Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/953 Mon, 08 Mar 2021 15:04:54 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) The G&T Test Contract and Why Mayoral Control of Schools Needs to Go https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/10133-gt-test-contract-mayoral-control-of-schools-needs-to-go https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/10133-gt-test-contract-mayoral-control-of-schools-needs-to-go 1 gifted talented

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photo Office)


The politics of New York City public schools reached a fever pitch last week, when the Panel for Education Policy (PEP) voted down a vendor contract to give the Gifted and Talented (G&T) test this Spring. Along with 22 other Community Education Council members from throughout the city and one state senator, I testified in opposition to the contract for several reasons.

First, the mayor recently announced that starting in 2022, the test would no longer be administered for admissions. More on that in a bit. Second, we are in a pandemic. Sending four-year-olds to test in person, with someone they don’t know, who is wearing a mask, in elementary schools, many of which are opening and closing with COVID-19 cases, is not a responsible government action. Lastly, the city’s standalone G&T programs are widely known to exacerbate racial segregation. With so much of the pandemic’s impact disproportionately affecting communities of color, the next cohort would needlessly magnify this long-time structural injustice.

I’m a public school parent and mother to a daughter who attended a G&T elementary school but whose middle school class is balanced with students from all District 3 elementary programs. I’m also the President of Community Education Council 3, and led the city’s first districtwide middle school diversity initiative so that this could be possible. I support accelerated learning. I also support integrated classrooms, schools, and the system, as part of a long-term strategy to prepare children for a thriving future.

The PEP’s vote, the only time it has voted down a contract in opposition to the mayor, was both a victory for progressive policy-making, and solid evidence of the need for major structural changes in the way that public schools are governed.

Progressive education policy centers the core belief that education is a human right. Thus, government institutions have a responsibility to offer every child an equitable, high-quality education from kindergarten through twelfth grade. For decades, ‘reformers’ have lobbied for school choice, testing, and more prep for testing. In the process, they have commodified learning and turned public education into a competitive ecosystem that tracks winners and losers -- and the losers, more often than not, are Black and Latino students.

Mayor de Blasio’s unilateral announcement that the G&T test would be phased out as part of a new direction in accelerated learning, but without further detail on what this new direction would look like, is not surprising. Stakeholders have become all too familiar with the poor planning, overtly political, and terrible communication operations under mayoral control of city schools. Which is exactly why the governing structure must be changed.

The PEP’s unprecedented vote made headlines, in part because a majority of the PEP is appointed by the Mayor, and it is generally a rubber stamp for his agenda. It’s essentially authoritarian rule, and it does not work. We need common sense checks and balances, stakeholder input, and accountability. What we need now is public school democracy. 

The pandemic exacerbated myriad problems that have been simmering under mayoral control for years. Who makes decisions on pedagogy, budgeting, school staffing, teacher training, student supports, enrollment, and building issues? This is the underlying question that gets to the heart of the politics - it’s why our kids get used as pawns in a game of political chess. Deeper than those decision-making pressure points are the system’s central leaders: the executive and the governing body. Under mayoral control we have no true governing body. The PEP flexed a governing muscle last week, but the political theatre that led up to the meeting and its fallout - one PEP member was dismissed - are emblematic of centralized control problems. 

Nearly 20 years ago, Mayor Bloomberg worked with New York state leaders to abolish School Boards, to decrease local graft and consolidate operations. However, only 32 years had passed since Mayor Lindsay ceded control in 1969 to local governance. The Mayor having sole control wasn’t working then either. 

No one wants to return to the old School Boards. What we need is the best of both structures.

Education advocates, teachers, and parents know that now is the time to create a hybrid governance structure that maintains central strength but fosters peripheral authority where it’s needed. A true governing body would be responsible for holding the executive and the Chancellor (who works for the Mayor), in check. The State Legislature and Governor Cuomo are required to make a decision on this issue in 2022, so we have time to collaborate on specific elements of this new structure, but the work ahead demands clarity now, as shown so clearly of late and for years, that mayoral control doesn’t work for our students. 

