed not to challenge the way [the law] was being interpreted,” but declined to offer examples of potential alternative interpretations.

Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, said that it was the Senate Republican majority’s “position that those 22 ‘zombie’ charters shouldn’t be counted towards any kind of cap.”

In essence, state authorizers issues the charters that allow applying entities to open charter schools, but for one reason or another some are revoked or the schools close down, leaving the question of whether those charter slots under either of the two caps are newly available.

Wrangling over the status of revoked charters has been going on for years; in 2010, before the law was changed to include specific directives on reissuing charters, an Assembly bill introduced by charter-friendly Democrats tried to establish that “that revoked charters will no longer count against the cap,” according to its summary. It didn’t pass at the time.

The reissuable charters won’t be separately marked, but simply added the available pool of charters under the cap, which now appears to stand at 45 for New York City, where 216 charter schools currently operate. Potential schools hoping to secure a charter must follow the normal application procedures through state authorizers -- New York City’s Mayor and Department of Education actually have very little control related to charter schools, less so given changes to the laws ushered in by Senate Republicans and Cuomo after de Blasio, a longtime charter foe, took office in 2014. Senate Republicans and Cuomo are supportive of charters and well-funded by charter allies, while de Blasio and state Assembly Democrats are close with and funded by teachers unions, who see largely non-unionized charters as anathema to their survival.

It is not clear why the law was amended to permit specifically 22 reissuances, nor who exactly included the language. It was part of the 72-page end-of-session bill passed on June 25, 2015 that includes a wide variety of measures.

Even if the de Blasio administration stands down from challenging the charter stipulation, the lack of legal clarity means that another entity could. Public school advocates and teachers unions in particular have been consistent opponents of charter school expansion, and have been willing to use legal tools to stop it.

In 2013, the United Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against the DOE to try to stop it from offering space to charter schools in existing city public schools; the suit was eventually dismissed by a judge. The UFT, which is largely allied with de Blasio, did not return a request for comment about whether it would challenge the agreed upon interpretation of the charter school law.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

‘Zombie’ Charter School Agreement Rests on Interpretation of Ambiguous Law Tue, 11 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Made a Charter School Deal, But Isn’t Interested in Talking About It de blasio mayoral control event

Mayor de Blasio at City Hall, June 29 (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiated a deal to extend mayoral control of city schools in exchange for a set of administrative actions benefitting charter schools. When the mayor celebrated the extension of mayoral control -- which was due to expire at the end of June, but was extended June 29 -- he did not release the details of the charter-friendly promises he was making to Republican state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, and their charter sector allies.

The Democratic mayor said at press conferences on both June 29 and June 30 that the details, all non-legislative, were still being finalized and that when they were ready they would be shared. When Gotham Gazette asked the mayor if he wasn’t participating in the type of secretive backroom dealing he’s criticized Albany lawmakers for, he said it was different because the details still weren’t final.

The Wall Street Journal reported one key detail late Wednesday night and the mayor’s press office only released the six-point agenda upon subequent requests from news outlets, many of which, including Gotham Gazette, made that inquiry on Thursday. In other words, there was no formal announcement, no press release emailed widely to reporters and editors and posted to the city’s website.

De Blasio also said at the end of June that once the details were public he’d take questions about them, but he left town for Germany Thursday night without doing so. When the mayor called in for his weekly Friday appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, the segment was dominated by the surprise Germany trip, which the mayor took in order to speak at a rally outside the G20 summit of world leaders, the recent killing of an NYPD officer, and homelessness.

In one sense, de Blasio successfully avoided talking about a charter school-friendly agreement that, while expedient to win two more years of mayoral control, he is not excited about. De Blasio is a long-time charter school foe, though tensions have cooled over the past two years, and is closely aligned with teachers unions, which see the largely non-unionized charter sector as an existential threat. The mayor’s antipathy toward charter schools has been at the forefront of his challenges to win a long-term extension of mayoral control given the strong support for charters from Cuomo and the Republican-controlled state Senate. The third major entity involved in the Albany decision-making, Assembly Democrats, are even more anti-charter than de Blasio.

The charter school package de Blasio agreed to includes changes around rent reimbursements from the city to charter schools and school space utilization for charters, as well as MetroCard subsidies to some charter students and, most notably, an agreement that about 22 charter schools no longer operating can be replaced without an increase in the current cap on charters in the city. That cap was the key point of contention in negotiations among stakeholders in Albany, with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie refusing to accept any increase in the cap. Instead, de Blasio agreed to a de facto increase.

According to City Hall, the changes will cost about $10 million per year, including about $7 million to increase charter school space reimbursement from 20% to 30%, which is already included in the budget, and $3 million for MetroCards for charter students who need transportation before busing begins each school year. It’s too early to tell if there will be any additional costs to the city related to the 20-plus “zombie” charters that are non-operational and now available to replacement through the charter authorization process, a City Hall spokesperson said.

It’s no surprise that City Hall did not send out a press release announcing the details of the deal or that the mayor didn’t make himself available to discuss them. At the same time, given de Blasio’s challenges in Albany, especially with regard to Senate Republicans and Cuomo, who both receive significant funding from wealthy charter school supporters, the mayor has sought to avoid charter-related conflict over the last two years. In 2014, de Blasio received a major setback through state legislation guaranteeing charter schools either space in public school buildings or rent reimbursements, some of which the city would have to pay.

In a statement, de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said, “The charter sector is an important partner in our mission to deliver an excellent education to every child in New York City. Through the debate over mayoral control, we identified a few common-sense areas where we could better work together to ensure all 1.1 million school children have a chance to succeed.”

There are currently 216 charter schools operating in New York City, with 23 slots left under the existing cap, according to the New York City Charter School Center, and 22 defunct charters would be open to replacement under the new agreement. Meaning, without a change to the law in Albany, there is room for 45 new charter schools in New York City.

When a deal extending mayoral control of city schools was voted through a special session of the state Legislature on June 29, de Blasio called a City Hall press conference to celebrate. “Well, we have very good news for the children of New York City and for the parents of New York City,” de Blasio said. “Mayoral control of education has been extended for the next two years. This is a hugely important moment.”

In the question-and-answer session that followed the mayor’s brief remarks, Gotham Gazette asked how raising the charter school cap had been dropped from the negotiations. Senate Republicans had tied extending mayoral control to an increase in the cap. De Blasio credited Heastie, who had been steadfast about not agreeing to raise the cap, and said “eventually I think that logic pervaded in many ways.” He did not mention his side deal.

Asked then by Gotham Gazette if it was simply that Senate Republicans backed down, de Blasio said, “I won't speak for any of the parties.” He said that he had had a lot of productive conversation with Sen. Flanagan and, among other points, added, “I think we found some real common ground in terms of the ability to work together on specific ideas.”

