Friday, March 15, 2019

Mayoral control hearings and video: It's time for a change

I just came from the NY Senate hearings on mayoral control, where Senator Shelley Mayer, chair of the Education Committee, Senator John Liu, chair of the NYC Education Committee, and Senators Robert Jackson, Velmanette Montgomery and others asked piercing questions of parents, advocates, community members, as well of Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza.

To cut to the chase: the Mayor said that he and the Chancellor are "working on being more responsive to parents" and  plan to be more systematic about this in the "next couple of weeks."  This is after he has been in office for five years.

Meanwhile he insisted on a three-year extension of mayoral control to the end of his term; no change in the composition of the Panel on Educational Policy, no change in his ability to fire PEP members at will, and no change in the selection process of the Chancellor to make it more transparent or provide more public input.

Several times the Mayor claimed he had never fired a PEP member for disagreeing with him, which is untrue.  Elzora Cleveland was fired last year as reported here and in City Limits below, for voting against school closures.

Both the Mayor and the Chancellor said they had made terrific progress in "empowering" parents and "listening to them," though no specific examples were given in terms of new policies adopted or decisions made.

Jumaane Williams, our new Public Advocate-elect, spoke concisely and well about the need for municipal control - meaning that the City Council should be empowered to provide checks and balances when it comes to our schools, as they do with all other city agencies but DOE.

Brooke Parker of NYC Kids PAC and I spoke after Jumaane; my testimony is below.  We agreed that municipal control would be an improvement,  as well as giving more authority to CECs to approve school closings and co-locations and changing the composition of the PEP.

After me, Community Education Council District 3 President Kim Watkins and Shino Tanikawa, the co-chair of the Education Council Consortium, the collective of all the CECs, explained how the current system is essentially undemocratic and that parents continue to be shut out of important decision-making when it comes to their children's schools.

Shino, a parent activist for at least 15 years, said that she vehemently opposed mayoral control without checks and balances.  She pointed out that there is no accountability, as the supporters of mayoral control maintained, because there is no real transparency and voters do not vote on education alone.  Moreover, as de Blasio is now in his second term, what choice do voters even have at this point?  We cannot vote him out. She added that all the things that others praised de Blasio for doing, including expanding preK,  could have done with or without mayoral control.
Senator Liu and Senator Jackson asked whether they would support a Commission that could deliberate over the course of one or two years to devise how an improved system of school governance might be structured.
Shino said perhaps, but only if the Commission including CEC members and other parents.  "We need a real conversation that includes parents students and teachers and that results in a system that is truly democratic...We need a system that doesn’t depend on the individual temperament of the mayor."

The most infuriating testimony came from Bob Lowry of the NY State Council of Superintendents and Julie Marlette of the NY State School Boards Association.  Both said that they supported an unrestricted three-year extension of mayoral control with no changes;  not for their own districts of course, but for NYC.  The districts they represent have elected school boards that offer parents and community members real input as opposed to our essentially dictatorial one-man rule.
In my testimony, I tried to counter many of the myths surrounding mayoral control, including great improvements in student outcomes, less corruption and waste, etc. etc..  Our Kids PAC video is at the top of the page.  Our mayoral control fact sheet is here.
Take a look and let your legislators know how you feel.  At this point, it appears that the best chance we have for making a real change is for the State Legislature to create a Commission to examine both the benefits and drawbacks of mayoral control and propose a better system for the future.

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