“Punting:” Will Albany Extend Mayoral Control Without Addressing Charter Schools or Accountability? Or Will the Governor “Impose?”

“Punting” in politics is avoiding making a difficult decision, and, extending mayoral control or returning to a central board are difficult and politically dangerous decisions. A return to the former borough president selected central board and elected community boards could lead to  a return to “politics as usual,” a central board more interested in political deal-making and patronage than the education of children, or, the return could lead to community engagement and community consensus-building and widely acceptable decisions.

In an earlier blog I wrote: “If you toss a rock into a pool of feces you never can predict who gets splashed.”  A governor up for election in 2018 with presidential ambitions, Republicans holding on to the Senate by one seat and ambitious Democrats angry over the spread of charter schools and fearful of losing support from the anti-charter school folks is a combustible combination.

Tuesday morning the governor announced he was calling the legislature back to Albany, a special session convening today (Wednesday).

Rumor: extend mayoral control by a year and approve the small town tax extenders; however, “its never over until its over.”

Years ago I was an organizer working on setting up a strike, picket lines, signs, etc., the husband of the women I was working with was on the negotiating team. The strike was set for the next day, the woman’s husband showed up, “We’re been going round the clock, almost wrapped up, I have to catch a few hours sleep.”  The “almost wrapped up” negotiation turned into a strike lasted lasted for two weeks.

The larger question: should schools be lead by an elected school board or a mayor  is highly controversial, and, part of over 100 years of schools reforms.

The first reform era was the late nineteenth century passing of the Pendleton Act (1883), the creation of a civil service system, the reaction to the “spoils system. In 1881 President Garfield was shot and killed by Charles Guiteau, a disappointed office seeker.

 The Pendleton Act provided that Federal Government jobs be awarded on the basis of merit and that Government employees be selected through competitive exams. The act also made it unlawful to fire or demote for political reasons employees who were covered by the law. The law further forbids requiring employees to give political service or contributions. The Civil Service Commission was established to enforce this act.

Civil service reform sweep across the states and the 1898 Great Consolidation, the merging of the boroughs into New York City, the statutes also created a single Board of Education and a Board of Examiners that promulgated competitive examinations for jobs within the Board of Education as well as a management structure.

Read Diane Ravitch, The Great School Wars: A History of the New York City Public Schools (1974) for a seminal account of education in New York City.

The school board was an appointed position, a policy board that appointed a superintendent who was the leader of the school system. The board members were selected from the elites, met monthly and were virtually anonymous.

The 1960s was a turbulent decade. A new teacher union flexing muscles, a burgeoning school population, school integration efforts and a strong anti-busing reaction coupled with the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers, racial-based riots in Detroit, Newark and Los Angeles, the anti-war movement and a school board under constant assault.

Read David Rogers, 110 Livingston Street: Politics and Bureaucracy in New York City Schools (1968), an in-depth analysis by a highly respected sociologist.

New York City Mayor John Lindsay, a progressive Republican feared the riots that were engulfing the nation would spread to New York. One “solution:” empower poor communities of color, and one path to empowerment was to hand over the schools to the community. The 40-day 1968 teacher strike was over the question of community control of  schools; the strike ended, Lindsay employed the Ford Foundation to draft a plan and after months of Albany wrangling school decentralization was born.

I think the best work is Tamar Jacoby, Someone Else’s House: America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration (2004),  “New York’s experiences with race show the damage that can be done when powerful white liberals, in the name of racial justice, refuse to condemn, and desperately continue to support, black activists whose message is filled with hate, whose actions are irresponsible and whose financial practices are often corrupt.”

 For over twenty-five years the New York City school system was governed by a salaried, staffed, highly political central board and 32-elected school boards. Central Board members, selected by the borough presidents and the mayor earned $37,000 a year, a full-time staffer and a city vehicle. Mayors, Lindsay, Beame, Koch and Giuliani were aloof, they claimed credit for perceived positives and blamed boards and chancellors for perceived negatives. The school system was chronically under funded, after all, the finger of accountability did not point to the mayor. Chancellors came and went, their most important skill set was navigating the shark infested waters of city hall politics. The elected school boards were “captured” by the local electeds and the boards served as patronage mills. Principal and assistant principal jobs blatantly sold or traded for favors. Carry my petitions and we may interview you for  a job, buy a table at a dinner, and don’t show up, buy an ad in the journal, the stories go on and on. If the purpose of community control was to empower, in essence, to buy off community activists, community control achieved its purpose. New York City averted riots.

An unintended result, a few of the middle class districts thrived. The ‘loose” controls allowed districts to innovate. Superintendent Alvarado created a top to bottom professional development program  in close collaboration with the union, and saw marked progress for students. In Brooklyn, District 22 (Midwood-Sheepshead Bay) bused over a thousand Afro-American students from overcrowded schools to underutilized all-white school across the district; the district ended special education busing, all kids must be served by their home school; school-based budgeting and active, engaged leadership teams at the school and district level. All eventually quashed by a chancellor who feared loosing control.

In 1997 all personnel powers were removed from school boards, including selection of superintendents and principals. In 2002 the legislature overwhelmingly passed a mayoral control bill. The system has lurched from organization structure to organizational structure: from mega-districts, to affinity networks, to a return to superintendents, although with much less staff with distant School Support Centers.

 Chalkbeat has published a series of critical articles (Read herequestioning current leadership structure.

Aaron Pallas, a Columbia sociologist, in the NY Daily News, analyzes the high profile Renewal Schools and finds no difference than other schools in achievement. (Read here).

The Research Alliance for New York City, in a review of ten years of data, finds significant progress in moving students of color on to college.(Read report here)

Will punting simply push the same issue, extending mayoral control, into the next legislative  session?

Yes … and a big caveat: the governor has clout, substantial clout in the budgeting process and can roll a longer extension of mayoral control and “other related issues” into the budget and remove it as a campaign issue in 2018 when the governor and the entire legislature will be on the ballot. Will/Can the governor squeeze the Democrats and the Republicans to force a settlement in the special session? What will the governor extract from the mayor for extending mayoral control?

BTW, is anyone actually discussing a school management structure that keeps the mayor at the top of the pyramid, accountable at the polls, and, involves parents, teachers and the community in a a meaningful fashion, in other words, checks and balances?

Any ideas?  Let’s hear from you …

UPDATE: 10 PM Wednesday.   All sides on the edge of an agreement: two year extension of mayoral control (a year beyond the 2018 state elections) and a three year extension of the upstate tax extenders and naming the Tappen Zee Bridge for Cuomo pere,  Mario.



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