When a reporter from The New York Times later followed up, asking if there were any side agreements related to charter schools, de Blasio finally admitted there was. “There were a lot of conversations about a set of issues related to charters, that we believe could be handled administratively,” he said. “Those ideas are being crystallized into a final form. There's still some finishing touches to put on. There will be an upcoming announcement on that.”

Asked to elaborate, de Blasio said he wasn’t ready “to go into the specifics, because I want to respect that all the parties have to finish the final touches, as I said, but again, very productive conversations about things where we could work together.”

He added: “I thought a number of the issues that were raised were perfectly fair, you know, were respectful of what the city was trying to do overall, in terms of education, were not onerous. There were ways we could work together, and that was part of what I think energized this process, was the more we talked about actual substance. When I said, ‘Well, wait a minute. We could work together on that. Let's see if we can solve that.’ The speaker was very clear about not wanting to address those issues legislatively, which I, again, think was a fair approach, given the sanctity of mayoral control of education. That didn't mean we couldn't look at other ways to address the issue, so again, I believe you'll see, very soon, some final outcomes on that.”

The next day, during another press conference exchange, de Blasio told Gotham Gazette, “Of course I’ll explain them when everything is finished, which I think will be quite soon. Again, there’s a lot of parties to this process, and I’m being very transparent about the fact that we talked about some real important issues related to charters. We came to some specific understandings, details still being worked out. Of course it’ll be published. And then, you’ll have at it. You’ll have every opportunity to make questions. But I have to emphasize, and this was important to what Speaker Heastie said in the beginning: It is not a legislative action, it was not something that had to be approved by the Senate and the Assembly formally. This is me deciding, as Mayor of New York City, with my administrative capacity, that there were some things we could do that would address some outstanding concerns of charters and I thought they were fair. But as soon as it’s cooked, as soon as it’s finalized, yes, everything will be public and then we’ll happily take questions on it.”

It is apparent that Heastie’s ability to say he did not give in legislatively on any benefits for charter schools is important to the speaker and many of his members, who are closely aligned with and funded by the teachers unions.

In statements following the release of the charter-related promises from the city, Flanagan celebrated and Heastie distanced.

According to Flanagan, whose office emailed his statement to its entire press list, the “announcement by Mayor de Blasio is an important step forward for charter school students and for their families, as well as for the 50,000 children now on waiting lists for a seat inside a charter school. They are clamoring for a chance at success, and together we have provided them with a better opportunity to achieve their goals, to succeed and to get ahead. I thank the Mayor for his openness in addressing this important issue and for demonstrating his support for both children who are currently in a charter school and those who would like to be.”

The statement from Heastie’s office, on the other hand, emphasized that the Assembly had not given an inch on charter schools. “As for charter schools, the Speaker was not an active participant in any discussions or negotiations,” said a Heastie spokesperson. “He said from the beginning the Assembly Majority would not trade anything regarding charter schools for mayoral control. Mayor de Blasio and the city's Department of Education have the right to make decisions of their choosing in regards to the administration of charter schools that do not require any legislative action.”

When Gotham Gazette asked de Blasio’s office when the mayor had meant when on June 29 he said "as soon as it’s finalized, yes, everything will be public and then we’ll happily take questions on it," his spokesperson emailed back to say, “At his next public event, same as always.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio Made a Charter School Deal, But Isn’t Interested in Talking About It Sun, 09 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Control Extended in Special Session with Usual Albany Process Cuomo special session

Gov. Cuomo on Thursday (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor’s Office)

To prevent the impending lapse of mayoral control over New York City schools, the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a two-year extension Thursday as part of a larger omnibus bill, which included a pension enhancement for certain uniformed workers, special recognition for former Governor Mario Cuomo, and several benefits for upstate areas.

A special session was called Wednesday by Gov. Cuomo specifically to address mayoral leadership over city schools, which was set to expire June 30, and a small number of other matters, but the ensuing discussion produced a more sprawling legislation package, according to Cuomo. The final deal included a three-year extension of local taxes, $55 million in Lake Ontario flood relief funding, and the renaming of the new Tappan Zee Bridge after the governor’s late father.

According to Cuomo, who held a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Capitol to celebrate what was accomplished, he and legislative leaders arrived at a compromise centered on extending mayoral control ahead of his calling the special session. Once legislators returned to the capital, the negotiations were opened up more broadly, and a larger tentative deal was reached at around 8:30 p.m Wednesday night. That agreement followed a day of meetings behind closed doors, during which rank-and-file lawmakers, journalists, and the larger public were largely left on the sidelines. The Assembly voted to pass the omnibus bill at around 1 a.m. on Thursday, while the Senate passed the bill after some internal rankling at around 2 .p.m.

The opaque nature of the discussions, as well as the expense of keeping lawmakers in Albany at a cost of more than $30,000 -- though not all lawmakers take per diems and estimates vary -- drew criticism from lawmakers across party lines, including Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, who along with her fellow Senate Democrats urged their colleagues on the GOP side to move the bill along Thursday.

“Another day and another example of dysfunction in the Senate,” Stewart Cousins said at a press conference outside the Senate GOP conference room. “The GOP/IDC inability to finish this session is an embarrassment. We need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and do our jobs. The Senate Democrats are ready to vote for this package of legislation immediately. Let's go to the floor.”

Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was adamant during the legislative session that the lifting of the charter school cap in New York City not be included in the final bill, commended the governor and his colleagues in the Legislature for passing a comprehensive bill that would prevent disruption in the management of city schools.

“I am proud of the efforts of Assembly members on both sides of the aisle who worked extremely hard to craft a consensus on the many pressing issues our state faces,” said Heastie, who got his way on the charter school cap, in a statement. “Working with Governor Cuomo, our successes include a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools, giving our educational system stability and allowing our school children to thrive.

During his press conference in the Capitol’s Red Room, Cuomo ceremoniously signed the mayoral control portion of the legislative package and said he had anticipated the special session would only address mayoral control and legislation enhancing pension benefits for certain city police officers and firefighters, known as the “three-quarters bill.” However, several Senate Republicans from Upstate saw the bill as too New York City-centric.

“The agreement was to come back and do mayoral control and the three-quarters bill. When we came back, the Assembly was fine with it,” Cuomo told reporters. “My understanding is, in the conference, the Senate said ‘We also want to do the sales tax extenders. And by the way, it’s not just the sales tax extenders,’ they said, ‘We also want do something on Vernon Downs’...That is what we were trying to avoid. Once you start to expand the wish list, it gets much, much harder to get to an agreement.”

Offering a reason for the delay in legislative voting, Cuomo also celebrated how much got done in the end.

