The Downside of Mayoral Control: Can Political Agendas Drive Education Policy?

For a millennium superintendents, selected by elected lay school boards managed schools. Educational policy was set by the neighbor down the block and his/her neighbors who had the political smarts to get elected in non-partisan elections commonly held in May, with low voter turnouts. Superintendents walked a thin line, satisfying a school board, negotiating a labor agreement, and making  educational decisions that result in “progress.”

In most nations education is section of the national government  .

In the nineties a few urban school districts began to move to mayoral control; the mayor appoints the superintendent and the superintendent, in effect, serves as a deputy mayor for education.

Some scholars have assessed mayoral control positively (See here and here),

Kenneth Wong in The Education Mayor wrote,

 …  although mayoral control of schools may not be appropriate for every district, it can successfully emphasize accountability across the education system, providing more leverage for each school district to strengthen its educational infrastructure and improve student performance.

Diane Ravitch, on the other hand, is sharply critical of the Bloomberg iteration of mayoral control and suggests a mayoral control model with strong checks and balances,

This is not to say that Albany should eliminate mayoral control — nobody wants to return to the status quo of the ’90s. However, as legislators refine the law, they should establish clear checks and balances. The mayor should be authorized to appoint an independent Board of Education, whose members would serve for a set term. Candidates for the board should be evaluated by a blue-ribbon panel so that no mayor can stack it with friends. That board should appoint the chancellor, and his or her first responsibility must be to the children and their schools, not to the mayor.

 While Bloomberg battled with the teacher union de Blasio has worked closely with the union; under Bloomberg the union went five years without a contract and punitive teacher unsatisfactory ratings ballooned, under de Blasio two contracts have been collegially negotiated and a new teacher evaluation system is working well.

The mayor and his chancellor have been sharply critical of the lack of school integration, the racially exclusive impact of the Specialized High School Admissions Test, student suspensions and arrests in schools; however, the police commissioner and the chancellor are appointed by the mayor. Is Walt Kelly correct: “We have met the enemy and he/she is us?”

Is mayoral control driving the political agenda of a mayor who is running for president?

Are police arrests in schools a problem or a creation of the mayor?

Don’t get me wrong, de Blasio has been a highly successful mayor, read Michelle Goldberg’s op ed in the NY Times, “Stop Sneering at Bill de Blasio” he shouldn’t have chosen to run for president

He can integrate schools by changing the entrance criteria for the over 200 screened schools, he can fund SHSAT prep programs in middle schools, he can support comprehensive high schools, schools admitting all level of students, by academic test scores to vocational and career and technical interests and work-study programs.

He has chosen a policy initiative that might “play well” with Afro-American and progressive voters

With the usual fanfare the mayor announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the police department, the city and the department of education (all city agencies) changing the role of police in the schools.

Every school has School Safety Officers (SSO) assigned to a school, the SSO’s are not police officers; however, they work under the supervision of the police department. Their duties range from checking in school visitors, to operating scanning in large high school buildings to monitoring school behavior within a school building in cooperation with school personnel. Police officers may be assigned to schools with a history of dangerous behaviors.

School MUST report all “incidents” in a school.

The Behavioral Expectation document, know as the School Discipline Code is an extremely detailed 35-page compilation of levels of inappropriate behaviors, every incident, whether or not it results in a suspension must be entered into the Department data base.

Supports and interventions are an integral part of a comprehensive response to misconduct. Schools are required to provide and document support services at all stages of the disciplinary process, including during suspension. When used consistently and appropriately, interventions help improve student behavior, lower the incidence of repeated misbehavior, and contribute to a more positive school environment. Support services may include any of the interventions or a combination of services that best meet the needs of the individual student.

  Required Documentation: All interventions and supports provided to a student in response to behavioral incidents must be entered into the Suspensions and Office of Hearings Online (SOHO) system, regardless of whether or not a disciplinary action is imposed.

 How common is it for a school leader to call 911? To request police presence in a school? How common is it for a SSO request that the police restrain or arrest a student?

The absence of any data relating to the question supra leads to suspicion: is the issue created by the mayor?

The MOU lists specific behavior not subject to  SSO or uniformed NYPD actions: how often do school personnel call the police for the behaviors listed below?

