Sun Sets and Rises on Mayoral Control

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After 7 years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s control of the NYC Public School System came to an unexpected end on June 30, 2009. Political chaos in the NYS Senate prevented a timely vote that would have extended or amended the state law that authorized Mayoral control of NYC public schools.
On July 1, 2009, management of the City’s school system reverted back to the NYC Board of Education, led by seven members with diminished mayoral power. Of the seven members, two are appointed by the Mayor and each Borough President appoints one.
The new NYC Board of Education consists of  Board President, Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development Dennis Walcott (Queens Borough President appointee); First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris (Mayoral appointee); Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler (Mayoral appointee); Dr. Delores Fernandez (Bronx Borough President appointee); Carlo Scissura (Brooklyn Borough President appointee); Jimmy Yan (Manhattan Borough President appointee), and Deputy Borough President Edward Burke (Staten Island Borough President appointee).
The BOE is responsible for selecting or retaining a chancellor.  It decided to retain Joel Klein as Chancellor. It approves or revises the BOE budget, which has grown under Mayor Bloomberg from $12.5 billion in 2002 to the current $21 billion. Under the law, Community School Boards would be formed with elections held no earlier that May 2010. District superintendents would be appointed.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who appointed his Chief-of-Staff, Carlo A. Scissura, as the Brooklyn representative to the new Board,  was a vocal proponent of mayoral control. “The last thing I wanted to see was the sunset of mayoral control, which I believe has been the best form of school governance for the students, families, schools and teachers of this city,” said Markowitz. Scissura was chosen because of his years of Community Board experience and as President of the Community Education Council for District 20. Scissura will also continue to serve full-time as chief of staff to the Brooklyn Borough President, and stated “I will not accept any stipend afforded members of the Board of Education.”
According to published reports, recently elected Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. expects his appointee, the former Hostos Community College president Dolores Fernandez, to challenge certain of the mayor’s policies. “Whether it’s existing policy or future policy,” he said, “you can anticipate there will be a challenge.”
During an intimate meet-and-greet at Bed-Stuy’s Brownstone Bookstore last week, Mayoral candidate Comptroller Bill Thompson spoke of his experiences on the old NYC Board of Education. As a member representing Brooklyn for two years and Board President for five, Thompson said he has seen the transition from decentralization to re-centralization and then mayoral control. Recalling when the 32 school districts overseeing elementary and middle schools had 9 members each and the central board managed high schools, Thompson said he remembered the days when “the going rate for a principalship was $25,000.”
There were other problems.  In 1995, when Chancellor Rudy Crew called a meeting of the 32 superintendents, 20 showed up. “12 couldn’t be bothered,” said Thompson. The old structure was “focused on adults and jobs.” The chancellor hired superintendents who, in turn, hired principals.
According to Thompson, grid-lock was a recurring theme during Guiliani’s terms in office, since he appointed 3 members to the board. “Whenever Guiliani was fighting with the chancellor, school funding would dry up,” as a means for Guiliani to get his way.
No matter what happened, Thompson said “It is time to go back to an educator as chancellor.  NYC needs an educator as next chancellor.” When asked who he would name as chancellor should he be elected Mayor, Thompson said he believes in “bringing your own team to the table.”