The final bill offers a tax bailout to Vernon Downs, an Upstate racetrack, in order to prevent its closure and retain 300 well-paying jobs in the region; provides for critical transportation needs in Westchester County; and includes passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to aid communities in the Adirondack Mountains with infrastructure projects. In addition to the renaming of the Tappan Zee, the Legislature voted to rename Riverbank State Park in Manhattan in honor of retiring Assemblymember Denny Farrell, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1974.

Flanagan also touted the package, saying in a Thursday statement saying that the omnibus bill "resolves a number of outstanding state issues" after "Senate Republicans were able to put together a more comprehensive package that meets the needs of taxpayers, students, and families throughout our entire state." Flanagan also indicated that there were provisions related to protecting charter schools, something Mayor de Blasio stated would be announced in the coming days as administrative, not legislative, matters.

There was no legislative action regarding the MTA, which Cuomo had declared was in a state of emergency on Thursday morning at an event in New York City. At that event Cuomo did pledge an additional $1 billion to the MTA in next year’s budget.

As had become evident when the budget was passed in April and through the end of the legislative session last week, no government ethics or election reforms made it through Albany this year. Two other top priorities of Mayor de Blasio’s -- design-build authority and additional speed cameras for school zones -- were also left on the chopping block.

Still, at his own news conference on Thursday afternoon, de Blasio said he was very pleased with the outcome, especially on mayoral control. The mayor expressed relief that with the first two-year extension of his term, he would not need an Albany vote next year to keep control of the school system. What the mayor does need, however, is the approval of voters this fall when he seeks reelection.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

with reporting by Ben Max

Mayoral Control Extended in Special Session with Usual Albany Process Thu, 29 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
How The Mayoral Control ‘Special Session’ Works de Blasio desk Albany

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

To prevent the lapse of mayoral control over New York City schools, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday called an “extraordinary session” of the state Legislature to convene on Wednesday at 1p.m. in Albany. Often referred to as a “special session,” details of how the day will unfold -- especially what legislation will pass -- are still unclear.

Currently, the session has been called for just one day, with the only named purpose the extension of authority granted to the New York City Mayor, currently Bill de Blasio, to run the city schools. But, as of Tuesday evening, there is no specific bill on the table and Cuomo’s proclamation leaves the discussion open to “such other subjects” he “may recommend.”

"The Governor is calling an extraordinary legislative session for Wednesday, June 28 to take up the issue of Mayoral Control. The Governor has discussed the extraordinary session with the legislative leaders,” said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, in a statement.

The failure to reach a deal by the end of the week would lurch the educational system for 1.1 million city schoolchildren into uncertainty, and the process would commence to revert school governance back to the Board of Education and local school boards -- which, while in power, were frequently charged with inefficiency and corruption.

Like most educational experts, Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have all expressed support for mayoral control and believe that the old school board system was worse. But, the GOP-controlled Senate want to tie an extension to an increase in the cap on charter schools in New York City. The Assembly wants a clean extender of mayoral control, but did tie it to other local extenders in the form of expiring tax rates that also have widespread support.

On Wednesday, the three men will meet again try to break the impasse over the issue, and perhaps negotiate other policies, while reporters try to glean some insight into the negotiations. After breaking last Wednesday night at the end of the scheduled legislative year without deals on mayoral control, local tax extenders, or several other high-profile items, legislators, some of them on vacation, are being called back to the capital to handle unfinished business.

A majority is needed in both houses for the session to commence, and it is the responsibility of the legislative leaders to compel their members to return to the Capitol, according to Cuomo’s office.

According to Albany lore, the executive can call in state troopers to force lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session. This myth, cited by several legislative staffers, does not appear in the state constitution. Senate rules do require a quorum, or 60 percent of members to be present for any motions or resolutions, and empower those present to send the Sergeant at Arms to bring absent senators back from their districts if necessary. In post-session remarks this past Thursday, Cuomo did jokingly reference constituents using force to send their local legislators back to Albany to finish their business.

While special sessions are sometimes intended to tackle a single topic, The New York Times reported that the governor may be offering the Senate GOP approval of a bill to increase accidental disability pensions for firefighters, police officers, and other city employees in exchange for a sign-off on one year of mayoral control without charter school provisions attached. This has opened the door to lawmakers and interest groups who want to see other bills considered in renewed negotiations.

Also caught in the crossfire, is a standard two-year extension dozens of local and county taxes. If it lapses, counties could face a $1.8 billion collective hole in their budgets, according to the New York State Association of Counties. Like with mayoral control, virtually all the major stakeholders believe in an extension, but disagree on the details of a deal.

Now NYSAC is calling for the Legislature to tackle legislation that would permanently allow county governments to extend their sales tax rates every two years.

Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, wants the special session to include action on New York City’s rapidly deteriorating subway system, following a particularly dramatic derailment incident Tuesday morning, which left dozens of straphangers injured. Just before the end of the scheduled session Gianaris had put forth a new proposal for a temporary dedicated revenue stream to infuse cash into the MTA.

“With the state legislature likely to return to Albany soon to address outstanding issues, fixing the MTA should be a top priority. When they return, the Governor and members of the legislature should not leave the Capitol until a solution to the MTA crisis is enacted,” wrote Gianaris in a petition for lawmakers to consider his bill to establish a dedicated funding stream for emergency maintenance and repairs.

While only the governor sets the agenda for a special session, his power is limited.
Technically, the Legislature never gavels out of session. According to the state constitution, if the Assembly goes dark for four days consecutively, lawmakers cannot reconvene until the following calendar year.

So, for more than two decades, every third day, an Assembly member has entered the chamber, and triple-banged the gavel on the podium -- a ritual that keeps the Legislature endlessly in session. This practice is intended to prevent recess appointments by the Governor and also allows any new legislation to age the requisite three days before becoming law.

Since the legislative session never really ends, when a special session is called, the Legislature must return to Albany, but can immediately gavel out and go home. Its members can also stay and reconvene to consider legislation of their choosing.

The Legislature first turned over control of city schools to the Mayor in 2002.
Previously, they were governed a seven-member Board of Education and 32 elected community school boards. The Board of Education, which had two mayoral appointees and one each from the borough presidents, selected the chancellor. The mayor could also influence the school system through the city budget.

Authority to appoint superintendents in elementary and middle schools was stripped from the Board in 1996 due to evidence of corruption and patronage in some school districts. Since this shift test performance and graduation rates dramatically improved at city schools, reports The New York Times.

Without clear direction, the session can get expensive.
Compensation, per diem allowances and travel expenses for members can add up, not to mention the cost of additional legislative staff. There are 150 seats in the Assembly and 63 in the Senate. It’s not clear how many legislators will be back to Albany for Wednesday’s session.

