OMG! Is Mayoral Control a Disaster? Is it Time to Elect School Boards in New York City?

On October 1, after two delays, threats of a “safety” strike, seemingly endless criticisms from the teachers and supervisor unions, schools opened.

Half the students opted for fully online instruction and the other half for two/three days a week in-person. The Department, somehow, did not see the complexity, one cohort of teachers in school, teaching different cohorts two/three days a week, another cohort of teachers teaching fully remote students and other teachers doing both in 1600 public schools in 1200 buildings. (See 8/27/20 Memorandum of Agreement here)

A few days before school reopening the teacher union (UFT) and the Department announced another agreement (See Memorandum of Agreement on Remote Teaching here) Teachers who were teaching a remote cohort of students from school could teach from at home, principals having, for the umpteenth time, to re-program the teacher cohort schedules at the last minute.

The Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) executive board voted unanimously   to ask the state to take over the Department of Education.

In a stunning statement, leaders of the union representing New York City principals called Sunday for Mayor Bill de Blasio to cede control of the nation’s largest school district for the remainder of the pandemic, following a chaotic summer of planning to reopen.

The union’s executive board cast a unanimous vote of no confidence in the mayor and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, and is asking both leaders to seek intervention from the state education department. 

Can the State Education Department “intervene” in New York City schools?

Teachers, principals and superintendents don’t work for the State Education Department (SED); they work for elected lay school boards or mayors. In order to “take over” a school district SED requires legislation, and the legislature has been reticent, very reticent, to pass legislation.

About twenty years ago the legislature passed legislation and the state “took over” schools in Roosevelt, a school district on Long Island. A decade later the SED left, without much changing in Roosevelt. In the last legislative session legislation allowed the SED to “take over” two other school districts on Long Island (Hempstead and Wyandanch), districts with a long history of dysfunction. In other districts (East Ramapo, Rochester and Buffalo) the state assigned “distinguished educators,” with no coercive authority, they could mentor the existing superintendent and school board.

Legislation grants the governor sweeping authority during the pandemic (Read legislation here). The governor has issued hundreds executive orders (Read executive orders here) All school opening/closing decisions are within the domain of the governor.

Today, Sunday, October 4th the Mayor announced that schools with increasing COVID-positive testing would close for two weeks and others go on a ‘watch list,” waiting approval from the governor.

Bottom line: the SED has no authority to “take over” schools, whether they have the authority to monitor the implementation of the district plans filed in early August and intervene in cases in which districts are out of compliance with the plans is not known.

While the Board of Regents has asserted its authority under the state constitution the emergency powers of the governor appear predominant.

Republican legislators have demanded that the governor relinquish his emergency powers; however, the governor continues to assert his powers, including the opening and closing of schools. The state is now reporting COVID-positive testing by zip codes.

The governor gets high marks from almost everyone in his management of the pandemic.

How would you “rate” the effectiveness of the mayor as the school leader?

The vast majority of New Yorkers would rate his performance as “poor.”

Mayoral control was widely supported in 2002; the prior management system was rife with politics and underfunded schools for decades. School decentralization created a central board, one member appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor, The board was salaried ($37,500) with other perks, and, elected Community School Boards, elected by rank-choice voting (called proportional representation at the time) with the authority to hire superintendents and principals (modified in the mid-90s), set curriculum and determined school budget allocations.

Mayor Bloomberg’s move to mayoral control was widely applauded and supported.

The current NYC mayoral control legislation will “sunset” on 6/30/22, six months after the new mayor takes office. If the legislature/governor takes no action New York City will revert to the prior plan as described above.

Can we have an elected school board, one member per borough?

Probably not, the population variance from borough to borough violates the “one person-one vote” principle.

Do other large cities have elected school boards?

Los Angeles has an elected school board, the charter school supporters have poured millions of dollars into the elections and the school board has been pro-charter school. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings just donated a million to a pro-charter candidate in Los Angeles (Read details here).

Daniel Loeb, the billionaire hedge fund investor chaired the Success Academy board, would he finance an Eva Moskowitz campaign to take over an elected New York City school board?

Should each borough be treated as a separate school district?

While the unions have been frustrated by the actions and inactions of the mayor, and we’re all impressed by the actions of the governor, no one has a looking glass. Continuing with fully remote schools pushes the poorest and most vulnerable children further and further behind, opening schools, even opening schools in hybrid models has turned out to be incredibly complicated, a Department of Education woefully inadequate, and with COVID spikes the future is murky. We may see schools closing and re-opening, we may see the city moving fully remote, and unless Washington passes another round of funding we face drastic cuts in an already bleeding city.

Hopefully the governor, the mayor, the unions and community activists can act on the same wave length.

Let’s talk about school governance models in early 2022.

Treacherous days ahead.

2 responses to “OMG! Is Mayoral Control a Disaster? Is it Time to Elect School Boards in New York City?

  1. Mayoral control of schools has always been a disaster. So was decentralization. Back in the day, the argument was made that the idea of having one universal School’s Superintendent, disenfranchised minority communities throughout the city. All minorities! So they changed with the times to the corrupted concept of local community control, or decentralization. This movement became the most corrupted form of a city run agency, since Jimmy Walker was Mayor. Bu everyone was happy. In every one of the 32 school districts, their chosen Superintendents ran them as if they were their private fiefdoms. Never were the words, “if you know how the system works, you could work the system” ring more true. And if that wasn’t so bad, the imbecile Mayors continually brought in outsiders, from Florida, from Pittsburgh, and of course from Houston to tell New Yorkers what was best for New Yorkers. They got lucky once, but alas the poor man (Richard Green) passed away after a short term as Chancellor. They passed on the likes of Bernard Giffords, and several others of note, opting for the “shared decision making” Chancellor, then “the efficacy” chancellor, and of sourse the “Park Slope Chanceloress”. Isn’t it mind boggling, when you look at NYC and Columbia’s Teachers College, and a slew of others that have high profile schools of education, that on average, more then 75% of the time, we go outside NY to bring in executives who are basically clueless or worse as is the case at present, Radical! NYC needs to raise up, and take itself back from the tape worms that now grip it. Vote Eric Adams!


  2. Eric Nadelstern

    In attempting to offer children and their families a hybrid education plan, New York City has stretched principals and teachers to their limits, lost the confidence of parents and throughly confused its students In the process, they have once again demonstrated that efforts to implement a watered down hybrid model of schooling that fails to reach many of our students in the best of circumstances simply will not work during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

    It is past time for Mayor DeBlasio and Chancellor Carranza to announce an all remote learning approach for the duration of the current health crisis. This will alleviate anxiety in schools and communities, create a working framework until a vaccine becomes widely available, and save lives.


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