Finally, what was striking about the testimony at the PEP, both in opposition and in favor of the G&T test, is that parents and teachers want high-quality public schools. We want opportunities for learning expansion, for enrichment, for language and culture, with plenty of room for rigor. The division we experience, the battles for admissions, testing, and choice, are a reflection of government neglect and political malfeasance. No one wins when children don’t learn.

We must center equity and democracy, as we continue such a dangerous phase of our existence as a city. The pandemic, the Trump administration, and extreme economic hardships have brought New York City to the brink of disaster. We owe it to the next generation of New Yorkers to get it right and give public schools back to the public.

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Kim Watkins is a public school parent, president of Community Education Council, District 3, and a candidate for Manhattan Borough President in this year’s election. On Twitter @kimwatkinsnyc.

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The G&T Test Contract and Why Mayoral Control of Schools Needs to Go Wed, 03 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Where To Go with Mayoral Control https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9992-where-to-go-with-mayoral-control-new-york-city-schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9992-where-to-go-with-mayoral-control-new-york-city-schools mayor school crowd

Mayor de Blasio at school (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Mayor de Blasio's mishandling of the public school pandemic response has led to calls to reform or replace mayoral control of New York City schools.

Almost six years ago, I wrote in these pages advocating the case for mayoral control based on the still-valid theory that quality education depends on maximum funding based on the Mayor's control of the city budget and the need for political accountability to drive instructional improvement. In this way, mayoral control is consistent with the system of elected school board members in districts across the country where elected officials determine the schools' budget and financing, negotiate union contracts, and appoint a Superintendent (our Chancellor). Here, all of those powers reside with the Mayor. Merging fiscal and operational control, once separate provinces of the Mayor and Board of Education, is key to efficient and effective school governance.

But strains on this system, apparent earlier, have become open wounds under Bill de Blasio. He has concentrated power in City Hall rather than delegating decision-making to the educators housed steps away at Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse. While the Police Commissioner is allowed a high degree of professional determination over law enforcement, DOE operations under a feckless Chancellor have become an extension of City Hall, with high-level staffers lacking education backgrounds routinely assigned by the Mayor's Office to the Chancellor’s. 

Education in the city has become the political pawn of a single individual, unchecked by other governmental structures. This is at least partly because the DOE is not technically a mayoral agency, subject to normal checks and balances by the City Council and Comptroller, but a quasi-independent authority subject to State Education Department regulation. The Mayor's theoretically indirect control stems from his appointment power of the Chancellor and a majority of the Board of Education, re-named by Mayor Bloomberg the Panel on Educational Policy. But de Blasio and, before him, Bloomberg, have redesigned this appointive power to assert autocracy. The City Council has no direct authority over the DOE, relegated to passing reporting requirements rather than statutory controls.

What’s to be done?

Other Models' Weaknesses
I believe there is a better way for mayoral control to work, using a strategic management approach to maintain its budgetary and accountability advantages while delegating instructional policies to educators at Tweed, in the districts, and to parents through parent associations and Community Education Councils. But this opportunity to remake mayoral control may never have been possible and likely has been permanently lost to the closely-held paradigm embedded over the last 20 years by Bloomberg and de Blasio.

The oft-proposed reform of eliminating the Panel for Educational Policy’s mayoral majority with more members with fixed terms appointed by the Borough Presidents, Council, and others is a cure likely worse than the disease. Most recently promoted by teachers' union President Michael Mulgrew, the model is much like the old seven-member Board of Education, which had five members appointed by the Borough Presidents and only two by the Mayor. That system was abandoned in 2001 in favor of mayoral control, an apt testament to its failure to produce either adequate funding or educational quality. In addition, the members' fixed terms allowed them to become independent political actors, without accountability even to their appointing officials. 

Replacing an appointed board with an elected body of similar size mirrors many of these same problems through its lack of budgetary and collective bargaining independence, with the additional wild cards of one-person-one-vote seat allocation and the likelihood that our heated education culture wars would produce a volatile mix of political factions, a frequent and paralyzing phenomenon in other districts with resulting operational and educational dysfunction.

Moving further backward in the city's school governance history, community control remains a fervent wish among some, promising a degree of local self-determination never fulfilled after the teacher strikes of 1968. But the demise of community control demonstrates its impracticality. We are one city and bound educationally whether by union contracts, city funding, and most of all the need for city-wide solutions to issues of equity and diversity. Balkanizing control among our still-existing community school districts is a dream at odds with political and fiscal realities. 

