Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mayoral Control of NYC Schools Needs to Change

I testified before both the NYS Assembly and Senate Committees on Education in 2009 as a sitting member of the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) appointed by then Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.   As the legislature considers renewal of the law imposing mayoral control on our schools, I again provide my comments to the Senate Education Committee. 

Little has changed since I testified in 2009.  The Chancellor no longer has a vote and PEP has somewhat expanded powers but they are rarely put to use.  

The lack of fixed terms of the PEP members leads to political pressure on members or the pols who control them to refrain from rocking the boat, especially with regard to waste, fraud and abuse.  When I was the appointee of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, he was told I was a problem because my questioning of spending "embarrassed" the DOE management.  Stringer was repeatedly approached by senior administration officials offering political favors in exchange for my termination.  He refused, and also refrained from directing my vote but his respect for the necessary independence of this role was unique.  The legislature should provide PEP members with fixed terms and only allow their removal for cause.

Corruption has increased under mayoral control, contrary to the popular folklore about the old Board of Ed.  The concentration of power in the mayor's appointees and corresponding decline in scrutiny of contracting has permitted corruption scandals far exceeding anything seen in "the bad old days".   For example, here's a trio of multi-million dollar scandals:  Future Technology Associates, Custom Computer Specialists and Champion Learning.  The largest scandal of all was a wasteful contract that, once challenged, was renegotiated for a $163 million in savings.   A balanced board with fewer mayoral representatives and fixed terms would promote tighter scrutiny of spending and produce a reduction in this type of large-scale fraud.

Finally, my objection to mayoral control lies with its disenfranchisement of the public school community and its supporters.  Across the US, school boards are elected by citizens to oversee and champion public education.  Why should we be different?  

Here's how I closed my testimony ten years ago.  I hope the Senate and Assembly can do better for us this year.

In its current form the Panel for Educational Policy does not make policy or even meaningfully advise the chancellor. Those roles are reserved for the chancellor's management consultants and the distant foundations of wealthy men: the Broad Foundation, Gates Foundation and Dell Foundation. But we parents know better. The real insight into the challenges of urban education lies in the communities, school leadership teams, PTAs, community councils. We will never have real improvement in our schools until we embrace parents as real partners in the education of their children. I urge you to restore balance, order and even simple decency to the governance of our schools.

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