Who Will de Blasio Appoint to the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), the School Board?

The original concept of “mayoral control” did not abolish school boards; the governance structure was envisioned as the mayor and the borough presidents appointing a school board that would set policy for the school district. New York City has always had appointed school boards. Prior to 1970 school boards were appointed from a list approved by a screening panel. After 1970 the school board consisted of members appointed by the borough presidents (one each) and the mayor (two members).

Mayors, if they choose, could always round up sufficient votes if the issue was important enough. Rudy Giuliani was masterful; he used the school board to fire and hire chancellors of his choice, claimed credit for successes and flailed the school board to deflect criticisms.

Mayor Bloomberg chose to directly control education, initially he basked in the apparent successes of Joel Klein policies, and, as the public began to reject his policies he squirmed as his approval rating plummeted.

Sol Stern, in the City Journal points to a recent poll,

The public, for its part, remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools, according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics. Sixty-four percent of respondents rated school performance as either fair or poor, … New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

From a political perspective Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy is deeply tarnished as he leaves office – education moved from his crowning jewel to dross.

Bill de Blasio, the presumptive mayor, has the opportunity to move back to the goal of the 2002 mayoral reform law – to appoint well-respected citizens to set educational policy within the broad goals of a de Blasio administration.

The current law establishes a thirteen member board – eight appointed by the mayor and one by each borough president. The current mayoral appointees are completely anonymous and come and go. In the single instance that mayoral appointees voted against a policy the mayor replaced the members.

The PEP meetings are not open discussions of policies, they are a succession of 3-minute speeches from the public opposing whatever policy is on the agenda ending in a vote in which all eight of the mayoral appointees affirm the issue. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan Borough President appointee has been the only board member who has consistently challenged Bloomberg agenda items.

Sadly, while the PEP members commonly have impressive resumes in fact they are Pinocchios manipulated by Geppetto, the mayor.

It would be an important signal to the city if de Blasio appointed a highly respected board – a broad spectrum of New Yorkers with the expertise to work with a chancellor to create policies that support children and families.

Some have argued for board members who represent constituencies – I disagree. Parents are represented by the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Committee (CPAC) and similar organizations represent English language learners and children with disabilities. Unions represent employees.

I would suggest people of the caliber of David Jones, Community Service Society, James Hennessy, Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University, Mary Driscoll, Dean of the School of Education at CCNY, Dick Parsons, Senior Advisor, Providence Equity Partners, LLC, Michael Rebell
Co-Founder; Executive Director, Campaign for Educational Equity, Ronald F. Ferguson
Senior Lecturer in Education and Public Policy, Harvard University, Mathew Goldstein, former Chancellor of the City University of New York, Luis O. Reyes Research Associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies/Centro De Estudios Puertorriqueños of Hunter College, CUNY, Kim Sweet, Executive Director, Advocates for Children, Joe Wayland, Simpson, Thatcher, LLP, Diane Ravitch, Historian, New York University, as examples. The city deserves an educational leadership that is immune to petty politics and can withstand the editorials in the NY Post.

Bill de Blasio is currently under attack from the right, his opponent points to support for the Sandinistas in the 80s and a honeymoon trip to Cuba. Sol Stern in the City Journal predicts the left, the far left, will be “feeding at the public trough,”

No group or individual will be deemed too far to the left as long as they jump on the de Blasio bandwagon. Lining up to receive their fair share of the spoils will be the old Acorn organization, now renamed New York Communities for Change; the far-left Working Families Party; the United Federation of Teachers and other municipal unions; the radical Service Employees International Union, including the former Communist-led health-care workers’ union Local 1199; the civil liberties and homeless lobbies; and, of course, the onetime racial arsonist Al Sharpton, now posing as a wise elder and political power broker. To varying degrees, each will have a place at the municipal trough. Meanwhile, at the other end of City Hall—thanks to the successful efforts of the Working Families Party in many local races this year—the newly elected city council will tilt further left and will dole out even more cash to radical and activist community groups.

A few months into his mayoralty the left will begin bashing de Blasio, he’s moving too slowly, why hasn’t he created the Socialist nirvana that they thought he espoused, or, ended “stop and frisk” and crime, why isn’t soma being handed out on street corners?

de Blasio needs the real estate developers, the investors, the Wall Street magnets, he needs the 1% to continue and invest and create jobs.

If the economy continues to improve, if tourists and their dollars continue to flock to the Apple, if some sense of sanity returns to Congress, the new mayor will have the dollars to address his “tale of two cities” campaign punditry.

If the gods are kind the next mayor can address the economic inequalities, if not, the city and the mayor will stumble.

A glittering panel of mayoral appointees can provide the new mayor with cover – can act as the “wise men (and women),” supporting policies to improve the lot for children and families.

The school board of the 70s, 80s and 90s were riven by petty politics, much more concerned with carrying out the political contracts of their patrons, the borough presidents, than reading scores or graduation rates. A school board with credentials, similar to the CUNY, SUNY and the Board Regents can serve as a true policy board engaging and supporting mayoral policies, as well as, on occasion, telling the mayor he should consider moving in a different direction.

And, BTW, does the current Board realize that barring a Weiner-esque disclosure they will be gone in three months?

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3 responses to “Who Will de Blasio Appoint to the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), the School Board?

  1. A school board similar to the current Board of Regents? With a few exceptions, they have rubber stamped policies nearly as bad as those that the current PEP members have approved. Administrators from CUNY are very dependent on city funds and should not be appointed either for lack of independence.

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  2. If de Blasio wants credibility and a meaningful PEP Panel, then he will support, as Bill Thompson did, legislation to reformulate the panel so that the Mayor does not have a majority. Let it be a panel that honestly debates policy and let the Mayor or his Chancellor have to convince a majority of the wisdom of their plans.

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  3. For the PEP (or, hopefully, its successor organization) to have credibility, at a minimum members must have fixed terms so they can not be removed arbitrarily for dissenting..

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