Legislators are paid a per diem rate of $175, which is to cover hotel and food, plus they are compensated for travel expenses at 55 cents per mile, not including tolls. For a lawmaker from Buffalo, which is approximately 300 miles from Albany, the travel bill tallies up to around $150 each way, for example. There is also a partial per diem rate of $59 when lawmakers do not spend the night.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: This article has been updated to clarify how lawmakers are gathered back to the Capitol during a special session.

How The Mayoral Control ‘Special Session’ Works Tue, 27 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
5 Reasons Mayoral Control is on the Verge of Lapsing de Blasio Albany dark

Mayor de Blasio in Albany (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of the New York City school system is only good for the rest of this week. The state Legislature ended its scheduled legislative session last Wednesday without a deal on an extension, something Governor Andrew Cuomo called “dereliction of duty,” and de Blasio has said puts the futures of 1.1 million schoolchildren at risk.

The New York Times reported Monday night that Cuomo is calling the Legislature back into special session "as early as Wednesday" in order to pass a one-year extension of mayoral control, perhaps offering state Senate majority Republicans a pension sweetening bill they had previously sought but not the expansion of charter schools in New York City that had held up negotiations with the Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats allied with the teachers unions, which see charter schools as an existential threat.

If the state Legislature does not reconvene and vote through an extension by Friday, June 30, the law will lapse and governance of the city’s schools will revert back to the old Board of Education system that was in place until 2002, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg won mayoral control through Albany.

Perhaps instructive for the coming months, there was a brief period in the summer of 2009 when mayoral control lapsed due to chaos in state government, but it was restored before the start of the next school year. While Bloomberg received seven and six years of mayoral control in 2002 and 2009, de Blasio has received back-to-back one-year extensions leading into this year, in large part because of tensions with Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, and the Senate majority.

De Blasio is largely allied with the Assembly majority, though not all members of that conference are fully supportive of mayoral control and it walked away from the bargaining table because it does not want to approve more charter schools for the city.

The situation has become a test of Cuomo’s leadership and reputation for getting things done.

According to the mayor and many others, circumstances are dire.

“I could not express the urgency more,” de Blasio said on Friday during an interview with Politico New York from the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami, Florida. “1.1 million children's lives and education and future depends on it,” the mayor said. “There are still differences clearly...there are things that need to be worked out, but my message to everyone is we've got to get this done by June 30, and that the results of not getting it done by June 30 are that we start back down a road of a system that failed our children.”

De Blasio has pointed to successes of the past 15 years overall, like much higher graduation rates, and of his three-plus years in office, like the implementation of universal pre-kindergarten, as evidence that mayoral control works. He’s also repeatedly pointed to dysfunction, corruption, and a lack of clear accountability under the old Board of Education system, which also involves 32 locally elected school boards.

De Blasio said Friday that “the action will begin in earnest again on Monday and I'm going to be talking to all of the key leaders on trying to settle all of the differences and getting this done.”

On Monday evening, de Blasio told NY1’s Errol Louis that his message to state lawmakers is “come back and get to work and finish this...get back to Albany and get this done.”

A spokesperson for the mayor told Gotham Gazette that “Our team has been in constant contact with the governor's team and the legislative leader teams. We are optimistic a deal can get done. We're working around the clock to help that process with whatever we can.”

De Blasio said Monday night that he had spoken to Gov. Cuomo earlier in the day and that the governor was “optimistic” a deal would get done. The mayor said he wouldn’t be confident until legislators were headed back to Albany to vote on a deal. Cuomo may be making that happen.

On Sunday, Cuomo said he was hopeful that a deal will be reached this week. Yet, the governor has repeatedly voiced an understanding that some think de Blasio is not an effective steward of the city’s schools. Cuomo said last week that he is a supporter of mayoral control under de Blasio, but added, “I understand the opposition, the questioning of the mayor's management and competence and record, I get it, but, what's the alternative, right?”

Though there is a home rule discussion to be had, at this moment it is prudent to put aside the questionable fact that state legislators, especially those from outside New York City who dominate the Republican-controlled state Senate, get to determine the city’s school governance structure. It may be a discussion worth resuming after a mayoral control extension is reached.

Whether a deal is reached this week or not, this summer or not, mayoral control is currently on the verge of lapsing for a wide variety of reasons and fingers are rightfully being pointed in several directions -- just about everyone involved is due some blame.

Though Cuomo and legislative leaders could announce a deal this week, if not the city may have to at least go through the motions, as in 2009, of reconstituting the more decentralized Board of Education (two appointees by the Mayor, one each by the five Borough Presidents) and beginning to eye elections for 32 community school boards. As the mayor has warned, there could very well be a chaotic period, with a lot of time, energy, and money dedicated to reestablishing a system that would likely be temporary.

While the chorus is mostly singing another tune, there are some who say that mayoral control should be done away with, and that the Board of Education system, perhaps with a few tweaks, is more apt to respond to community concerns and that local school boards give communities more control over their schools. The most powerful people in the room, however, do argue that mayoral control is a stronger governance system for the city’s 1,700 schools and 1.1 million students.

As Cuomo has pointed out, there are very real disagreements over charter schools, de Blasio’s management, and even the overall system itself. It’s apparent that the always politically potent issue of charter schools has been the main sticking point in negotiations over mayoral control: Cuomo and the Senate majority want room for more charters in New York City in exchange for an extension of mayoral control, whereas the Assembly majority is against expanding charter schools further. (Cuomo and Senate Republicans are heavily funded by charter school supporters, while Assembly Democrats and de Blasio are heavily funded by the teachers unions, who oppose charters.)

According to the New York Times, the bill Cuomo is seeking to move during Wednesday’s special session would not include raising the cap on charter schools in New York City, despite the fact that Cuomo supports such a move. There is still room under the current cap for about two dozen more charters to be authorized.

The five key reasons that mayoral control is on the verge of lapsing:

1. Governor Cuomo has not negotiated a deal.
This could all change Wednesday. But, perhaps because he is no ally of Mayor de Blasio or because he is a strong supporter of charter schools, Cuomo did not get a deal done before the end of the scheduled legislative session. The governor said he was in regular contact with de Blasio over several days, but that a fundamental difference between the Assembly and Senate majorities led to a stalemate. “Mayoral Control is a fundamentally controversial topic,” the governor said at a news conference last week in Albany.

“I was very involved with the mayor, I spoke to him multiple times a day for multiple days, I spoke to people on his team, I spoke to the Senate, I spoke to the Assembly, worked very hard until late in the night to try to get it done, and there's fundamentally no agreement between the two houses,” Cuomo said.

