Let's Agree on Mayoral Control of NYC Schools

08/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Clara Hemphill Senior Editor at the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School

If our mayor and state senators could stop calling each other names, they might see that they are actually quite close to an agreement on a reasonable law that would keep mayoral control of the city's schools while adding some long overdue checks and balances.

Parents and elected officials have long complained that Mayor Mike Bloomberg has disregarded public opinion since the state legislature gave him control of the schools in 2002. The Department of Education has closed schools without telling parents, approved huge contracts without public notice, and stripped superintendents of the power to solve problems brought to them by unhappy parents.

The state assembly passed a bill in June that addresses some of these issues. It gives the Independent Budget Office the power to review DOE finances and to issue reports on matters such as graduation rates (which some critics say may be inflated). It gives the Panel on Education Policy the power to review and approve contracts over $200,000. It requires advance notice and an "impact statement" before a school is closed. And it gives superintendents a little more power - and staff - to address parent concerns. It's not a perfect bill, but it's a lot better than nothing.

Of course that bill - along with every other piece of business in Albany -- stalled while the state senate battled over who their majority leader would be. By the time the senate was ready to do business, the assembly had gone home for the summer.

Nevertheless, members of the senate and senior City Hall staff tried to hammer out an agreement on mayoral control that both could live with - and they came close. But the talks fell apart and the name calling escalated. The mayor compared the senators to Neville Chamberlain, suggesting that their demand for flexibility was akin to appeasing the Nazis. State Sen. Bill Perkins accused the mayor of "treating us like we're on some plantation."

Now, the senate has gone home for the summer, too. Still, the latest sticking point seems to be pretty small: Should the city spend $1.6 million on "parent training?" The mayor called the idea a "slush fund" while senators say it's important to teach parents how to be engaged in their schools. One way or the other, it seems like an easy issue to solve--if both sides could be persuaded to stop throwing temper tantrums.