Mayoral Control Woes: Can Mayoral Control Include Parents and Communities in the Policy Circle?

With only a handful of days left the State legislature races to the June 17th adjournment with three key educational items left on the agenda

* Will the legislature increase the charter school cap? The cap outside of New York City has over a hundred unfilled spots and 28 spots left in New York City, no action would push the issue to next year, and, the Regents did turn down almost all the applications last month, the applicants can resubmit.

* Will the legislature pass a tax credit bill for private, charter and parochial schools? The Catholic parochial schools and the charter school lobby have combined to vigorously push for passage of the tax credit bill, targeting specific legislators. The lobbying is intense.

* Will mayoral control in New York City be extended or made permanent? The mayoral control law originally passed in 2002 with a sunset clause; the law has been extended a number of times. If the legislature takes no action the city would revert to the pre-2002 governance law.

At this point in the session the party conferences meet every day to discuss the critical end of session bills. Conference is closed, no notes are taken and no formal votes tallied; however, members speak their minds and guide the direction of the Speaker. No bill comes to the floor without sufficient Democratic votes to pass (or Republican in the Senate). Speaker Heastie in the Assembly has been saying that he does not see support for the tax credit bill in his conference, if that continues the bill would die.

The same is the case with the charter school cap; if there is no support in the Democratic conference the bill will die … unless the bills get caught up in the “three men in a room” negotiations. Rent control or the property tax cap could always be part of a larger deal. Members who support rent control and oppose, let’s say, the tax credits, could be faced with a dilemma, supporting or opposing a package of bills which contain items they like or despise.

Mayoral control is also caught up in the “final days” discussions. If no action is taken New York City school governance reverts to the prior system: a central board appointed by the Mayor and the City Council with 32 elected quasi-independent school districts: it is unlikely.

Unfortunately a debate over the current mayoral control law has not emerged. The supporters, from Arne Duncan, to Mayor de Blasio, to the five Borough Presidents to business leaders, have been loud and insistent for reauthorization. Mayoral control will undoubtedly be extended: the Republican proffer one year and de Blasio urges making mayoral control permanent: opposite ends of the negotiations spectrum – the final agreement? The negotiated bill could make changes in the law as well as extending the term.

Mayoral control is a dozen years old, and a turbulent dozen years. We’re moved across the governance spectrum and back; from ten large regions with strong supervisory authority to self-governing empowerment to affinity networks and back to superintendents with regional support centers.

After four non-educator chancellors (Harold Levy, Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott) the city is being led by a popular and familiar face: Carmen Farina.

A year and a half into the administration even fans of Farina are ill at ease. Pedro Noguero and David Bloomfield both bemoan the lack of a clear vision.

Mayor de Blaise’s long-awaited school renewal plan is a step in the right direction, but only a step. It lacks a critical component: a clear discussion of methodology.

Beyond informing the public about what will be done to help New York’s struggling schools, we need to know who will do it and how it will be done. We’re still waiting to hear the answer to that question. (Noguera)

Fariña needs first to become a better executive. Complaints abound that the new chancellor has failed to enact a coherent managerial vision, retaliates against DOE staff associated with the last administration, and presides over an increasingly disorganized bureaucracy. (Bloomfield)

The prior administration swung from new idea to new idea, bosses changed, philosophies changed, and the combat with teachers, principals and parents escalated.

Mayoral control continues to lack oversight; the Panel for Educational Priorities (PEP), the de jure Board of Education and the Community Education Councils (CEC) are toothless. Parents and communities have no role in the policy structure. A long succession of new, unconnected initiatives is rolled out and seemingly fade away.

Most teachers, parents and principals like Chancellor Farina; however, they feel the system is adrift. The Renewal Schools, the lowest achieving schools: will they have summer schools, or not; extended school days, or not, and on and on.

The mayor’s approval rating is disturbingly low and his education policy approval ratings equally low.

“The mayor’s job approval hits a new low and he’s lost a lot of ground on his handling of crime and the schools, two key areas of any mayor,” he added.

Mr. de Blasio has a negative 41-42 split rating on his handling of public schools, down from 48-33 in January.

“Democracy” argue for elected an school board; however, as we have seen in Los Angeles those with the deepest pockets fund the elections and a very narrow swath of the richest end up running the schools: the reality – highly undemocratic.

The concept of community involvement is crucial, currently the community has no voice in polices at the local level.

“Participation reduces resistance” is the # 1 rule of organizational change, while creating s system of community engagement can be messy, so was the constitutional convention, and messy is not a reason to bar the community at the door. Decisions made in the aeries of the Tweed Courthouse rarely echo in classrooms, the best decisions impacting children are made by the persons closest to the classrooms: parents, teachers and principal. Yes, we need experienced leaders at the district level, leaders with the skills to work with parents and teachers.

While we all like and admire Chancellor Farina too many decisions are imposed, without transparency, and the system continues to wander, seemingly wandering aimlessly.

Perhaps it is the crafting of the message, or, maybe the message itself.

The next six legislative days of the session will be turbulent and interesting, and, hopefully fruitful.

BTW, did you call your local elected and express your opinions.

“All politics is local,”


3 responses to “Mayoral Control Woes: Can Mayoral Control Include Parents and Communities in the Policy Circle?

  1. “Musings of an old man” (to some of us this is not a disparaging term).
    The author has lived through and been an integral part of the growth of the UFT. He helped shape this Union and did indeed participate and lead from the early days until this very day. If you know the history of the UFT, you know that his material is based on a very sound footing and should be digested with the knowledge that his goal of improving the NYC and indeed the state public schools is his only motivation. Thanks Peter, I for one look forward to reading each piece of Ed in the Apple. Alan


  2. Eric Nadelstern

    Mayoral control is a prerequisite to improving our schools.


  3. ken karcinell

    Mayoral Control with this Mayor would be akin to the good old days of local community school boards and their influences in terms of who gets appointed and who doesnt.A system where indeed allows for the most qualified not to qualify.. His record of pandering to minority communities speaks for itself.His delays and failures to remove gross incompetent principals in Far Rockaway and Brooklyn in a timely manner gives one pause as to the real meaning of 2 New Yorks. As long as their is a tolerance (and the time it took to finally get rid of those two goes far beyond reasonable tolerance) for such incompetence and contemptible individuals who are sitting principals, why talk about Mayoral control?


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