2. Mayor de Blasio is unliked in Albany and does little to improve the situation.
The mayor has few allies in state government, and his closest allies -- Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and his majority members -- have mixed feelings about mayoral control. De Blasio is loathed, though, by Senate Republicans, especially given that he got very involved in 2014 efforts to oust them from power. As is well-documented, Cuomo and de Blasio do not get along, and the governor is never in a rush to help the mayor. But, Cuomo and Senate Republicans do believe in mayoral control of city schools, which may be the only reason de Blasio has held on to control.

All told, it’s not a great situation for the mayor, but he has done little over the past three years to improve it. He is hesitant to contact Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, he makes few trips to the capital (three this year in the first six months), and he often does not put the effort into building and maintaining relationships with members of his own party, including Assembly members. The Cuomo situation is well-documented, but the mayor and the city continue to suffer due to the poor relationship. While it may be more Cuomo’s fault than de Blasio’s, the mayor has still not figured out to get more of what he wants with the governor’s help.

3. Assembly Democrats oppose charter schools more than they like mayoral control.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie decided not to give in on an expansion of the cap on charter schools in New York City, so mayoral control is on the verge of lapsing. Assembly Democrats are extremely close with the teachers unions, who see largely non-unionized charter schools as an existential threat.

Heastie was steadfast in saying he refused to link charters to mayoral control, but his brinkmanship may soon see a compromise. There are still 23 slots under the current charter cap for New York City, which charter advocates including Cuomo have been calling for a total elimination of for years, so it may not be that Heastie has to agree to a higher cap. Politico New York recently reported that Heastie may have to just sign off on new rules around charter teacher regulations. However, it’s unclear if his sign-off is even needed for them to go into effect.

As Cuomo recently said, de Blasio is also no fan of charter schools, though he has reached something of a detente with the sector after major battles in 2014. “[I]t's a different equation, supporting it with Mayor de Blasio who’s an avowed opponent of charter schools,” Cuomo said last week when discussing why the Senate GOP was less enthusiastic about mayoral control under this mayor, as opposed to Mayor Bloomberg, who was a major charter school supporter.

4. Senate Republicans are playing with house money.
The Senate majority has little reason to give in on mayoral control without getting something in return. Only three of the conference’s 32 members are from New York City, with Majority Leader Flanagan hailing from Long Island. If there is disarray in city school governance it doesn’t matter much to the conference and they get the bonus of watching de Blasio suffer. Republican senators are in excellent bargaining position given that there is room under the charter cap and mayoral control is on the verge of ending.

Still, there is some pressure on the Senate majority since it does need a good working relationship with the governor and, to some extent, the Assembly majority. Flanagan and Cuomo have had a very solid working relationship, including Flanagan signing off on Cuomo’s signature issues each of the last two years (a minimum wage hike and paid family leave in 2016; a college affordability program and raising the age of adult criminal responsibility this year), and Flanagan introducing the governor’s bill late on the last night of session that would name the new Tappan Zee Bridge after late Governor Mario Cuomo. Assembly Democrats did not pass the naming bill, but could agree to do so as part of a future deal.

5. The IDC has not helped make a deal.
The Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, is a group of eight breakaway Democrats led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx that has a power-sharing agreement with the Senate GOP, helping the majority to bolster its razor thin hold on the chamber. While the IDC supports mayoral control, it does not appear it has been able to influence its Republican colleagues to move on a bill. The IDC may not have tried given that it is also supportive of charter schools. Charter backers have been generous donors not just to the Senate GOP, but to the IDC, which helps keep charter-friendly Republicans in control of the chamber, which is seen as essential to charter survival and growth.

Part of how the IDC rationalizes its existence is by saying that it can help moderate the Senate GOP and move legislation that may otherwise be bottled up, like the minimum wage increase of last year or the Raise the Age bill this year. But, mayoral control does not appear to have made that list.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

5 Reasons Mayoral Control is on the Verge of Lapsing Mon, 26 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Control Debate Ignores Need for Community Control mayor bdb

Mayor de Blasio (photo via The Mayor's Office)

Since Mayor de Blasio’s cries about the dire consequences of the State Legislature not granting him an extension of mayoral control over the city’s public schools didn't seem to work, this perhaps provides us with a little space to have a more open and less hysterical discussion about possible alternatives. What I find striking about the mayoral control debate is the false assumption that there exists a wide consensus on the need for it.

A May 2017 Quinnipiac Poll, consistent with other polls on the subject, found that “Only 21 percent of New York City voters say Mayor Bill de Blasio ‘should retain complete control of the public schools,’ while 68 percent say he should ‘share control of the public schools with other elected leaders.’” However, this has not been acknowledged by the mayor or taken seriously by the media. This probably goes to show the power of the corporate-educational alliance so brilliantly forged by former Mayor Bloomberg in his takeover of the schools back in 2002.

When I listen to Mayor de Blasio decry the corruption and chaos of the old local elected school boards, I see it as an attack on the ability of communities of color to run their own affairs.

The idea that decentralization of a bloated school bureaucracy and local community control of neighborhood schools is presented as a given unfairly cuts off any serious discussion of what really happened with the community control movement and how it was made dysfunctional. It cuts off any serious discussion of the role of parents and communities of color in determining educational policy in a city and school system in which people of color are in the majority.

Because of the lack of serious inclusion of people of color in educational policy, the charter school movement as a form of community control has arisen. Under Bloomberg and de Blasio the role of parents in school governance has basically disappeared. The Panel for Educational Policy is basically a rubber stamp for the Mayor and the Chancellor, and the parent coordinators in the schools are there largely to manage the parents, not increase their participation.

By decrying the corruption and chaos of the past, the mayor is essentially saying that this was inherent in bringing communities of color into the school governance process. If one extended this argument to, say, the state government, then we should be giving gubernatorial control of the entire state government because of the many ethics violations committed by state legislators.

The problems plaguing the decentralized school system before mayoral control were avoidable if there had been will to do so. For example, some thoughtful, careful restrictions on who could participate on local boards could be one remedy. There could also be rules limiting the role of the teachers unions in school board membership and elections that did so much to corrupt the system.

Throughout the state local school boards are elected, while in New York City, in which neighborhoods are the size of small cities in and of themselves, New Yorkers do not have the same right. This right to full and substantive participation in school governance adds to the civic health of the city, and in the past has included the right of non-citizen parents to be part of the process.

How is it that any of these points have not entered the current discourse on the need or not for mayoral control of the city schools? As an increasing majority of the city’s population has become people of color, this type of top-down governance is part of what I call trickle-down progressivism, which must be challenged.

Angelo Falcón is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP), based in New York City. He is a co-editor of the book 'Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition,' 2nd Edition from the University of Notre Dame Press.

