Mayor Bloomberg's administration is finally contemplating the unthinkable: what would happen at 12:01 a.m. on July 1st, if mayoral control of the schools expires because of the chaos in Albany.
City Hall has been looking at various scenarios and poring over the language of the state law. But Mayor Bloomberg hasn't yet said what the city would do. "Everything you did would probably go straight to court," he told reporters, because there's no road map for an orderly transition from one school system back to another. He said the city would have to restore some $350 million back to the bureaucracy which now goes to the classrooms, and "it's not clear whether we could sign contracts."
Here's what we do know. If the 2002 law does expire, the city schools would go back to the old board of education structure. The board would be composed of seven members, only two of whom are appointed by the mayor. The borough presidents would appoint the other five. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has proposed that everyone appoint a member who would pledge to keep the current system running with Chancellor Joel Klein at the helm.
But that wouldn't solve Bloomberg's headaches.The law also states that the city must have 32 community school boards to run the elementary and middle schools. After Bloomberg took charge, those boards were replaced with community education councils. That might sound similar, but they're actually very different. The councils don't have nearly as much responsibility as the old school boards. Those folks were in charge of picking local superintendents (who still exist but are now picked by the chancellor). And those superintendents chose the principals and set school policies - giving them much more power than they have right now, in a system where principals have more autonomy.
So without a community school board, countless decisions that are now made by principals could be challenged because they weren't approved by a superintendent or school board.
Nor is there any fast and easy way to pick a new school board. The members must be elected in May - meaning no new elections could take place until the spring of 2010.
There is one possible solution raised by Steve Sanders, the former chair of the Assembly's education committee and co-author of the 2002 mayoral control law. Sanders told WNYC that Bloomberg's administration could ask a court to rule that the current superintendents remain in place until new school boards are elected in 2010. That would preserve Chancellor Klein's control over the districts. "It is messy and hopefully we will not reach that point come Wednesday."
Sanders concedes that Bloomberg is right to worry about lawsuits, however. He noted that parent groups, for example, could sue to stop some of the administration's policies from continuing after June 30th.
WNYC asked a few of the most vocal parent leaders if they planned any such legal action. They said they didn't. Ann Kjelberg, a parent leader in the West Village, stated that Bloomberg's the one using "apocalyptic language." She called on the Department of Education to cooperate with parents and give them more input.
However, several parent leaders are planning a symbolic action. They've scheduled a rally outside the Department of Education headquarters in Lower Manhattan where they'll hand out "eviction papers" to Chancellor Klein.