BY JON CRONIN
Next month mayoral control over the City’s educational system will expire, and in a bid to extend it another seven years, Mayor Bill de Blasio went to Albany last week to testify in front of the State Senate.
Thirteen years into the implementation of mayoral control, elected officials and education leaders stand behind the mayor but seek more control at the local level.
Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council for District 24 said he recently spoke to several state senators about not continuing it. He conceded that he would accept it “maybe with changes.”
“I’m not necessarily against de Blasio,” he said, but believes mayoral control takes away from the system of communication. He believes with the red tape that with mayoral control “What should take a day, takes months.”
Comaianni thinks that with a city of nine million people voices will get lost in the bureaucracy. “As a CEC president, I’m lucky if I can get the chancellor’s ear for five minutes to talk or to address an issue,” he said.
He suggests, “If the city got rid of mayoral control, the schools chancellor would have to cater to the communities; now it’s the reverse.” It is his contention that local issues like zoning, busing, and everyday operation of the district should be done at the local and not given to someone at the City level who is unfamiliar with the district.
Under mayoral control, the mayor appoints eight of the 13 members on the Panel for Educational Policy, the Department of Education’s legislative body. The other five are appointed by each specific borough president. That gives the mayor an outright majority of votes on the board if his appointees all vote how he wants, which they have always done.
Even though the mayor reported high school graduation rates to be the highest since the early part of the 20th Century, Comaianni believes that it’s a sign of the times and has little to do with City government.
He noted, “It’s like living in North Korea, what’s the sense of having a council [Panel for Education Policy]”
Comaianni cites the recent cell phone ban in schools as an example, “Everybody was against it,” and quoted the mayor as saying “ ‘I appreciate everyone’s emails, but I made up my mind.’ There’s no checks and balances.”
Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) had a less critical take on mayoral control.
“Ultimately, I’m very much in favor of one person being held accountable for the success or failure of such a large entity,” she said.
She said after 10 years on the CEC under the Bloomberg administration, she is “very hesitant to sign on,” because, “there is no place for community input the way it stands, the structure of the CECs should change on where they have input on choosing a superintendent.” She said that currently there is only comment on zoning and no say on co-locations or the hiring of principals.
Hyndman added that attendance is poor at the CEC meetings because there is so little power that parents feel discouraged.
“It’s a very top-heavy system,” she explained, “We’re lucky we have mayor that listens and we have a good chancellor with an education background.”
She noted that the Department of Education Office of Student Enrollment has frequent turnover and people come into those positions with no background, yet for parents it is their line of communication with the DOE.
Hyndman threw accolades at School Chancellor Carmen Fariña for bucking that trend, “She goes to town halls and she does follow up,” she said.
Like Comaianni she feels that the PEP is “too mayor heavy.” Currently the PEP has 12 members and eight are appointed by the mayor. Historically they have always voted towards the mayor’s wishes.
“There are no checks and balances with mayoral control,” Hyndman said echoing Comaianni’s statement.
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing), who serves on the Senate’s Education and the NYC sub-committee on education as well as the Democratic Task Force on mayoral control, said that Senate Democrats have been meeting for months discussing several options on how mayoral control could be tweaked.
On June 19, the Senate Education Committee will be meeting to listen to Mayor de Blasio’s testimony on why it should be extended.
Stavisky, who does support mayoral control, said she thought Mayor de Blasio presented well last week, when he touted the success of universal Pre-K, the improvements in test scores and higher graduation rates.
She admitted that the loss of local voices has also been her concern, which is why she supports the idea of borough boards, and stated that they would be a sounding board for local parents, because, “Involved parents are crucial.”
Regarding the PEP, Stavisky said, “What we want to do is take it away from the political structure.” When a new mayor comes into office, she does not want to see eight PEP members replaced to reflect the opinion of the new mayor.
Councilman Daniel Dromm (D- Jackson Heights) echoed statements made by both Hyndman and Stavisky, that future mayors should seek chancellors with educational backgrounds instead of seeking a waiver that allows them to take the Schools Chancellor position.
He added, “The mayor should come to the council when a new chancellor will be appointed.” Dromm, who was an elementary school teacher for 25 years, said that within mayoral control, “There needs to be a stronger place for parental involvement.”
Reach Reporter Jon Cronin at (718) 357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin