Published Online: August 7, 2009
Published in Print: August 12, 2009, as State Senate Extends Mayor’s Control Over N.Y.C. Schools

State Senate Extends Mayor’s Control Over N.Y.C. Schools

After nearly two months of political wrangling, state senators in New York gave final approval last week to a measure that will keep Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in charge of New York City’s 1.1 million-student school system.

Mr. Bloomberg, whose seven-year authority over the district expired in June when an unrelated political dispute in the state Senate kept legislators from acting on a series of bills, struck a deal late last month with Democrats in the chamber to extend mayoral control for an additional six years.

In doing so, the mayor, an Independent, agreed to support four “chapter amendments” that the Democratic leadership demanded. The amendments, which were presented as separate bills, included one to boost parental involvement in the city’s public schools and another that would set up an advisory council to issue annual reports on the state of arts education.

“With the governance question resolved, we can now move full steam ahead with efforts to ensure that this school year is marked by more great progress,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement issued after the Aug. 6 vote in the Senate.

The mayor said extension of his authority “preserved a system of clear accountability for our schools that has produced clear and dramatic results for our students.”

The final vote in favor of continuing mayoral control was 47-8.

New Oversight Committee

Just before approving the mayor’s continued authority over the city’s schools, the Senate also passed a resolution to create a new oversight committee with subpoena powers—a move meant to mollify some Democrats who have been critical of Mr. Bloomberg’s near-unilateral control.

"With the governance question resolved, we can now move full steam ahead with efforts to ensure that this school year is marked by more great progress."
Michael R. Bloomberg
Mayor, New York City

The legislature’s other house, the state Assembly, which had already approved an extension of mayoral control before the law expired on June 30, will now have to reconvene to consider the Senate’s additional bills related to the deal.

It was not yet clear last week when that might happen, or whether the Assembly would approve the additional provisions.

What is clear is that the mayor will keep his power to appoint the majority of members to the oversight board known as the Panel for Educational Policy, and that those members will not serve fixed terms, a change that some opponents of mayoral control had sought.

Mr. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, a mayoral appointee, will be subject to some new checks on what had been their broad authority to approve contracts and shut down schools.

Mayor Bloomberg first won control over the schools in 2002, but the state law enabling that governance structure was scheduled to sunset at the end of June. The New York Senate—mired for weeks in a partisan fight over which political party was in charge of the chamber—failed to act on renewing the measure before the deadline. Senate Democrats eventually prevailed in that internal dispute, clearing the way for the chamber to vote on mayoral control. ("N.Y.C. Mayor Keeping Firm Hold on Schools," July 15, 2009.)

But some Democratic leaders in the Senate bristled at the Assembly’s version of extending mayoral control—the version endorsed by Mr. Bloomberg—and set off weeks of sparring with the mayor.

When the two sides finally reached a compromise in late July, Mr. Bloomberg agreed to the creation of a $1.6 million training center for parents and students that will be operated by the City University of New York. The center will train parents in how to advocate better educational outcomes for their children.

One of the chief criticisms of Mayor Bloomberg’s governance of the school system has been that parents are often shut out of major policy decisions.

Arts Education

The agreement approved by the Senate also calls for forming an advisory committee to make recommendations on arts education—an area of the curriculum that critics argue has suffered under the leadership of Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein.

The city’s education department must also hold annual school safety meetings under the compromise.

Mayor Bloomberg, who is running for a third term this November after succeeding in getting the city’s term-limits law changed, had not expected the extension of his authority over the public schools to run into such a political buzz saw, despite persistent criticism from some parent groups and education scholars.

Vol. 28, Issue 37, Page 7

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