Tag Archives: COVID

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.

Does the Hybrid School Re-Opening Need a “Pre-Season”?

Mayor League baseball players gather a month before the first game for spring training, the NFL players have been practicing for a few weeks before the early September first game.

In spite of mounting pressure from the unions representing teachers, principals and other school workers the mayor and the school chancellor refuse to move to a phased, aka, delayed, school opening in order to assure safety protocols are in place.

Other large cities, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami and others are beginning with a fully remote opening.

In New York State the Big Five have delayed reopening; Yonkers will be fully remote until early October, Buffalo is battling with teachers over the re-opening plan, Rochester is beginning remote with a phased re-opening  and Syracuse will begin with a hybrid model for elementary/middle schools and fully remote for high schools.

The hundreds and hundreds of smaller districts have a vast array of models. Read the Westchester/Rockland plans here.

New York City is struggling to create blended aka hybrid models and have ignored the phased re-opening pathway: begin remote and move slowly, step by step to a hybrid model.  Schools were given a number of choices, alternate days (M-W-F in-person, T-Th remote, flipped the following week, or, M-Tu in-person, W-Th remote with F flipped. The models are both confusing to parents and makes arranging for childcare difficult. Teachers don’t know what class(es) they will be teaching.

The major issue is safety, for children, for staffs, for parents and for others living with children and staff.

The COVID rates by neighborhood vary widely are New Yorkers from the highest COVID zip codes choosing to be tested? The unknowns outweigh the knowns. The city has an agenda: open the schools so that parents can go back to work and recharge the economy, school personnel feel they are being needlessly sacrificed, being unnecessarily put at risk.

Is the motivating factor for the mayor “the good of the students” who need full time teachers? Or, recharging the economy? Or, the reputation and legacy of a mayor who has watched his star dim.

In spite of frequent testing baseball has had a positive COVID test almost every week and professional sports are playing to empty stadiums.

The mayor, boasting about extremely low COVID testing has been threatening, principals and teachers are fearful and worried that schools won’t be ready and the promised protocols will not be in place. The teacher union (UFT) has been preparing members for a possible strike.

A phased re-opening would appear to make sense, in-school training days for teachers, begin the year remote, slowly phase in hybrid in-school/remote instruction, with variability in high schools depending on the size of the school. Allow the data drive the school re-opening calendar.

Why are the mayor and the chancellor adamant about beginning the hybrid model on September 10th?

Mayor de Blasio is term-limited, the June, 2021 primary will select the democratic candidate, and, unless a republican with deep, very deep pockets emerges, the winner of the primary will become the next mayor. Scott Stringer, the current Comptroller, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Boro President, Cory Johnson, the current leader of the City Council are already running and we can expect three, four, five other candidates. The election will be the first time Rank Choice Voting will be the method of choosing the winner.  Potential candidates are criticizing the performance of de Blasio,

The enmity between de Blasio and Cuomo is unrelenting, and, one-sided; the governor has defanged de Blasio, a permanent detumescence.

Does de Blasio perceive re-opening schools as some sort of a victory?  Fighting for families and children? Preparing for his post-mayor role?  A “hero” who opened schools in spite of the opposition of supervisors and teachers?

Supervisors report to work in a week, (August 31st) and teachers are due the Tuesday after Labor Day, September 8th.

Possible scenarios:

Supervisors and teachers announce a “safety strike,” and offer to continue to work remotely.  The mayor could invoke the Taylor Law, public employee strikes are illegal and the Public Employee Relation Board (PERB)/court-imposed penalties are steep, loss of a day’s pay for each day on strike, fines for the union and the loss of dues check off for a period determined by the courts. On the other hand the courts could sustain the union claim that the schools are unsafe.

Under the Taylor Law any “concerted action” (sick-outs) is considered a strike with Taylor Law penalties accruing.

The governor could intervene.

Current legislation empowers the governor to “temporarily suspend” any statute, local law or rule “if necessary to assist or aid in coping with such disaster” upon declaring an emergency order.

Can the governor temporarily suspend mayoral control law and appoint an acting chancellor to run the school system?

Under his emergency powers can the governor order the city to move to a phased re-opening?

In 1975 the city, without warning and in the midst of contract negotiations laid off 15,000 teachers, the union immediately went out on strike, and, rapidly realized that the strike was funding the city deficit. After five days on strike the union worked out a complex settlement, delaying raises and loaning the city pension fund dollars preventing the city from defaulting.

Layoffs are looming, the state and the city financial situations are dire, teachers and supervisors are frightened.

A vaccine, at best, is a year away,

Most people in the US should be able to get vaccinated by the second half of 2021 according to the US’s top health officialDr. Anthony Fauci.; other researchers have doubts that the vaccine will protect us over time

With each day the city moves closer to a supervisor/teacher strike, with each day the city moves closer to layoffs, the mayor seems unwilling, or unable, to negotiate a settlement acceptable to supervisors, teachers and parents.

In 1975 a behind-the-scenes power broker, Jack Bigel and Al Shanker crafted a settlement (Read the absolutely fascinating account here) that averted an immanent city bankruptcy.

Is there a “hero” out there to put the pieces of the zig-saw puzzle together?

A “safe” process leading the way to school re-opening and averting layoffs and devastating reductions in city services.

This week is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Listen to Rhiannon Giddens, “Don’t Call Me Names”   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H_oHAqTbbs