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N.Y.C. Mayor Seeks Overhaul of Governance

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The bitter fight for control of the New York City schools between Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and the school board spread to Albany last week, as state legislators announced plans to intervene.

State officials were trying to set up a meeting this week with school officials and the mayor, who stepped up his latest attacks on the district's management by calling for the abolition of the school board and the post of chancellor.

Intervention from the state after months of conflict over who should run the nation's largest school system is likely to trigger changes in the district's power structure, several sources said last week.

Calls for the "summit," to be convened Oct. 12 by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, came days after Mr. Giuliani forced the board to reverse a decision to hire as chancellor a candidate he opposed. The mayor's choice for the job had dropped out before the board hired--and then quickly rejected--Daniel A. Domenech, the superintendent of the western Suffolk County school district on neighboring Long Island.

Mr. Silver harshly criticized the fierce public battles for control of the district. "Events of the past weeks have been a disgrace and a travesty for our children," the speaker said. "A climate of confrontation and controversy has left our school system a rudderless ship."

The district is seeking a successor to Ramon C. Cortines, whose resignation takes effect this week. Mr. Cortines had clashed with the mayor often over control of the budget and school security during his two-year tenure.

Mayor Giuliani's aides are now searching for someone to serve as an interim chancellor until the legislature acts on his proposed changes. Most board members, however, remained insistent last week that they plan to hire a permanent schools chief.

The recent events revived old questions about the governance of the mammoth district, which enrolls about 1 million students. Mr. Giuliani, who wants the state to give him broad power over the schools, says the appointed seven-member board is not accountable to the public.

'The Odds Are High'

This is not the first time Mr. Giuliani has sought wholesale changes in the system.

Last year, a close adviser to the mayor released a report that called for dissolving the central board of education. Edward N. Costikyan, a lawyer and an advocate of greater decentralization of the system--in which 32 community school boards already have considerable authority--also recommended in his report that the mayor appoint an education commissioner to oversee the district, an idea Mr. Giuliani resurrected last week. (See Education Week, Aug. 3, 1994.)

Mr. Giuliani has also held up Chicago as an example of an effective management structure, his aides said. In that city, Mayor Richard M. Daley was given broad power over the schools under a state law that took effect this summer. (See Education Week, July 12, 1995.)

"I think the odds are as high as they've been in a decade to change the governance of the New York City schools," said Robert Berne, the dean of the graduate school of public service at New York University. Mr. Berne was the executive director of the Marchi commission, a state panel that studied the district's management and also recommended shifting some power in a 1991 report.

Mr. Berne said he thinks the legislature may consider some proposals that are less radical than Mr. Giuliani's, such as establishing an elected board or adding more mayoral appointees to the existing one. Mr. Giuliani now has authority to name two members; the presidents of the city's five boroughs each name one.

Last week, Mr. Silver, the state's most powerful Democrat, invited Mayor Giuliani; the board's president, Carol Gresser; and other state, city, and union officials to this week's summit.

Nydia Negron, a spokeswoman for the Republican mayor, said Mr. Giuliani had not decided whether he will attend. "He wants to see if something constructive is going to be done, or if this is just another political meeting," she said.


Ms. Gresser and other board members have several times accused Mr. Giuliani of scaring away candidates for chancellor, several of whom dropped out.

Late last month, however, the board voted 4-3 to offer the post to Mr. Domenech. He was chosen over Robert Spillane, the superintendent of the Fairfax County, Va., schools.

Leon M. Goldstein, who was the third candidate and the mayor's choice, had dropped out shortly after the local news media reported that he had been inconsistent in giving his age and marital status, among other information.

Mr. Goldstein, the president of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, also came under scrutiny because of his strong political ties to the local Democratic Party.

A day after the board chose Mr. Domenech, one board member, under intense pressure from the mayor, reversed his vote and overturned the decision, putting the board back at square one.

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