Cuomo Will Hold ‘Summit’ on N.Y.C. Schools

December 09, 1987 2 min read
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Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York, in his first direct intervention in the mounting controversy surrounding the governance of the New York City school system, plans to hold a “summit” with the prominent players this week to discuss disbanding and restructuring the city’s board of education.

“The governor feels that the current state of the New York City school system is a disaster, so something has to be done, and done quickly, to rectify the disaster,” said Francis E. Sheehan Jr., a spokesman for the governor. A date for the summit had not been set at the end of last week.

In the past several weeks, as it seemed increasingly unlikely that the board would name a new chancellor before the current schools chancellor, Nathan Quinones, steps down at the end of this month, political leaders have stepped up their calls for restructuring the board.

The Governor, Mayor Edward I. Koch, and three board members--including the board’s president, Robert F. Wagner Jr.--have all indicated their support for proposals to disband the current board and replace it with one appointed by and accountable to the mayor.

Under the current system, adopted when the city schools were decen8tralized in 1969, two board members are appointed by the mayor, and each of the city’s five borough presidents names one member.

Critics charge that this system splits responsibility for the school district among too many people to make any of them truly accountable for its widely acknowledged failings.

Various proposals have been offered to restructure the board, but most would expand it beyond its present size and give the mayor the power to appoint either a majority or all of its members.

Despite the Governor’s intervention, however, a rapid change in the structure of the board is unlikely, because several powerful legislael10ltors, including the chairmen of the education committees in both houses, have already announced their opposition to any hasty moves.

Under state law, the legislature is required to approve any changes in the system’s governance. The idea of restructuring the New York City board is currently being examined by a legislative commission, and legislators appear unwilling to allow other politicians to usurp their agenda.

Even minor changes in the city’s school system proposed by legislators in recent years have become bogged down by political infighting, including a bill proposed this year that would have prohibited employees of the central board from serving on any of the city’s 32 community school boards.

The slow pace of the search for a successor to Mr. Quinones, who announced this summer that he would retire six months before the scheduled end of his contract, has exacerbated the political and racial tensions that surface each time a new chancellor is chosen for this ethnically diverse school system.

Pressure from Hispanic groups, who are angered that Mr. Quinones’s departure will leave them without representation at the top levels of leadership, forced Mayor Koch to request the resignation of a board member so a Hispanic can be appointed in his place.

The six remaining board members include five whites and one black; less than 22 percent of the system’s students are white.--ws

A version of this article appeared in the December 09, 1987 edition of Education Week as Cuomo Will Hold ‘Summit’ on N.Y.C. Schools


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