Tue, Mar 5, 2013
Two state legislators have introduced a bill seeking to wrest control of city schools away from the mayor.
State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, a Democrat from Bed-Stuy, and Assemblyman David Weprin, a Democrat from Queens, introduced a bill last month seeking to limit the control the New York City mayor has to appoint members of the city school board, which oversees the New York City Department of Education.
When Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, he overhauled the existing New York City Board of Education, and assumed control over the Department of Education. He introduced sweeping changes that included the shutdown of a number of failing schools. The Bloomberg administration was awarded the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2007, which came with a $500,000 prize.
But in recent years, education experts including Diane Ravitch, who initially supported Bloomberg’s takeover of the school system, have said that under Bloomberg schools in fact inflated test scores to show improvements. Amid this criticism, Montgomery and Weprin have draft a new bill to take some of the mayor’s power back.
“Mayoral control does not work,” said Montgomery. “Control of our schools must be put back in the hands of educational professionals who have a deep understanding of our children’s needs and the skills to produce positive education outcomes.
At present, the 13 members of the city school board are chosen by the five borough presidents and the mayor. The five members appointed by the borough presidents must be parents of students currently attending a public school in New York City. The mayor has the final say in appointing the other eight members, and selecting and negotiating the salary of the chancellor.
And this, to Weprin and Montgomery, is the big bone of contention. The current system, they say, lacks checks and balances and gives the mayor too much power. They want to create an independent city Board of Education that as a whole will elect the chancellor.
The newly proposed board would still have 13 members. Each borough president would still appoint a member who would be required to have a child in the city public school system. But instead of appointing eight members, the mayor would only appoint four, and the remaining four would be named by the City Council.
And these would include one representative from a college or a university, one from a parents’ organization, one from the Parent Educational Council, and a member-at-large.
This board as whole would then nominate the chancellor.
Thirteen percent of people polled in New York City said the Mayor should give up control of public schools, according to the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, based on a survey of 1,017 New York City voters witha 3 percentage point margin of error. Sixty-three percent said the mayor should share control.
“Our children are innocent victims of politics and should not be punished for the failure of the city,” said Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union, an organization that helps navigate parents through the education system, and has been at the forefront of parent groups supporting the legislators’ bill. “We will continue to fight for our children’s rights in the public school system.”
On Feb. 3, hundreds of parents and activists gathered on the steps of City Hall to protest mayoral control, and to promote the new bill.
The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Montgomery and Weprin say they are undeterred, despite the obstacles they face. Weprin said he believes the bill will pass in the assembly by June. But Montgomery’s office was not as optimistic about the bill’s chances in the State Senate.
“The likes of Jeffrey Klein and Dean Skelos of the Independent Democratic Conference will never allow such a bill to pass in the Senate,” said Jim Vogel, the press secretary for Montgomery. “They received a majority of their financial support from Bloomberg.”
Vogel is still hopeful, however, because he says he has received overwhelming support from various parents’ organizations throughout the city, and from the United Federation of Teachers, a group that represents more than 75,000 teachers in the city, and he believes the group can continue to mount pressure as a collective unit.
“The bottom line is the current system needs to be restructured to maximize parental and community input,” said Weprin. “The current board is just a rubber stamp. They have no real power and are completely beholden to the administration.