Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York agreed last week to maintain a streamlined form of the city’s 32 community school districts, a move that settles a lawsuit that had threatened to unravel a key part of his school system overhaul.
The settlement, announced June 10 after a week of talks supervised by a judge, requires the city to continue operating each of the community districts with an office, a local superintendent, and a staff.
The elected boards that once ran the community districts have been eliminated in the mayor’s restructuring. That move, widely seen as a welcome antidote to dysfunctional governance, was not challenged in the lawsuit.
Mr. Bloomberg had planned to eliminate all but the boundary lines of the community districts, and had already taken steps to close local offices and lay off local superintendents. Some of those administrators have been named supervisors in the mayor’s new organization; some have not. (“Mayor Outlines Major Overhaul of N.Y.C. System,” Jan. 22, 2003.)
The 10-page settlement does not say that former community superintendents will get their jobs back, or that the local offices, which each employed about 90 people, will reopen in their former locations. It requires only that each district have an office located within the district boundaries, a superintendent with all the authority the office held previously, and a staff of two.
Everyone Claims Win
The coalition of city, state, and federal lawmakers that filed the suit claimed victory, noting that the plaintiffs had preserved an important local access point for parents. The plaintiffs had contended that elimination of the local offices and superintendents would violate state law and had not been contemplated in the expanded school powers given to the mayor by the state legislature a year ago.
“We sent a message to the chancellor and to the mayor that we are not going to tolerate, under any guise or circumstance, any actions that will be in violation of law or that will overstep their lawful authority,” said state Sen. Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat who initiated the lawsuit. “The parents and children of New York are not a wholly owned subsidiary of Bloomberg LLP.”
The mayor and his chosen schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, also claimed victory. They pointed out that the agreement slashes by half what they considered a bloated staff structure in the community districts, and still allows the mayor to move forward with his revamped structure for local governance.
“He’s pleased we’ve reached an agreement and can get back to the business of running the schools,” said a mayoral spokesman, Jordan Barowitz. “The structure of reform remains completely intact.”
The 1.1 million-student district still will be divided into 10 “instructional divisions,” each headed by a regional superintendent. Each division will employ between nine and 16 “local instructional supervisors” who will oversee issues related to classroom learning.
The new regions will include elementary, middle, and high schools. Previously, one city structure governed high schools, while the community districts oversaw elementary and middle schools.
Chancellor Klein explained in a written statement that 32 of the “local instructional supervisors” would double as community superintendents. Among their duties will be evaluating principals and acting as liaisons to the panels that are still being designed to replace the former local school boards.
Frank J. Macchiarola, a former city schools chancellor who is now the president of St. Francis College in New York City, saw the settlement as a practical solution that benefited both sides.
“The city would like to get [the dispute] behind it, and it also makes sense from their standpoint not to make war with the legislature,” he said. “The mayor got his reorganization, and the cost of that is running offices with a few people in them. The legislators got the presence of community school district offices.”