With these alternatives failing historical and theoretical tests, the key to improving New York City school governance may be hiding in plain sight. As education historian David Tyack pointed out in his classic analysis, there is no "one best system" to solve our educational problems. Each era produces the governance that best fits the circumstances of its time, fitting into its unique socio-political framework.

City Control
When, in 1989, the United States Supreme Court declared the old Board of Estimate unconstitutional, Borough Presidents' budgetary powers were eliminated in favor of the more representative City Council which, until then, had been a mostly vestigial body. In response, the city's elite, distrustful of the newly-empowered Council members, wrote the 1990 City Charter revision to create a strong Mayor system. We live with that system today.

But the Council now is a mature body, having secured public respect over three decades by responsibly exercising its Charter mandates. Perhaps it made sense in 2001, when mayoral control was established, to cut out the largely untested Council from a stronger role in school governance. But today, the measure of the Council has been taken and it has developed a strong reputation for educational advocacy and policy acuity, as well as a culture of consensus that might keep it from the culture wars and procedural paralysis of a less representative, non-mayoral-majority Panel for Educational Policy (PEP). The past two Council Speakers have shown respect for their limited role in education by appointing able Education Committee Chairs who, in turn, held the Mayor to close account through public hearings and greater data-based transparency.

It may be time to reward this record and improve New York City school governance by recasting mayoral control as city control, aligning educational governance with other city services. There are important advantages to this concept, perhaps most importantly to give a powerful voice to individual community interests now lacking in the Mayor's hegemony over the Department of Education or through a slightly enlarged PEP. This check on mayoral power might be the missing ingredient in attenuating executive political interests not by watering them down, as with the Mulgrew plan, but on the constitutional model, balancing executive power with legislative constraints.

The State Education Law establishing mayoral control is already largely consistent with replacing the ineffectual PEP with an independent City Council acting as the Board of Education. Section 2590-g, "Powers and Duties of the City Board," clearly states that "except as otherwise provided by law, the board shall exercise no executive power and perform no executive or administrative functions." Thus, the Council stays in its policy lane, leaving executive functions to the Chancellor and the rest of the DOE in line with separation of powers principles. 

Some tweaks and more substantive revisions will of course be needed. For example, the City, not the Council, should be the employer of record for DOE personnel under Education Law § 2590-g (2). As I have suggested elsewhere, the Council should be able to hold hearings before rendering advice and consent over mayoral nominees for Chancellor after a more transparent search process. But how wonderful to put the Education Committee in charge of vetting DOE proposals for "standards, policies, and objectives proposed by the chancellor directly related to educational achievement and student performance"; "regulations proposed by the chancellor"; and "all school closures or significant changes in school utilization," including charter school co-locations under Education Law § 2590-g (1)(a, c, h, respectively). These, as well as other oversight functions, are deserving of greater public scrutiny than possible under unilateral mayoral control.

Advantages and Dangers of 'City Control'
This shared governance largely maintains the related education funding and accountability advantages of mayoral control. Voters would now hold local City Council members responsible, in addition to the Mayor, for fully funding schools. The Mayor could no more pawn off responsibility for education than he or she might try to disown police, fire, or other city agencies subject to similar Council powers. At the same time, with a Chancellor and major policies requiring Council approval, that body could no longer serve as mere gadfly but would have to take ownership of the success or failure of our public schools. By its approving the Chancellor's appointment, Council members would have skin in the game when questioning educational policies, perhaps leading to less adversarial hearings of less heat, more light.

This is not to say that there aren’t substantial dangers in this as yet-untried arrangement, which would be unique in the nation. The Council can be an ungainly body and its new education responsibilities would require a degree of discipline and timeliness not ordinarily found in large deliberative bodies. Particular burdens would fall on the Education Committee Chair to hold numerous hearings and filter reasoned recommendations to the full Council for approval. Grandstanding is a given and the chance of the Council being captured by dominant political interests is also present, though probably not any greater than is currently the case under mayoral control. Most important, the agility of mayoral control to deliver system change could be stymied by ungainly shared decision-making. 