The parties agree that school personnel should not call upon SSO personnel and/or uniformed members of the NYPD to address or respond to non-criminal, minor misconduct. Such misconduct may include, but is not limited to, the following behaviors: 1) behaving in a manner which disrupts the educational process (e. g., making excessive noise); 2) failing to wear the required uniform; 3) cutting classes; 4) lateness to school or classes; 5) unexcused absence from school; 6) engaging in a rude or disrespectful behavior; 7) wearing clothing or headgear or other items that are unsafe or disruptive to the education process; 8) smoking and or the use of electronic cigarettes and/or possession of matches or lighters; 9) using school computers, fax machines, telephones, and/or other electronic equipment or devices without appropriate authorization; 11) lying to, giving false information, to, or, otherwise misleading school personnel; 12) misusing property belonging to others


The parties agree that SSO personnel and uniformed members of the NYPD shall utilize, whenever possible, diversionary responses and protocols in lieu of arresting or issuing a summons to a student. In particular, school-based low level school based offenses, such as those listed below, on a case by case basis; be eligible for diversion, when feasible:

  • low level marijuana possession;
  • disorderly conduct;
  • consumption of alcohol;
  • trespass;
  • harassment;
  • spitting in public;
  • graffiti; and
  • other low level offenses that may be safely handled by school administration

The list of behaviors vary from trivial to serious.

 Read the entire fifteen page MOU here.

While the MOU refers to a Leadership Team: school leaders, school deans and classroom teachers appear unaware of the MOU creation process. The teacher and supervisory union does not appear to have had any role in the MOU creation process and are not signatories. There was no period for public comment or a public hearing.

A crucial rule: participation reduces resistance.

I called around, to school leaders and teachers;

“It’s insulting, I’ve never called the police and we try hard, very hard, to disabuse students of engaging in inappropriate behavior.”

“Is this a joke? Who would call the police every time a kid committed one of the listed infractions; this is ludicrous.”

“I speak with the precinct regularly, we share information, they tell me if something happened in the streets that may spill over into school and I inform them if the kids tell me about some gang activity. Are they discouraging our cooperation?”

“Maybe they’re referring to charter schools? We enter everything into the online reporting system; we’ve never had a kid arrested due to minor school infractions.”

The data is readily available: how many students are arrested in schools and for what charge?

Unintended consequences: Will SSOs, NYPD and school-based pedagogical personnel back away from responding to low level infractions for fear of violating the MOU? What is a “diversion”? Who determines “non-criminal misconduct?” and many more questions.

I worked with a superintendent who constantly reminded staff, “Order precedes learning,” and, I will add, “Effective instruction leads to order.”

A Memorandum clarifying the roles of pedagogical and school safety personnel is important, the MOU released by the mayor; unfortunately, falls short.

Suspensions should be a step in a ladder of discipline, beginning with effective classroom instruction, up the ladder to guidance/counseling provided by school staff, the use of positive behavior intervention strategies and on to a principal level suspension, actually an extended “time out” including a parent conference. Arrest is an extreme response.

A superintendent suspension, more than five days in an offsite suspension center, for serious misconduct; a weapon, a fight, gang activity, etc, all spelled out in minute detail in the Discipline Code, and, a hearing conducted by a hearing officer, who also determines the length of the suspension.

Do suspensions work?  Do suspensions “correct” inappropriate behaviors?  Are “diversions” more effective than suspensions? Do suspensions improve the outcomes for the other students in the class?

If school is practice for life after school ignoring serious misconduct is failing our students. How do you address serious misconduct?

Controversial questions, with deep feelings on both sides of the question.

One response to “The Downside of Mayoral Control: Can Political Agendas Drive Education Policy?

  1. ken karcinell

    I have never believed that Mayoral control is a good thing when it comes to appointing school district superintendents, or for that mater in appointing a Chancellor. School communities much like towns across America have distinctive cultures and mores. They do have a commonality in purpose when it comes to getting their children educated. But that commonality should not be the guiding light in an outsider (The Mayor( appointing a superintendent. Decentralization , on paper was a good idea that was poorly implemented and ultimately corrupted. Doesn’t it strike as odd the fact that over the years with the exception of the failed Chancellorship of Ms. Farina, that more then 50% of the Chancellor’s selected are and have been from out side NYS. I mean with all our excellent Colleges of Education here in NY, we have hired from Miami, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Houston, and so many other locales, I think that New Yorkers know whats best fro New Yorkers and for the children of New Yorkers. Who can forget Rudy Crew’s Efficacy” push. Or Joe Fernanadez’s shared Decision Making Insistence,so forth and so on. Now we have a radical latino rascist who tells us that Whites are unqualified to teach minorities. To re-enforce that notion he brings in a slew of underlings from far away places who say the same thing. He then threatens to tear down time tested excellence all while being supported by our communist mayor, and no one, not the unions, not the City Council, not the Gov, not Schumer, no one says “hell no we won’t go”
    In the final analysis, I think that “wannabe” Chancellors should actually run for the position as a Political Office and be voted on by New Yorkers.


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