|Arne Duncan - a fan of mayoral control |
In the Sunday Daily
News , former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argued for the extension
of Mayoral control. The official
legislative session is supposed to end Wednesday and Mayoral control expires at
the end of the month. Yet considering
Arne's unpopular and controversial policies this probably is not the most
effective endorsement. He wrote:
"Mayors who are in control of their
schools are directly accountable for the success of those schools. Education
becomes a key to the Mayors' success. To put it another way, parents are hard
to fool and parents vote."
Really? This certainly is a change of
tone from Duncan’s earlier condescending remarks that parents
only opposed the Common Core standards after finding out that “their child
isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as
good as they thought they were.”
If NYC parents are so hard to fool, one
wonders why can't they have the right to elect a school board as voters do in
most of the country?
“Unfortunately a lot of chaos went with
that. A lot of corruption went with that. A lot of patronage ... a lot of
people went to jail, we’ve got to make sure we never go back to those days.”
appointed by the local school boards, inflated the price of contracts to
generate lucrative kickbacks that took money directly away from students and
siphoned money from taxpayers. One district alone stole $6 million from
students, paying 81 employees for jobs they never showed up to. In another,
school safety was entrusted to a high-level gang member.
Just this spring, the Illinois Legislature
voted to revoke
mayoral control in Chicago, Arne’s home town and the first city to adopt the
system. As Chicago residents also found
out, mayoral control is no defense against wrong-headed policies, mismanagement
or corruption. In fact, one could argue
that autocratic rule makes it even more likely.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first hand-picked CEO of the Chicago public
schools, Jean-Claude Brizard, lasted only a 17 months in the job; and the
second, Barbara Byrd Bennett, who closed 50 Chicago schools in one year, is now
serving an 4 ½ year sentence for
kickbacks and self-dealing.
In 2015, Chicago voters overwhelmingly
approved an advisory referendum to return to an elected school board, and a
bill to do so was introduced in the Legislature. As one of the co-sponsors, Illinois State
There is only one school district in the State
of Illinois that does NOT have an elected school board, and that is the Chicago
Public Schools. Currently all members of the Chicago Board of Education
are appointed by Mayor and are not accountable to the parents, students or
communities they serve. It is time for a change. That is why I am proud to
cosponsor HB 4268 which would change Chicago’s school board from appointees to
an elected school board.
We know about the recent pay-to-play scandals
rocking CPS. But for our neighborhoods there are so many other reasons that we
need to take back control of our schools. We have seen our neighborhood schools
losing resources for enrichment programs such as music, art, sports, foreign
languages, advanced placement and special education. This year, CPS is
proposing over $8.7 million in cuts
to schools in our area.
It is also worth noting that at the same time
the Board is cutting our schools and asking for a property tax increase, we
will be paying $238 million in termination fees to banks and investors
to get us out of interest rate swaps and other financial deals that the CPS
Board itself instigated.
|Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark|
Chicago is not
alone in its intention to go back to elected school boards. Detroit just reinstated an elected school board
with the support of its mayor, after many years of "emergency
managers" under state and mayoral control.
At least two major cities have successfully resisted adopting mayoral
control despite attempts by their Mayors to exert more power: Los Angeles in 2006 and Seattle more recently in 2016. The
Mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka, has convinced the New Jersey Governor, Chris
Christie, to allow their elected school board to resume
authority after 21 years of state control.
So why do Duncan
and others of his political persuasion keep promoting this inherently
undemocratic system? Bill Gates poured
$4 million into the campaign to allow Mayor Bloomberg to keep control in 2009,
as the NY Post then
reported for the following reasons:
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill
Gates — a pal of fellow billionaire Mayor Bloomberg — has secretly bankrolled
Learn-NY, the group that joined the campaign led by The Post to extend mayoral
control. “You want to allow for experimentation.” The cities where our
foundation has put the most money is where there is a single person responsible.
|Another big supporter of mayoral control, Bill Gates|
Surely, it is always easier to only convince
one person in charge to allow for untested policies to be imposed on our public
schools and students, in the name of “experimentation,” without having to deal with school boards whose
members may have different views.
Indeed, the top-down methods preferred by Gates and corporate reformers are
far easier to implement without any of the limitations that messy democracy might
So what is the alternative?
As much as I’d like a citywide elected school board to replace the
rubber-stamp Panel for Educational Policy, elected school boards are no panacea. In
Denver and more recently in Los
Angeles and Oakland
wealthy financiers, corporate executives and the charter lobby have combined to
spend millions to elect school board members who complacently fall in line with
their plans for privatization. (Watch
video if you haven’t yet of Kate Burnite, a recent Denver high school
graduate, excoriating the school board for being in the pocket of Democrats for
Education Reform and other privateers.)
Perhaps the simplest alternative would be for the NYC Council to
be given the authority to provide some measure of checks and balance in an amended
system of mayoral control known as municipal control. Unacknowledged in all the heated rhetoric about
the need to retain mayoral control in its current form is that the Department
of Education is the only city agency where the City Council has no real power
to affect change – or to exert any counterbalance against damaging policies.
Right now, the City Council can only influence education by
passing bills to try to influence policy through more reporting and/or through
the overall budget. The members have no ability
to pass legislation when it comes to school closings, charter schools, testing
or any of the myriad issues that deeply affect NYC students. The provision of
municipal, local control would be a good first step—and because of strong
campaign finance laws in NYC it would be difficult for privateer billionaires
to hijack Council elections as they have done in school board elections
elsewhere, and in the case of the
GOP- and IDC-
controlled NY Senate.
Yet the members of the City Council would have to speak up more
strongly to gain this counter-balancing authority over the DOE and our schools.
And the State Legislature tends to be
very proprietary about retaining their prerogatives over NYC schools, and all
too willing to use it as a bargaining chip, as occurs each time mayoral control
comes up for a vote.
The worst outcome of all would be for the Mayor and the Democratic
leadership in the Assembly to trade mayoral control for more charter schools or
tuition tax credits, as the Governor and the Senate GOP and IDC leaders seem intent
on trying to extort. Let’s hope this
doesn’t happen – make your calls now to your Legislators, if you haven’t yet
done this already; more
on how to do this here.
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