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Mayoral Control Debate Ignores Need for Community Control Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Balanced Approach Awaits Lapse of Mayoral Control Bloomberg Walcott school visit

Mayor Bloomberg at a school (photo: Spencer T. Tucker)

Mark Twain’s reproach against “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” could easily be reformulated against Lies, Damn Lies, and Statutes.  Such are the many inflammatory statements against reversion to the old Board of Education made by Mayor de Blasio and his allies as they seek renewal of mayoral control of New York City’s public schools. This fear-mongering against a return to the old system, so-called school decentralization or community control, employs caricature rather than truth to advance its purpose. In fact, a close reading of the old law – about to be resurrected if mayoral control lapses at the end of this week -- reveals a surprisingly cautious approach to balancing central, district, school, and parent interests. The true picture is a sharp contrast to the administration’s doomsday scenario.

The mayor has described “chaos and corruption under the old school boards.” The Chancellor predicted, “Our system is headed for disaster,” calling a lapse of mayoral control “devastating.” The president of Bank Street College, a former DOE official, further injured the former institution’s reputation by recalling “the system we had” when “in certain districts there was a going rate” for sale of administrative positions by local school boards. This unusually heated rhetoric is at odds with the professional experience of each since the mayor, chancellor, and Bank Street president all flourished -- apparently uncorrupted -- under the old system as a community school board member, superintendent, and principal, respectively.

But more importantly, the stereotype of community control they describe was long gone by the time mayoral control was implemented in 2002. Instead, the new system replaced a reform law enacted in 1996 that took pains to eliminate opportunities for corruption and substantially increased central power under the Chancellor while providing for important local roles. It’s that statute that will replace mayoral control if the state Legislature and governor fail to act.

Contrary to mayoral myth harking to earlier iterations of the law, the once-and-possibly future statute bans community school board members from most personnel decisions, subjecting them to removal by the Chancellor “for willful, intentional or knowing involvement in the hiring, appointment, or assignment” of school employees. The 1996 statute explicitly states that “community boards shall have no executive or administrative powers or function.” Instead they are confined to exercising “powers and duties to establish educational policies and objectives” consistent with policies of the central board and Chancellor.

The central board, now made up of seven members -- one each appointed by the Borough Presidents and two by the Mayor, thus without a mayoral majority -- is also limited to a policy role, similar to the original responsibilities of the mayoral control board, called for that reason the Panel for Educational Policy or PEP. (Its duties have since been somewhat expanded to allow for public decision-making on contract and siting matters.)

The exception to community school board members’ limited personnel role is in securing their own superintendents. But the law only provides for boards to recommend a list of candidates to the Chancellor under a model contract and regulations promulgated centrally.  Even the process by which the list is assembled is subject to sunlight, with the Chancellor empowered to establish an inclusive public process for the recruitment, screening, selection, and review of candidates.

The law, to take effect July 1, is very strong on educational accountability. Each Community Superintendent, once appointed by the Chancellor, is required to take action against the principals of failing schools. If not, the Chancellor may “remove a community superintendent who fails to comply with” all applicable laws, including “performance standards addressed by administration and effectiveness, and any requirements for continuing education and training.”

Presaging the Bloomberg-era emphasis on principal empowerment, the law reserves important powers to schools consistent with central and district policies. These include the authority to design and implement budgets; staff selection recommendations; curricula and syllabi; “teacher and staff development relevant to increasing pupil achievement, support extended day programs, school reform programs, and public support services;” make or arrange for minor building repairs; and purchase equipment and supplies if more inexpensive than system purchasing arrangements.

Parents, too, gain under the old statute which contains a number of explicit provisions making parent powers another key force in holding educators accountable and motivating them to act.  Parent involvement is one of three major criteria for evaluating principals’ performance, student achievement and school discipline being the other two.

I have my reasons for favoring mayoral control with changes. Part of the problem with the current debate over extension is its all-or-nothing posture. But advocates for mayoral control typically do a disservice to civic discourse by ignoring or mischaracterizing the reality of what would occur if mayoral control lapses. In its place would be a reform statute, curing many of the system’s previous ills, and setting forth a reasonable formula for educational accountability and effective management.


David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. Much of this analysis is based on his earlier study, co-authored with Bruce S. Cooper, “Re-Centralization or Strategic Management? A New Governance Model for the New York City Public Schools (Teachers College, Columbia University, 1998).

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Balanced Approach Awaits Lapse of Mayoral Control Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The Mayoral Control Debate We Should Be Having bdblasio control debate

(Credit: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photography Office)

The annual Rite of Bashage on mayoral control of city schools is upon us. This month, Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan will beat up on Mayor Bill de Blasio for all manner of supposed educational sins before caving to an inevitable extension of mayoral control. Having been soundly whipped by the senatorial wet noodle, de Blasio will walk away a winner.

But there is a real education issue this re-election year that the mayor should be pushed on: the matter of a Chancellor search. The public has a right to know which side of the de Blasio record they’ll be voting on.  

In 2012, then-candidate de Blasio criticized the serial secret appointments of Joel Klein, Cathie Black, and Dennis Walcott by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. As reported by City & State at the time, de Blasio said, “Cathie Black was pushed down our throat because of mayoral control gone to an undemocratic level. We need a more democratic—small-d democratic—version of mayoral control, and we need a chancellor who is presented to the public, not just forced down our throat.”

A year later, after being elected, he back-tracked, asserting no such democratic process of public involvement was necessary. Chancellor Carmen Fariña was unilaterally appointed without a public search or vetting.

This election is the first time de Blasio’s flip-flopping can be evaluated by voters. More importantly, the manner of a Chancellor search is not a legislative game of “gotcha” but an imminent matter of real world consequence.

The 74-year-old Fariña has kept her commitment to serve out most if not all of de Blasio’s term. But there is little doubt that she will soon leave. The state law up for June renewal gives the Mayor power of appointment. Thus it is entirely appropriate and practical for the Senate to now inquire how de Blasio intends to use this power and if, in keeping with his past statement, a small-d democratic process should be put in place.

There are good policy positions on either side. Maybe unilateral appointment is preferable, allowing the Mayor full authority and accountability for his pick. But a public process would allow for full vetting of candidates by parents, the general public, and the press, who will all have serious interest and questions about anyone in line for this highly important job.

A full-blown public search occurs in many districts but, if it is believed that some desirable applicants would decline an open process, the Mayor could nominate and the City Council could conduct an open confirmation hearing, as with federal cabinet appointees (and some mayoral appointments to boards and commissions, and the head of the Department of Investigation).

Instead of making a spectacle of this approval process, the manner in which this mayor and future mayors should appoint the Chancellor is a worthy topic, providing the Legislature with an opportunity to put politics aside for an important policy and electoral debate.

David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Education Leadership, Law, and Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center.  He is the author of American Public Education Law, 3d edition, and other published works. On Twitter @BloomfieldDavid.

