Who is Responsible for the Demise of Mayoral Control? Eva

Years ago I served on the teacher union negotiating team in New York City.  We started with formal meetings across the table with thick briefing books; each side presented “demands” and the other side agreed, disagreed or put aside for further discussion. Slowly, the number of “demands” was pared down to the core issues. We discussed an issue and management would respond, “We have to discuss among ourselves, we’ll be back in an hour.” The hour turned into two and three and more hours as management consulted with the city and school boards and “other interested parties.”

The ultimate decision-makers were management, the Board of Education, and the union; however. neither side wanted other organizations to publicly trash the ultimate settlement; consensus settlements are essential

In 1975 the negotiations began in the spring and moved through the summer as the differences narrowed, days before the start of school the city pitched toward default and layoff notices went out to  14,000 teachers. We rapidly moved from “Lets’ keep talking and start the school year” to a strike vote.  I still vividly remember the Delegate Assembly, after almost two days of around the clock negotiations, a strike vote was almost unanimously voted by the thousand plus delegates and teachers walked the picket line.

After a week on strike and a complex agreement teachers returned and later in the fall the union actually loaned the city money to avert default. (Read “How the UFT Saved the City” here) and in a couple of years all laid off teachers were offered jobs.

The 2002 mayoral control law in New York City has a sunset clause – unless it is extended the law sunsets, expires, the city returns to the previous management structure – a seven member board, one member appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor. In May the city would conduct school board elections in the 32 community school districts.

Under Mayor Bloomberg the legislature extended the law for multiple years, in 2009 the law did expire, the central board met and “re-hired” Chancellor Joel Klein and in August the legislature held a special session and renewed the law for multiple years.

This year the key players are the leader of majority Democrats in the Assembly, Carl Heastie and the Republican leader in the Senate, John Flanagan and Governor Cuomo.

Why is Flanagan, who represents a district on the north shore of Long Island, with no charter schools, such an avid supporter of charter schools?

The answer, in my view, is simple: dollars from national supporters of charter schools, i.e., Walmart, etc., and the major player: Eva Moskowitz

Eliza Shapiro at Politico writes,

“Moskowitz has run the network with the ferocity and urgency of a political campaign, with City Hall press conferences attacking the mayor, selectively placed op-eds and leaks in friendly media outlets, and a robust lobbying infrastructure in Albany that has helped cultivate support from Republican legislators outside the city.” 

“In January, during the fight over DeVos’ nomination, Moskowitz released a statement saying the nominee had “the talent, commitment, and leadership capacity to revitalize our public schools and deliver the promise of opportunity that excellent education provides.”

Most charter schools are community charter schools, idiomatically referred to as “Mon and Pop” charter schools. The question of whether the cap should increased has no impact on these schools. The network charter schools, charter management organizations with multiple schools, have opposed Trump policies. The only supporter of Trump policies in the charter world is Eva Moskowitz.

Moskowitz’s name was conspicuously absent, for example, from a public letter protesting Trump’s education budget, signed by the leaders of KIPP, Uncommon and Achievement First — the three other major charter networks in New York City. Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, sits on Success’s board, but has urged charter backers not to join the Trump administration.

While not sitting at the table, Eva clearly has veto power over any settlement. Flanagan needs the charter school dollars to fund campaigns to make sure the Republicans maintain their slim, very slim, one-vote majority in the Senate.

What happens next?

The legislature can return and extend mayoral control. or,

The borough presidents will appoint members to the central board and the current 13-member Panel for Education Priorities, nine appointed by the mayor will dissolve.

Three of the borough presidents, Reuben Diaz, the Bronx, Eric Adams, Brooklyn and Melinda Katz, Queens, will be candidates for citywide office four years down the road, all will be elected in November to their last term, they are term-limited. Maybe they’ll simply re-appoint Farina as their predecessors did in 2009, or, act independently to raise their own profile citywide.  Maybe they will question de Blasio/Farina education policies and encourage a public debate. In the past the borough president appointed members who were highly political, seeking political advantage for their borough president. (“political advantage” is a polite way of saying patronage).

Esmeralda Simmons, a professor at Medgar Evers College was a Dinkens appointee to the central board – I listened to her describe a totally politicized board (unfortunately no longer online).

While Regents members are ‘elected” by the Democratic majority in the Assembly to the best of my knowledge they are totally free to make any decision, and, the members are highly qualified.

If the Brooklyn selectee to a new central board is Brooklyn College professor David Bloomfield, the mayor selections NYU Metro Center professor David Kirkland and education advocate Leonie Haimson, and other selectees who are highly regarded educators and advocates, a central board selected for expertise and advocacy, no political loyalty, the return to a central board might be fruitful.

While community school board authority was limited by 1997 legislation the elections might be highly contentious. The powers of local school boards could be limited, or, expanded by the central board.

Back in November, 2013, weeks after the de Blasio election I mused over whether we would engage in a wide-ranging public debate.

Tyack and Cuban in their seminal “Tinkering Toward Utopia,” a study of the school reform movement over many decades emphasizes that reforms are only embedded if they are bottom up, reforms must reflect the changes accepted by teachers and parents.

Tyack and Cuban argue that the ahistorical nature of most current reform proposals magnifies defects and understates the difficulty of changing the system. Policy talk has alternated between lamentation and overconfidence. The authors suggest that reformers today need to focus on ways to help teachers improve instruction from the inside out instead of decreeing change by remote control, and that reformers must also keep in mind the democratic purposes that guide public education.

The current reforms, regardless of their value, have been imposed from above. As teachers ask questions, push back, the administration shoves harder and harder, resulting in increasing frustration and hostility within schools.

The debate is currently over should we have districts or networks, the details of the teacher evaluation plan, letter grading of schools, closing of schools, etc., rather than the larger and more significant question: what are our core principles?

Do we want to continue a system based on choice and accountability, or, move to a system based on equity? Do we want a system driven by top-down proscriptive, requirements, a compliance-driven system, or, a bottom up system with key instructional decisions made at the district/school level?

Do we want a school system built around communities with a heavy dose of parent and community involvement or a school system driven by the goals of the mayor?

Do we want a school system in which parents, teachers and school leaders play a role in establishing policies at the school level, and if so, how do we monitor progress?

What are the “big ideas” that should drive teaching and learning in the 1800 plus schools?

Clearly, we have made substantial progress, clearly we have a long way to go. Past experience tells us that “politics as usual,’ behind the scenes wheeling-and-dealing for political advantage, would be destructive of all the gains over the last four years; returning to a central board without a selection process free from politics is returning to a seriously flawed management system. The current structure is far from perfect, some of my suggestions above are still absent from the mayoral control management model.

In my view the failure of achieving an extension of mayoral control is directly traceable to Eva Moskowitz – she holds millions of dollars to fund Republican campaigns in her grip, and, Flanagan and company could not afford, in political terms, to ignore her.

Not only is mayoral control being held hostage, so are the tax extenders that are crucial to supplement the budget of many upstate cities; if the tax extenders are not passed these communities will face staggering cuts in services.

As the legislature swirled toward adjournment a change was made in SUNY regs that allow charter schools to hire unlimited numbers of uncertified teachers and certify the teachers themselves – no edTPA, no exams at all (Read the story and link to the regulations here)

Gideon John Tucker (February 10, 1826 – July 1899) was an American lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. In 1866, as Surrogate of New York, he wrote in a decision of a will case: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Not much has changed.




One response to “Who is Responsible for the Demise of Mayoral Control? Eva

  1. Pingback: New York: Legislature Close to a Deal on Renewing Mayoral Control | Diane Ravitch's blog

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