Defending Frankenstein: Will Schools Be Ruled by the Mayor, or Governed by the People?

Buddy Cianci  is a charming scamp who was Mayor of Providence and spent some time as a guest of the federal authorities. In his ribald biography, Prince of Providence  he avers, “Beware, the hand you bite today maybe attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.”

For months Bloomberg has been a flirt: will he, or, won’t he? He finally let the cat out of the bag; in an op ed piece in the NY Times he formally announced he will not be a candidate for President. The NY Sun speculates that his withdrawal  begins the era of the lame duck.

As elected officials reach the end of their tenure they begin to think of that legacy thing: the edifice complex.

For Mike, of course we have the West Side Stadium, Oh! Right! It never got built. How about congestion pricing? Nope, it also seems to be dead on arrival. In fact, anything that requires the approval of the New York State Legislature is in jeopardy.

When your mayoralty ignores, reviles, abjures, and generally treats the Legislature with disdain, it might be difficult to get them to approve anything.

Mike should have taken Buddy’s advice.

On the national level it is mayoral control that has resonated. Other mayors around the State are beginning to consider a mayoral control model for their cities. The think tanks have made Mike and Joel into iconic figures: fighting the big bad teachers union, firing the democratically elected school boards and replacing them with totally powerless councils, playing with pay for behaviors for students, letter grades for schools/principals, using student data to rate teachers, etc. All the reforms du jour.

As Mike begins to emblazon his crest on mayoral control he has to confront a minor obstacle: the law sunsets, aka, expires on June 30, 2009.

The New York State Legislature, those very same guys and gals who have been kicked around for the last six years are the very same who have to renew the law.

The Center for NYC Affairs at the New School is sponsoring an interesting panel, “Who Rules the Schools?” on March 6th. Joel Klein is the keynote speaker: panelists:

  • Chris Cerf, Deputy Chancellor for Spin Control
  • Ernie Logan, the Principal’s Union
  • Carmen Colon, representing the Community Education Councils
  • Alan Maisel, NYS Assembly, who has introduced a number of bills to limit the powers of the Mayor
  • Meryl Tisch, NYS Regent.


This will be the kickoff of the administration defense of their Frankenstein.

Will Bloomberg negotiate changes in school governance this spring, that may defang his chancellor but retain the core of mayoral control? or,

Will he risk waiting until the spring of 2009, in the midst of the mayoral election, with conflicting governance plans from a range of contending candidates?

With only a few blips the mayor has ruled the City without opposition. 

The founding fathers confronted the same issues in the infancy of our nation. In Federalist Papers,  # 51

Madison and Hamilton muse on the concentration of power:

But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.


For too many New Yorkers the current administration has further enriched the already rich and ignores the working folk. The solution for all problems, whether schools, or, poverty, are market driven. Pay kids for passing tests, pay teachers for teaching “harder” and paying the working poor for “positive behaviors.” The City Charter has created an imperial mayor, who has “ruled” the City, and promoted his own ambitions. It will be interesting to see how the clash of ambitions impact control of the schools.


One response to “Defending Frankenstein: Will Schools Be Ruled by the Mayor, or Governed by the People?

  1. Todd Wilkinson

    His majesty finally realized that the “school report cards” were meaningless and had to admit that there were “some problems with them ” . He then promptly praised the DOE for masterminding the school report card system. I wonder what the next admission of criminal incompetence will be ?


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