Divided Dems Toy With Mayoral Control of Schools

The State Assembly is poised to vote on a bill today preserving Mayor Bloomberg's control of the city schools when the 2002 law expires on June 30th. But even if Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate could bridge their great divide and hold a session, they're a long way from agreeing on mayoral control of the schools.

Today, John Sampson of Brooklyn - who was installed on Monday as co-leader of the Senate Democrats - told a handful of reporters in Albany that he wasn't happy with the Assembly bill. Sampson has been critical of the current system of mayoral control of the schools. In fact, he co-sponsored a bill that would dilute the mayor's power over the Panel for Educational Policy.

"The school governance bill that I sponsored I would like to put forth, or look at their [Assembly] bill and look at our bill and see if there can be some compromises," Sampson said, according to the Daily News and New York Post websites.

But with the clock ticking, Sampson was asked if there was time to get a bill passed in the Senate. "You shouldn’t ask me that question, you should ask Senator Skelos that question," he told the reporters, referring to the Republican who took control last week and refuses to give it up.

But it's far from clear that there's any consensus among Senate Democrats about the future of school governance. Some lawmakers, such as Sampson, are pushing for changes that would weaken the mayor's hand. They specifically want the mayor's appointees to the Panel for Educational Policy to have fixed terms - so they can't be fired if they vote against the mayor's proposals. Others support legislation along the lines of the Assembly version.

WNYC asked Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Suzi Oppenheimer's office about the status of legislation on school governance. We were told that since the senator is from Long Island, she deferred to members from New York City. And Queens Democrat Malcolm Smith - who was Majority Leader before the coup - did not draft a new bill before everything ground to a halt.

One well-placed Albany watcher says there's still time to get a Senate bill. "Nobody wants this thing to sunset," our source said. "The Republicans will go absolutely nuts because the mayor will drive them crazy if they let this sunset." He also said "John Sampson is the most respected person in the Senate who can get this done" because he's got a good relationship with Republicans.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg has declined to comment on Sampson's recent statements suggesting he'd like to change the Assembly bill to weaken mayoral control. Asked at a press conference about the general state of affairs in Albany, Bloomberg said he had called both Sampson and Skelos on Tuesday night and said: "I can't get involved in your internal politics nor should I, any more than I want them involved in our local politics and negotiations." However he said he told the lawmakers they "have to find a ways to come together" because mayoral control, taxes, and gay marriage are all at stake.