Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rob Caloras on Bloomberg's authoritarian arrogance

At a recent press conference, Mayor Bloomberg stated that people who want to change the school governance law are either irrational or putting their own self interest ahead of students. On his radio show he said that, there would be riots in the streets if his control over the schools is not continued.

Over the past two years, I have had discussions with many people who stated their well reasoned opposition to the current law, based upon their desire for providing students with a top quality education. It seems to me Mayor Bloomberg’s position is irrational and based on his desire to control every aspect of the New York City Public Education system, regardless of the consequences to our children’s interests.

First, his claim that there will be riots in the street if he does not get his way speaks volumes about his over-inflated sense of self. I suppose we would also have riots if he does not win a third term. Also, most observers of the current system acknowledge that the rules and intent of the Law are not being followed.

Simply put, the Law was not intended to give Mayor Bloomberg the degree of control that he has been exercising. He violated the law by eliminating local school districts and eviscerating their authority, by stripping authority from district superintendents to the point that, in some districts, they are prohibited from entering schools, by not seeking the advice of the Panel for Education Policy and making this panel a rubber stamp whose members risk dismissal if they suggest disagreement with policies emanating from the Mayor and Chancellor, and by not seeking meaningful input from Community District Education Councils on education and zoning matters that affect their respective districts.

We, the people who seek changes in the law, want mechanisms to ensure enforcement of its provisions and assurances that the Mayor will consider and accommodate the concerns of those working in our schools and those whose children use our public schools. Are we irrational? No, but I am concerned about the man who has invoked the fear of riots.

Second, it takes a special kind of arrogance (“chutzpah”) to accuse we who seek changes in the law of being motivated by self interest. Many of us have children in the public schools and cannot afford non-public schools and there is probably nothing more important to us than our children’s education. We worry about the quality of teaching, curriculum, school services, school safety because our children’s future depends upon them. In essence, our interest is vested in education, not selfish needs. Compare us to our Mayor: He never had a child in New York City public schools, or any pubic school, never worried that his child’s future would be bleak if his or her education was of a low quality. Clearly his interest is not vested with our children’s education, rather, it stems more from politics and ego.

In evaluating school governance, there is a difference between mayoral energy and autocratic license, between leadership and authoritarianism. It is a challenge to create a law that allows leadership without allowing for easy degeneration into authoritarianism. The current law does not meet that challenge, but if changes are made that create effective checks and balances, clear lines of authority, and meaningful oversight, that challenge will be met. To do otherwise is irrational.

--Rob Caloras is President of the Community Education Council in District 26, Queens

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