School & District Management

N.Y.C. Mayor-Elect Wants Control Over Schools

By Catherine Gewertz — November 14, 2001 3 min read

New Yorkers chose Republican Michael R. Bloomberg as their new mayor last week, handing the billionaire businessman two daunting tasks: stabilizing a city awash in economic woes after the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack, and restructuring governance of city schools.

The close New York mayor’s race was one of several regional contests last week in which education played an important role.

In Cleveland, Mayor-elect Jane L. Campbell will soon find herself at the center of a voter referendum on whether to let the mayor retain control of the city’s schools. In Southern California, voters selected the first school board to have full control over the Compton schools after eight years of state control, and rejected a widely watched attempt to allow the city of Carson to secede from the Los Angeles school system and form its own district.

The New York outcome was an upset, but hardly a landslide, with Mr. Bloomberg garnering 50 percent of the vote and Democrat Mark Green, the city’s public advocate, taking 47 percent. The campaign was dominated by discussion of rebuilding after the devastation of September’s terrorist attack. But improving the 1.1 million-student school system still staked out a good deal of the candidates’ attention.

The new mayor’s term could bring significant changes in the way the nation’s biggest school system is run. Mr. Bloomberg, a news media magnate who had the endorsement of popular Republican Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, says he will lobby state legislators to give the mayor’s office more control over schools.

Another Loss for UFT

Mr. Bloomberg wants to replace the city’s appointed board of education with a commissioner of education who would report directly to the mayor. He also believes the city should allow failing schools to be privatized.

The mayor-elect favors paying teachers more, but also wants to require them to be evaluated and requalified every other year. He did not endorse lowering class sizes, however, saying he feared the city couldn’t afford the price tag.

The traditionally powerful United Federation of Teachers, the city teachers’ union, had backed two Democrats defeated in the party primary and runoff, and then Mr. Green, who lost the general election in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Mr. Bloomberg, a former Democrat, switched parties to gain the GOP bid to succeed Mayor Giuliani, who was legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.

Mayoral control loomed large over the Cleveland mayor’s contest as well, but Ms. Campbell and her opponent, Raymond Pierce, a lawyer and fellow Democrat, both advocated preserving the system the Ohio legislature put in place three years ago. Under that structure, the mayor chooses a school board and a chief executive officer.

Struggle Over Control?

Current CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has been widely credited with improving academic standards and bringing more fiscal stability to the 77,000-student Cleveland district.

Ms. Campbell, a Cuyahoga County commissioner who now becomes Cleveland’s first female mayor, vowed to increase after-school tutoring, expand job training in high schools, and strengthen a mentoring program to encourage the retention of newer teachers.

Renewing the mayoral-control system in the referendum next fall could be an uphill battle, however; a recent poll by The Plain Dealer newspaper found 62 percent of respondents in favor of an elected school board.

In Compton, Calif., 28 candidates crowded the field for five seats available on the seven-member school board. Triumphing were Isadore Hall, incumbent Basil Kimbrew, Marjorie A. Shipp, Barbara J. Calhoun, and Erica Quijada-Barrera.

In the years since 1993, when the state assumed control of the 33,000-student district because of financial and academic problems, school board members served only in an advisory capacity, with state-appointed administrators running the district. The state has ordered restoration of local governance, effective in December. (“Calif. Returns Compton District to Local Control,” Sept. 19, 2001.)

Also in California, Carson voters by 3-to-1 rejected Measure D, which sought to create a new K-12 district by drawing 21,500 students from the Los Angeles Unified and Compton districts.

Had it been successful, it would have marked the first secession from the nation’s second-largest school district since 1948, when Torrance formed its own district.

Groups from three other areas of the Los Angeles system that have long hoped to gain support for secessionist drives had watched the contest with great interest.

But leaders of the Carson drive raised little money, and faced a well-financed opposition led by United Teachers-Los Angeles. The union argued that in a weak economy, the breakaway risked too much uncertainty for students and teachers.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as N.Y.C. Mayor-Elect Wants Control Over Schools

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