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The Mayoral Control Debate We Should Be Having Mon, 05 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
10 Key Takeaways for New York City from the New State Budget Cuomo de Blasio

A new $153 billion New York state budget was passed through the Legislature Sunday evening, nine days into the new fiscal year, following a particularly lengthy and tumultuous negotiation period.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a budget deal Friday night, the Assembly approved the budget Saturday, while State senators -- called back to Albany from their districts -- moved through the final budget bills the following day.

Within the spending plan are items that have serious ramifications for New York City, many of them tied to the revenue bill, or this year’s budget “big ugly,” legislation that encompasses a hodgepodge of controversial issues. In this case, the criminal justice reform measure known as “raise the age,” New York City’s 421-a property tax abatement program, charter school aid, and an extension of the millionaires’ tax, were among this budget season’s most contentious topics.

Deals were reached on these and other complicated matters, like new CUNY and SUNY scholarship parameters, after state lawmakers had passed a budget “extender” on Monday, April 3, two days after the new fiscal year had started.

[Related: Cuomo Announces $153 Billion State Budget Deal]

With a new deal in place, Governor Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, held a press conference at 9 p.m. Friday night and called the new state budget “a blueprint for the future of the state.”

In a Daily News op-ed column over the weekend, Cuomo wrote of the new budget, “Never has New York achieved more, built more or produced more impactful legislation.”

While Cuomo is touting a “legacy” achievement in raising the age and a “national model” in his college affordability program, among other headline accomplishments, a spokesperson for the governor said in a statement that “if 7 days late gets the state a plan this great, we will do it every year."

For New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio, there are several victories in the new state budget, such as the release of a significant influx of affordable housing funds, but there are also a number of disappointments, such as the absence of the “mansion tax” or an extension of mayoral control of city schools. De Blasio has said several times this year and last that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, is a great ally and advocate for the city’s interests. He’s indicated that Gov. Cuomo is inconsistent in his help for New York City.

For the state’s largest city, the spending plan offers some funding clarity and a variety of important policy decisions. Mayor de Blasio and the City Council will now move ahead with their budget process -- a new city spending plan is due by July 1. Of the $153.1 billion in the state operating budget for the new fiscal year, it is not yet clear how much will flow to New York City. When de Blasio outlined his preliminary budget for next city fiscal year in February, he estimated $14.5 billion in state grants, contributing to the $83 billion in overall spending he proposed.

Within all these numbers and major state policy decisions, there are a lot of important funding and policy points in the new state budget for New York City.

1. Cost Shifts & Funding Cuts
During his state budget testimony on January 30, de Blasio pushed back on the more than $100 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City proposed in Cuomo’s executive budget, primarily related to placement of foster children and special education services. Most of these cuts remained in the final spending plan, though some were modified or removed, according to the mayor’s office.

Notably, a $32.5 million cut to the city’s public health programs proposed by Cuomo did not make it into the state budget. Also, the governor proposed a $17 million cut to New York City’s senior centers, but $13 million was restored in the adopted budget.

As outlined in Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, $20 million was ultimately slashed from state reimbursement for special education services in private settings, effectively eliminating any state share of the costs. Finally, $44 million earmarked for foster care services was cut.

2. Millionaire’s Tax & Mansion Tax
Despite resistance from Senate Republicans, Cuomo got his way on the millionaires’ tax extension. The tax was first approved by the legislature after the 2007 financial crisis, extended multiple times, and was set to expire at the end of 2017. Cuomo insisted that a failure to renew it would leave a “tremendous hole in the budget,” but pushed back against the Assembly’s efforts to expand it to include higher taxes on more income brackets. The millionaire’s tax is extended for two years.

Cuomo also opposed de Blasio’s proposed “mansion tax,” a 2.5 percent incremental tax on purchases of residential property worth more than $2 million. The mayor intended to use the tax, which would have been levied on buyers, in order to subsidize affordable housing for senior citizens.

De Blasio along with allies in the Senate and Assembly put significant effort into pushing the “mansion tax” as well as the expansion of the millionaires’ tax, but neither made it into the final budget. De Blasio, at an unrelated press conference Monday, noted that in light of the uncertainty coming from the federal government, the mansion tax could still be on the table. “We’re gonna continue to fight through the legislative session on some of these items,” he said.

3. Mayoral Control of Schools
During negotiations, news reports indicated that a one-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools might be included in the state budget, rather than hashed out during the legislative session to follow, as it had been the last two years. But the enacted budget did not address the policy, seemingly because Senate Republicans opposed its inclusion.

It would have been the third year in a row that de Blasio received a one year extension -- Cuomo has called for a three year extension, the Assembly has pushed for the same, if not longer, while de Blasio has called for making it permanent. Including it in the budget would've softened the blow for the mayor, who will now have to go hat in hand before the Legislature as he did last year and the year before.

When asked about the mayoral control snub at his Monday news conference, the mayor dismissed the issue as typical Albany shenanigans. “I never had the illusion that it would be easy to get it done in the budget, I would’ve liked to get it done in the budget. But you know I understood the way it’s played out in previous years was the most likely outcome again.” de Blasio said.

The mayor said he is confident it will be worked out during the coming session, which runs through June, like mayoral control, noting that no viable alternative to mayoral control has been presented by the Senate GOP, which has used authorization of mayoral control as leverage over the mayor since he tried to flip the chamber to Democrats in 2014.

4. The New 421-a
De Blasio has criticized the governor’s version of the 421-a property tax abatement, which is meant to spur affordable housing development in the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. The prior program expired two years ago and has been the source of significant strife between de Blasio and Cuomo.

The governor rebranded 421-a as “Affordable New York” this year. De Blasio has been cool to the governor’s version of the program, noting that in the long-run it will be more expensive for city taxpayers and will produce fewer affordable units than the version de Blasio proposed in 2015. Still, the current version is an upgrade from the old, broken 421-a system, and one that New York City “can live with,” de Blasio said Monday.

“I understand that in Albany a lot of things happen. There were changes made to the plan that weren’t the changes I would’ve have thought of, but they still left us with a plan we could live with,” said de Blasio.

According to Cuomo’s office, the “new program will create an estimated 2,500 new units of affordable housing per year.”

5. Affordable Housing & NYCHA
Agreement on 421-a renewal helped trigger the release of $2.5 billion in funds that were earmarked for 100,000 units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing in last year’s budget, but were tied up in disagreement among Cuomo and legislative leaders over how it should be distributed.

De Blasio’s administration welcomed the influx of affordable housing cash, much of which will head to developers and projects in New York City.  “We always welcome additional money and assistance from the state,” said de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein. “This funding couldn’t come a day too soon.”

