Archive for May, 2009

Mayoral Control – Testimony for Delivery June 4

May 19, 2009

MAYORAL CONTROL OF NEW YORK CITY’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Testimony of Prof. David C. Bloomfield

Educational Leadership, Brooklyn College & Urban Education, CUNY Grad Center

Parent Member, Citywide Council on High Schools

Before the New York City Council Committee on Education

For Delivery June 4, 2009

          Thank you for allowing me to testify again on this important issue.  My detailed proposal on this topic is available to the Committee at the “blog” link on www.davidbloomfield.net.  I use today’s opportunity not to repeat that testimony but to alert you to several recent turns in the Mayoral Control debate.

          My strong support for Mayoral Control is rooted in the Charter’s grant of strong budget powers to the Mayor, not out of any love for the current Mayor’s policies and practices.  But as long as funding is so closely tied to Mayoral discretion, he or she should have reciprocal operational powers.  In this crucial respect, Mayoral Control has been an unqualified success, with unprecedented increases in city funding even apart from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement.  Every step that this body takes in recommending understandable reductions in Mayoral Control is a step which jeopardizes the Mayor’s political accountability for adequate funding.

          The makeup of the Board of Education is receiving lots of current attention.  While highly visible, this is a marginal issue.  Whatever its makeup, the Mayor will continue to control the board through enormous institutional power over other City officials.  As evidence, note that the supposedly-independent Borough President appointees almost always follow the Mayor’s lead on the current Board.  Terms of office are not only less democratic than the current structure but will encourage the naming of potted plants to the Board; those who, even if theoretically cut loose, will never stray from appointing officials’ positions.  Proposals for a nominating commission are similarly anti-democratic and will likely produce nondescript appointees based on commission consensus.  My proposal calls for major changes in the work of the Board, making it more transparent and expanding its roles in contract approval and school closures, among other items.   I simply have little hope for the romantic notion of a wise, deliberative board.  That was to be the promise of the old Board of Education that Mayoral Control replaced.  It failed, bringing only paralysis and the petty politics of patronage and personal ambition.     

          Looking more deeply at how to bring to bring fresh thinking and true debate to the system, I close by addressing a final issue:  parent and community input.       I am worried that legislators will use this issue as a pretext to promote their own political spoils.  If, for example, borough boards are created or we move to a system closer to the community board system, parent members should be elected by parents, not appointed by local elected officials.  Similarly, I am worried by the consequences of City Council legislative power over the Department of Education in a model some call “Municipal Control.”  I fear the temptation to micromanage and to trade votes based on narrow local interests would prove too strong.he Council has proven to be a constructive educational oversight body and should remain so, without new legislative powers.  The Council has proven to be a constructive educational oversight body and should remain so, without new legislative powers.  

          What I favor is a streamlined, more powerful parent role.  Parent Associations should elect representatives to District Councils, replacing the current Community Education Councils and with broadened portfolios.  Among other powers, these Councils would recommend slates of superintendent candidates to the Chancellor.  District Councils should in turn elect representatives to a Citywide Parent Council, with subcommittees for elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as special and bilingual education issues.  This more muscular structure will replace the diffuse, often competing, bodies that have failed to find traction under the current law.

          Thank you for this opportunity.  I urge you to exercise restraint as you seek to redress the Mayor’s excesses.  An over-prescriptive bill will only reduce schools’ ability to respond to student needs.  As much as we might like it otherwise, we can not correct the Mayor’s poor policy choices through governance, but only in the voting booth.

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