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The principle — and the politics — of mayoral control


[This op-ed originally appeared in City & State on June 12, 2017.]

In 2002 and 2009 State Senate Republicans, saying that the New York City’s public schools needed predictable and accountable management, couldn't wait to give former Mayor Bloomberg long-term control of the schools.

But if the principle of mayoral control was enough to ensure that Bloomberg got a total of 13 years as head of the school system, why has Mayor de Blasio had to fight to get even one-year extensions of the mayoral control law?

And why are those same Republicans now offering him only another short-term extension, and that contingent on his increased support for charter schools?

It seems that the Senate Republicans' enthusiasm for Bloomberg's control of the schools might have had something to do with the former mayor's contributions to their campaign coffers, which eventually totaled more than $3 million.

Bloomberg has left the scene, but $3 million appears to have become the going rate. Republican county and state committees, along with their associated housekeeping and campaign accounts, have raked in roughly this amount in contributions from charter-friendly billionaires including the Walton family, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune; hedge fund operators Daniel Loeb and Paul Singer and others.

Charter champions are also among the contributors who have poured nearly $13 million more in contributions into outfits with names like “New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany” and “New Yorkers for Putting Students First” that function as lobbying forces for the charter industry.

From the UFT’s perspective, mayoral control has not been a panacea. It gave former Mayor Bloomberg outsize power over the system, and helped make sure that teachers, parents and advocates had to fight at meetings, on the streets and in the courts to block his efforts to close schools and establish standardized test scores as the only measure of students and teachers.

Things have been far better under Mayor de Blasio. His pre-K for all program, his respect for teachers and parents, and his support for programs like our Community Learning Schools are making an importance difference in the lives of the children we serve.

The current law is not perfect. We have recommended a series of changes in the mayoral control law that would help restore a system of checks and balances to the system. But Senate Republicans have put forward no substantive alternatives of their own to the current law. Instead, they try to claim the moral high ground while posting a $3 million “For Rent” sign outside their offices.

Their grudging offer of a brief extension — a complete reversal of what they once claimed to be their policy goal — reflects not a principle of good governance but rather their desire to reward the billionaire charter champions who have replaced Bloomberg as a cash cow for the Republican conference.

Related Topics: Op-eds, Education Law