A coalition of 11 housing advocacy groups -- including the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), AARP, the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, and others  --  echoed those sentiments.

“The commitment made today will profoundly impact the lives of thousands of New Yorkers, including 88,000 people currently homeless throughout the state and nearly one million households paying more than half their income in rent each month,” reads a joint statement issued by the group. “What’s critical is that this budget doesn’t exclude anyone and it provides the long-term funding needed to bring about real change.”

As promised in Cuomo’s executive budget, the final spending plan allows $200 million for NYCHA capital funds over five years for general repairs. Another $150 million will help preserve Mitchell-Lama buildings and other middle income buildings. The de Blasio administration will be eager to see the money spent through state agencies -- $100 million allocated two years ago for NYCHA repairs has yet to be spent, something de Blasio has cited frequently in recent months.

6. Infrastructure & Design-Build
While the budget included Cuomo’s entire wishlist of ambitious capital projects and economic development programs, it notably did not make changes to the state's procurement practices, the nature of which have contributed to a corruption scandal.

Construction of several major capital projects pertaining to New York City were approved, including the following projects for the coming year:

John F. Kennedy International Airport - For the coming fiscal year, Cuomo outlined $564 million out of $1.5 billion in spending by the Department of Transportation to improve the roadway congestion leading to JFK. The MTA and Port Authority will also evaluate two proposals: expanding JFK AirTrain service and exploring the possibility of creating a “one-seat” subway ride to the airport.

Penn Station - The State is investing $700 million for the first phase of a $3 billion transformation of the James A. Farley Post Office building into a new train hall for the station.

Long Island Railroad - The state will invest $120 million to provide enhancements to 16 LIRR stations and to improve system connectivity.

MTA - The 2015-2019 MTA transit capital plan includes $28 billion in investments, including city and state funds, with the state continuing to contribute a larger share than the city.

Empire State Trail - This $200 million continuous, multipurpose bike and hike path would connect New York City Hudson River Greenway to Buffalo, Albany, and Canada. Though the Senate nixed the project in its one-house budget, and the Assembly recommended designating $20 million toward the Cuomo proposal, $53 million for the first phase has been approved in this year’s budget.

Meanwhile, construction of New York City’s own capital projects will not be expedited by authorization of design-build, which allows municipalities to save time and money by using a single contract for design and construction services. Despite pushback from de Blasio during his January budget testimony, the final budget expanded design-build for state agencies, but excluded New York City.

“In New York City, we have projects in every borough that could benefit from the time and money Design Build legislation would save. It’s disappointing to be excluded, even while the program expands across the State,” said de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein in a statement.

7. Ethics and Voting Reforms
In November, ahead of the 2016 presidential election, De Blasio preached about reforming New York’s arcane electoral system, citing the energy around the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders as inspiration. He insisted that New York had a long way to go towards making government more transparent and accountable.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also unveiled a package of electoral and government ethics reform proposals at the start of the year, as did Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Nonetheless, the issues failed to gain traction during state budget negotiations. De Blasio chose to prioritize affordable housing, and Cuomo threw little weight behind his own reform proposals.

When de Blasio was asked whether he prioritized the mansion tax over electoral reform at Monday’s news conference, he defended his choice and renewed his promise to fight for electoral change.

“I don’t sort of think of them as on a grading system,” said de Blasio. “It’s a major priority. And we’re looking to get done as much as we can get done. We’re looking for every opportunity. You know these sessions have a life of their own. My job here is to really bang the drum for electoral reform -- and I know a lot of the folks that are going to as well -- and sort of create the momentum that makes this a year we can get it done.”

8. Raise the Age
Raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 was a priority for Democratic members of the Senate and Assembly, including Speaker Carl Heastie, but the measure has long faced opposition from Senate Republicans. The compromise reached in the budget is being touted as a major progressive victory for Cuomo and Democrats in the Legislature.

This will have implications for New York City’s infamous Rikers Island jail and the city in general. The new measures will be phased in over time, raising the age of to 17 beginning on October 1, 2018, and subsequently raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 on October 1, 2019.

Youthful offenders will no longer be permitted to be housed in adult facilities and offenders under the age of 18 will no longer be placed or held at Rikers Island in New York City as of October 1, 2018. They will instead be placed at a specialized juvenile detention facility.

“New Yorkers should all be proud that their state has finally joined 48 others and will no longer treat the vast majority of 16- and 17-year-olds like adults in our criminal justice system,” said Goldstein on behalf of Mayor de Blasio.

9. Excelsior Scholarship
A major victory for Cuomo, the Excelsior Scholarship, introduced ahead of the governor’s 2017 State of the State with the help of former Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, will be phased in over three years and, once phased in, will provide tuition-free CUNY and SUNY schooling to full-time in-state students from families earning $125,000 a year or less.

The program includes an expansion of the State’s Tuition Assistance Program, so as to be inclusive of students at private universities, but does not provide for student “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said de Blasio’s administration welcomes the program. “The tuition assistance provisions included in the enacted budget will further break down barriers to higher education and help equip the next generation of New Yorkers with the skills necessary to succeed in an ever-evolving economy,” said spokesperson Freddi Goldstein.

10. Education Aid
The enacted state budget increased education aid by $1.1 billion overall, an increase of 4.4 percent from last year. The state’s education aid budget now totals $25.8 billion, which includes a $700 million increase in Foundation Aid, the supplemental funding allocated to local school districts to ensure that each student receives a “sound basic education” as required by the state constitution.

New York City is set to receive $10.2 billion in school aid for the 2018 fiscal year, an increase of $387 million, including $337 million in foundation aid.

State lawmakers also reached a compromise over charter school funding, one of the major hold-ups in negotiations, according to Cuomo. They agreed to increase per-pupil state funding for charters by $500 in the upcoming school year instead of allowing it to increase to $1,500 per pupil after a tuition freeze was set to expire later this year and such an increase automatically. They also connected increases in future charter funding to district school spending increases.

The $500 charter tuition increase will cost New York City, home to most of the state’s charters, $95 million each year, according to mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein. The city will bear those costs in the next school year.

For Mayor de Blasio, an opponent of charter schools and a close ally of the teachers union, the education aid budget is a mixed bag. Although charter tuition costs will increase for the city, the enacted budget did not include a separate proposal to increase the cap of new charter schools that can open in New York City, which the governor had proposed in his executive budget. The budget compromise also includes an increase in funding for charters that use private buildings instead of public space. These charters will receive 30 percent of their rent or tuition rate for each student, up from 20 percent in the previous budget.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

With reporting by Samar Khurshid.

Note: this article was corrected to more clearly explain the funding around senior centers.

10 Key Takeaways for New York City from the New State Budget Tue, 11 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000