School & District Management

N.Y.C. Mayor’s Makeover of City Schools to Continue

By Catherine Gewertz & Karla Scoon Reid — November 15, 2005 3 min read
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Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York won a chance to expand his makeover of the city’s schools last week, as voters overwhelmingly chose to keep him in office for a second term. In Detroit, schools moved from appointed to elected leadership. And the Los Angeles Unified School District won approval to raise billions of dollars to ease crowded classrooms.

Those results highlighted the many education-related contests decided by local voters around the country Nov. 8.

School board elections in Atlanta and Seattle held the potential of significant shifts in the composition of those panels, but big changes largely failed to materialize.

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Of the local races, New York’s assumed the highest national profile, but with little doubt about the outcome. The Republican mayor spent most of the campaign comfortably ahead of his Democratic opponent, former Bronx borough President Fernando Ferrer, and ended up winning 59 percent to 39 percent, a bigger majority than any Republican mayor in the Big Apple had secured in 68 years.

How much the perceived quality of the schools influenced New Yorkers’ votes was not clear. But in his campaign, Mr. Bloomberg repeatedly pointed to big gains in city and state test scores as resulting from the increased power over schools that he secured from the state legislature in 2002.

He had urged city voters to judge him on how much he improved schools in the 1.1-million-student system, the nation’s largest. (“Grading the Mayor,” Oct. 26, 2005.)

Mayor Bloomberg has not detailed his education initiatives for his second term, but priorities include bolstering middle school instruction; further diversifying high school options, and expanding vocational, gifted-and-talented, preschool, and after-school programs.

In Detroit, voters chose their first elected school board since the state of Michigan seized control of the 145,000-student district in 1999. Under that arrangement, the mayor had the authority to appoint six board members; the state superintendent of public instruction was the seventh member.

The 11-member board, which takes office in January, will include three former school board members.

Voters in that city also overwhelmingly approved a property-tax-levy renewal that generates about $95 million in revenue annually for the district, which has an annual budget of $1.5 billion.

Los Angeles voters decided by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1 to accept higher property taxes to finance a capital-improvement program in the country’s second-largest school district.

Building Plan

The approval of Measure Y will supply nearly $4 billion for the 747,000-student district’s seven-year plan to build 185 schools and shore up the condition of hundreds of others. Measure Y and three previous bonds will provide, together, $14 billion to a rebuilding plan worth a projected $19 billion. Backers hope the effort will ease overcrowding and take many schools off their multi-track, year-round schedules.

“The voters have made an unprecedented commitment to fulfill decades-old promises that we made to our students,” said Glenn Gritzner, a special assistant to Superintendent Roy Romer.

In Atlanta, all nine of the school board seats were up for election. Incumbents, including one who ran unopposed, retained six of them. Newcomers will fill the other three seats that came open when incumbents declined to run again.

In Seattle, a local political-action committee, whose donors included deep-pocketed executives of big business, backed three candidates for the seven-member school board in what they said was an attempt to bring a sharper focus to its policies.

But only one of them—a former president of a parent-teacher organization—won that open seat. A former City Council member won the other open seat, and an incumbent retained one seat.

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