THE BLOG
11/16/2010 07:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Two More Reasons to Get Rid of Mayoral Control of the Schools

Need some good reasons to end mayoral control? I've got two for you -- Bloomberg and Daley. Their narrow self-serving political agendas have left both of their autocratically-run school systems in chaos.

With Daley's announced retirement and a week to go before Chicago schools chief Ron Huberman's departure, the mayor named Terry Mazany, current head of the Chicago Community Trust, as Huberman's replacement. Mazany will warm the seat until a new mayor takes over in May, 2011. That mayor will then choose the district's third CEO in six months. If current form is followed, the next outsider/manager will then need at least a year to learn the ropes. Not a very inspiring picture in the midst of all the Waiting For 'Superman' Race To The Top hype about the urgency of reform.

Huberman's predecessors, Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan, were able to rule the roost for relatively long stints because they had the unchallenged political backing of a strong mayor, one who staked his political success on school reform, real or imagined, and was able to sell it to the voters. This is no longer the case in Chicago where Daley's failed reform initiative and widespread City Hall corruption have dropped the mayor's approval rating down around 30 percent and ultimately pushed him into retirement. The next mayor won't have Daley's aura of omnipotence and his or her appointed school chief will have to navigate a political and budgetary mine field.

At the moment, the nation's third largest school system sits directionless, its so-called Renaissance 2010 reform having been quietly abandoned. And then there's the matter of a looming $700 million budget deficit. The politicization (in the narrow sense of the word) of public education has also left Chicago without a top educational leader since the resignation of Barbara Eason-Watkins from her post as Chief Education Officer back in June.

In New York, the revolving door between the corporations and the education establishment continues to spin. Chancellor Joel Klein's sudden departure followed by Mayor Bloomberg's choice of Hearst Magazines executive Cathie Black as his successor, has caused a strong backlash. Klein was bounced after taking the fall for the mishandling of protests against neighborhood school closings. That was followed by a scandal around the overstating of student test scores. Klein went off to work for Rupert Murdoch's media juggernaut where he will try to use his school connections to corral some lucrative contracts for Murdoch.

Before dumping the politically embattled Klein, Bloomberg quietly courted Black away from Hearst. Why on the down-low? "You don't go and call everybody and say, 'Do you want to apply publicly?' " said Bloomberg. "That's just not the way you would get the best and brightest."

Truth be told, the rich and powerful media mogul is used to getting his own way, democratic discussion and debate be damned.

But Black's lack of qualifications have became apparent to most. Having no administrative credentials and having never worked in the field of education, she will need a waiver from the State Board before she can take over the schools. Members of the City Council are already petitioning against the waiver request. Lawmakers and parents active in the schools are calling for public hearings and there are grumblings being heard even among the mayor's loyal minions. Bloomberg's secretive approach to Black's selection has backfired. It's caused so much anger that many observers (like this one) are wondering -- who's advising this guy?

All this comes on the heels of the Fenty/Rhee debacle, where DC's mayor was held politically accountable by voters for the missteps and divisive polices of his hand-picked schools chancellor. It ought to make other districts think twice before moving towards mayor control.