On Friday, February 6th the New York State Assembly Education Committee held the second of five borough based hearing on the reauthorization of the mayoral governance law.
First, kudos to Chair Cathy Nolan, the hearing kicked off at 10:05 am and petered out at 8:30 pm with two five minute breaks. About forty folks gave testimony, ranging Joel Klein to just plain old folk. Nolan sat through each and every speaker, was gracious and patient, and incisive with her comments.
Surprisingly, the committee has not interviewed the Chancellor in three years, especially since the committee will recommend the future of mayoral control. The Chancellor, Deputy Mayor Walcott, deputy Chancellor Grimm and CEO of the School Construction Authority Sharon Greenberger “testified,” and responded to committee questions for two hours, as reported in the New York Times and the New York Times City Room blog.
Klein’s position was clear:
“Divided authority and a local rather than a citywide focus often leads to interest-group politics in education, and those with power or access to power typically prevail,” Mr. Klein said. “There are, in short, as is often the case, winners and losers. But we cannot afford losers in education.”
Assemblyman Maisel asked whether the chancellor would accept a proposal: Community Engagement Panels would interview applicants for superintendent and principal positions and recommend five candidates to the chancellor who would make a final selection.
The chancellor responded he favored consultation, but, final decisions must be his and his alone.
Mayoral control, as defined by Bloomberg and Klein, treats the Department as a city agency, with the Mayor appointed commissioners having total authority in all matters. The Mayor seems to be calling for civil disobedience if mayoral control is amended, “rioting in the streets,” if mayoral control is not reauthorized.
“My assumption is there will be a bill called mayoral control passed by the Legislature,” the mayor continued. “I think that the, if they didn’t do that, I think that there’d be riots in the streets, given what’s the improvement. I mean, parents have choices. For the first time we’re funding all the schools equally.”
The core question: is mayoral control working? what does the data say? does the Department use the same transparent policies that the rest of the city agencies use?
William Thompson, the NYC Comptroller, and probably a candidate in the upcoming mayoral election, accused the Department is simply refusing to comply with transparency guidelines , the Department is sometimes a State agency, and sometimes a City agency, and continues to evade/ignore whatever regulations it doesn’t like.
Diane Ravitch, a historian of the NYC school system challenged the core of the Bloomberg/Klein argument: that the school system has gotten measurably better under their stewardship. Ravitch, using the national NAEP data, as well as pointing out the Klein uses data that preceded his chancellorship to point to gains, avers that scores under Klein are flat.
UFT President Randi Weingarten appointed a Task Force in April, 2007, that held public hearings attended by over 1200 parents, teachers and advocates, met innumerable times and issued a Report that was approved by union delegates on February 4th. The union Report , with a host of recommendations, called for a change in the makeup of the Central Board: currently the Mayor appoints eight of the 13 seats, the union plan called for the mayoral appointees to be reduced to five, with one each by the Borough Presidents, and three appointed by the citywide elected officials, the Comptroller, the Public Advocate and the president of the City Council.
Late in the afternoon Patrick Sullivan, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s appointee to the Board testified. It was riveting!
The Board is “managed” by the Chancellor: no agendas to the day before the meetings, or the day of the meeting, no minutes of meetings, vacancies on the Board abound, the Chancellor has emasculated the Board, that, in reality, has absolutely no function, and, any attempts to question any actions by Klein are rejected by Klein. The Board is a Potemkin Village .
The last hearing will take place on March 20th, and with the huge budget issues hanging over the city it will be months before the legislature confronts the governance bill.
It is increasingly looking like the law will be amended … perhaps the core is the simple issue of “eight” out of 13, or “five” out of 13.