Day-to-day operation of the Department of Education would see little change under this arrangement. After all, the current PEP meets only once per month and while its meetings are long on procedure, there are usually few matters of substance, however important. It will take time for the DOE, the Mayor, and the Council to negotiate such new terrain, balancing oversight against micromanagement, promoting educational quality over political expediency. 

After 20 years of mayoral control, a fair test of its advantages and disadvantages can be declared though never finalized. There can be no doubt the current system has staunched the school system's previous unaccountable complacency and its pernicious reciprocal weakness, chronic mayoral underfunding. But severe problems of unilateral control and increased politicization haunt today's education policy-making. 

Whether more political involvement will improve the situation is an open question. Traditionally, though, the American way of solving this conundrum is checks and balances between elected executive and legislative branches. No governance structure is determinative of sound education policy, but it may be time to adopt this solution by including the City Council's broad representation of popular interests in schools decision-making.

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David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Education Leadership, Law, and Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. On Twitter @BloomfieldDavid.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Where To Go with Mayoral Control Mon, 14 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Assembly to Evaluate Mayoral Control of City Schools for First Time Under Recent Reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8965-assembly-to-evaluate-mayor-control-of-city-schools-for-first-time-under-recent-reforms https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8965-assembly-to-evaluate-mayor-control-of-city-schools-for-first-time-under-recent-reforms bdb chancellor comm

Mayor and Chancellor testify in May (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photo Office)


Just six months after the state Legislature approved a three-year extension of mayoral control of the New York City school system, stretching well past the end of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term, the state Assembly is holding a hearing later this month on whether the mayor’s stewardship has been effective.  

The hearing will be held in New York City on December 16 by the Assembly’s education committee and will be, according to a public notice, the “first in a series of hearings and other informational forums throughout the City of New York to assess the effectiveness of mayoral control of the New York City School District and hear from stakeholders on the ways to address the inequities in our schools and improve student performance.”

De Blasio had an easier time getting an extension, and a longer one at that, of mayoral control this year under a Legislature where both houses were under Democratic control for the first time in a decade, compared with past years when Republicans who held the Senate used it as leverage to extract concessions, chiefly related to charter-school friendly policies, and often agreed to only one additional year at a time. But the latest extension nonetheless came with some conditions.

Among the changes, which the de Blasio administration says it is fully implementing, were increasing the membership of the Panel for Educational Policy from 13 to 15, with one member appointed by Community Education Council presidents and the other by the mayor. The PEP approves certain major Department of Education contracts and policies, and the mayor will now appoint nine of its members, up from eight. The two new members have yet to be appointed. Under the changes agreed to this year, the mayor will have to give a ten-day notice and a written explanation before removing a PEP member.

The city must also appoint a task force to issue recommendations on elections to Education Councils, of which there is one for each of the 32 local school districts and four with citywide purview; allow CECs to issue non-binding votes on school building utilization changes; and make changes to the Chancellor’s Regulations to give parents a greater say in hiring principals and superintendents – for instance, CECs will be able to meet with candidates that the Chancellor is considering for superintendent and provide their feedback before the appointment is made.

“Mayoral accountability is working - graduation and college enrollment is up, dropout rates are down, and Pre-K for All is narrowing the achievement gap,” said Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for the mayor, in response to a request for comment about the upcoming hearing. “We’re fostering supportive learning environments that empower families, and delivering Equity and Excellence to every child, no matter their zip code.”

When asked, Meyer did not say whether Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza would testify on the administration’s behalf at the December 16 hearing, and while she did say the new changes were being implemented by the DOE, she did not respond to questions seeking clarification.

The Assembly education committee is chaired by Assemblymember Michael Benedetto, a Bronx Democrat. In a phone interview, Benedetto said the hearing is the beginning of a process of ongoing assessment of the current mayoral control system.

“Maybe there are changes we can make to the system that we have right now, to make it better,” he said Tuesday. “When we made some minor changes to the school governance law, we also made at that time a promise among ourselves that we would going forward take a look and see, are there better ways to govern the schools of the City of New York? So to that end, we made it a point of agreement that we will meet, that we will have hearings, that we will have roundtables, that we will actively seek out and look and investigate other models to see if what we’re doing is in the best interest of communities and most importantly children.”

