Beth Fertig is the contributing editor for education, covering the New York City public school system for WNYC on air and online at SchoolBook.org. She has covered education in the city for more than 15 years. Beth is the author of Why cant u teach me 2 read? Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test (FSG Books) which grew out of a radio series on the low graduation rate for special education students. Follow her @bethfertig.
Mayoral Control - The Deal is Done
Friday, July 24, 2009
It was a feud in which the mayor was accused or being a "dictator" and acting like he ran a "plantation." And Bloomberg called legislators' proposal for a parent training institute a "slush fund." But in the end, both sides got what they wanted.
Senate Democrats and the Bloomberg Administration finally struck a deal Friday afternoon on renewing mayoral control of the schools (or what some senators prefer to call "school governance").
The Senate will return to Albany in August and vote on the same bill the assembly passed in June. They'll also take up an amendment, which the Assembly will have to also approve at some later point. The amendment calls for:
1) A parent training center, with an annual budget of $1.6 million and run by the City University of New York.
2) An Arts Advisory Committee to make recommendations and an annual report on educational policies involving the arts.
3) Clarification of the role of local superintendents in reviewing principals.
4) Annual public meetings of each school's safety committee. The Senators had originally wanted a citywide committee that would study police in the schools. This agreement puts the focus on each individual school to do more to involve parents. Harlem Senator Bill Perkins said he still had concerns about this point, and hoped there would be more discussions.
A deal almost reached last Thursday but it blew up that night. Senate Democrats then sent the mayor a message that they wouldn't be pushed around, when they voted instead on a bill that would weaken his control of the schools. It was soundly defeated. But a handful of Democrats, including Bill Perkins, Shirley Huntley, and "four amigos" Carl Kruger, Ruben Diaz, Pedro Espada, and Hiram Monserrate continued to beat the drum by holding press conferences outside City Hall denouncing the mayor. The rhetoric heated up last Sunday with the "plantation" utterance and accusations that the mayor was comparing Senate Democrats to Nazis because he said he wouldn't pull a Neville Chamberlain by appeasing them.
Now, everyone's a winner. Majority Leader Espada (who initiated the senate coup when he temporarily switched sides to vote with Republicans, and was rewarded for switching back with a new title) issued a statement declaring the agreement "will hold Mayor Bloomberg accountable for the performance of the city's public school system, and equally important it will provide greater parental involvement in their children's education." Mayor Bloomberg said the agreement "enables progress in our schools to continue" by preserving accountability and authority. He also said "the agreement addresses concerns that have been raised by legislators in a way that makes sense." And the Campaign for Better Schools, which had fought to put more checks and balances on the mayor's power, stated that "the demand that parents and students have a voice in the schools is being met through the creation of an independent, publicly-funded parent and student outreach and training center."
In the end, sources say the Campaign for Better Schools, outgoing teachers union president Randi Weingarten, Senate leaders, and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott were able to reach a deal that saves face for everyone. Senators can claim they won respect from the mayor; and the mayor can say he preserved control of the schools with only minor changes.
Now, maybe that flood of mailings from the Bloomberg campaign about the success of mayoral control will subside a little. At least until the fall.