Thursday, June 22, 2017

Some fact checking & historical context on community school boards and what happened last time Mayoral control lapsed

Well it happened.  The NY Legislature adjourned last night at 11:30 PM without making a decision on whether to renew mayoral control, which otherwise lapses at the end of June. Senate Majority leader John Flanagan is still holding out for more charter schools in exchange for extending mayoral control , though he doesn't have a single charter school in his own Long Island district, and his constituents would likely be very upset if any were proposed.  He portrays himself  as the great champion of NYC black and brown children -- though most political insiders understand that he is simply doing the bidding of his biggest contributors among NYC hedgefunders and pro-charter school PACs.

At the same time, Mayor de Blasio and the Chancellor continue to deliver scare stories and repeat like a mantra that we will return to the days of "chaos and corruption" of local school boards; and the media is repeating their stories as gospel apparently without apparently doing any fact-checking.  As I mentioned briefly before in the blog, the local school boards lost all their power to hire, fire and let contracts in 1996, years before the adoption of Mayoral control, with nearly all power centralized in the Chancellor.  Here is an excerpt from the brief history in Gotham Gazette:

Under the prodding of then-Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew, the New York State Legislature in 1996 redefined the responsibilities of local school boards, taking away much of their power, including the authority to name a the district superintendent.

Today, school boards no longer manage day-to-day affairs within the district or hire or promote school district employees, including principals. Instead, the local school boards set educational policy, mostly just by helping to select a superintendent for the school district. Even here they don't have the final say; the chancellor does....

Rodney Saunders, a strong proponent of the local boards, says he ran for school board, an unpaid position, in 1996 because, after his daughter started kindergarten, he felt he had a vested interest in working to improve the school system. He says some people run for school board after serving as a leader of a school parents' association, while others see it as a first step in entering the political arena. About 30 percent of school board members have children in the school system.

Saunders says, "School board members, as elected officials, can use the power of the parents and the press to call attention to conditions that exist within a specific school or the entire district, such as the need for additional seats or buildings because of severe overcrowding."

He believes that corruption among board members is rare, but that the community boards have been convenient scapegoats. "The press and Board of Education were always blaming school boards for failures," he complains. Now that the community boards have less power, and "we can't be blamed, it's 'the parents' fault' or the 'students' fault.'"

Even Assemblyman Steve Sanders, who was a driving force behind passage of the 1996 school reform legislation, stops short of advocating the complete elimination of school boards.
"We should not have a school system without a place in the structure for parental involvement in decision making," Sanders says. "I'm more comfortable with the way school boards are today."

As I also pointed out in the blog, as did Patrick Sullivan, former Manhattan appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, mayoral control is no check against corruption -- and the DOE proposed several multi-million dollar contracts to be awarded corrupt vendors under both Mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio. 

Josh Karan believes this is an opportune time for the Legislature to take a serious look at the 2008 recommendations of the former Parent Commission, which I belonged to.

You can also check out what I wrote the last time the Board of Education met in 2009, when mayoral control temporarily lapsed before resuming later that summer.  All the borough appointees immediately voted to re-appoint Chancellor Klein and gave him unlimited authority, including signing over their fiduciary duties to approve contracts.   Here is a less angry account from the NY Times at that time. 

In any case, whatever happens up in Albany this time, I believe the views of parents will likely be of only minimal importance to decision-makers and power politics will rule as usual.

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