Benedetto said he had “no expectations” of the de Blasio administration’s testimony and that the hearing is more of a fact-finding exercise. “I think it’s quite possible that every issue under the sun is gonna come on up if it involves education,” he said. He does, however, hope to hear from parent and teacher groups, educators, and elected officials about the pros and cons of mayoral control, which, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, replaced the old Board of Education localized system and has been renewed several times since. “Come 2022, we can formulate a piece of legislation that we think will be best for the City of New York and maybe that is just what we have now and maybe it’s not. So we’re looking,” Benedetto said.

Gotham Gazette also reached out to other elected officials who would seem likely to attend or be particularly interested in the hearing. A spokesperson for State Senator John Liu, who chairs the Senate’s New York City education committee, acknowledged a request for comment but did not respond to follow-up inquiries.

New York City Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Council’s education committee, said he plans to attend the hearing and push for greater accountability over the schools system. “The DOE is the largest city department, it takes up about a third of the entire city budget, and yet the City Council lacks a lot of critical authority over this department,” he said, noting that the Council cannot make appointments to the PEP, does not have advice and consent power over the chancellor’s appointment, and cannot pass laws affecting DOE functions except for requiring certain reports. The Council, he said, is relegated to exercising its power during annual budget negotiations to force the city to institute needed reforms. “It speaks to a real imbalance in terms of authority and proper oversight over a critical agency,” he said.

The mayor’s oft-examined six years at the helm of city schools have indeed seen the improved metrics mentioned by Meyer, and often touted by de Blasio and Carranza at legislative hearings and elsewhere (the two testified together at a March 15 hearing on mayoral control held by the Senate, a few months before the latest extension was granted).

But there have been stumbles along the way. The much-touted Renewal Schools program, which spent nearly $800 million over four years on struggling schools with limited results, was scrapped earlier this year for a new approach. The school system, which serves more than 1.1 million students, remains deeply segregated and the mayor has failed to articulate a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem. A task force he created for that purpose released its final report in August, recommending, among many other things, that all Gifted and Talented programs, where white students are overwhelmingly admitted, be replaced for universal enrichment programming.

De Blasio has also unsuccessfully sought to get rid of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), which requires state legislative action for the three largest of the eight schools that use it for admissions, in order to diversify the student population at the city’s specialized high schools where black and Latino students are severely disproportionately underrepresented. Chancellor Carranza has vowed to keep pushing that proposal, though de Blasio has said he is back to the drawing board and planning a new approach next year, while also pledging to hold a series of conversations based on his task force’s reports about how to integrate the broader school system.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Republican who challenged de Blasio when he ran for reelection in 2017, welcomed the Assembly hearing as an opportunity to grill the mayor’s administration. She is new on the education committee and noted in a public statement that she has been pushing for a hearing since before the budget was decided earlier this year.

She said in part that “critical questions still remain about inappropriate spending of precious education dollars, as well as the dismantling of school discipline under de Blasio. I made a point to have hearings on mayoral control because under de Blasio it has been terrible. Now that we have these hearings, I urge my constituents to speak out and to ensure that their taxpayer money is being spent properly.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to note that the New York City education committee is no longer a subcommittee. 

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Assembly to Evaluate Mayoral Control of City Schools for First Time Under Recent Reforms Tue, 03 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Control of City Schools Helps Students Succeed in a Global Economy - It Must Be Extended https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8398-mayoral-control-of-city-schools-helps-students-succeed-in-a-global-economy-it-must-be-extended https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8398-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.

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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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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7056-zombie-charter-agreement-rests-on-interpretation-of-ambiguous-law https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7056-zombie-charter-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.

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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‘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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7054-de-blasio-made-a-charter-school-deal-but-isn-t-interested-in-talking-about-it https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7054-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.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7042-mayoral-control-extended-in-special-session-with-usual-albany-process https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7042-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.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

with reporting by Ben Max

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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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7037-how-the-mayoral-control-special-session-works https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7037-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.

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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.

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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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7032-5-reasons-mayoral-control-is-on-the-verge-of-lapsing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7032-5-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.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7024-mayoral-control-debate-ignores-need-for-community-control https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7024-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.

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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