Mayoral Control - Two Lawmakers Weigh In

Bill Perkins

May 15, 2009

WNYC News Blog

Mayoral Control - Two Lawmakers Weigh In

By Beth Fertig
May 14, 2009

When the New York Civil Liberties Union invited reporters to hear its ideas for reforming mayoral control of the schools today, it also invited two legislators with their own strong opinions.

State Senator Bill Perkins, who represents Harlem and other parts of Manhattan, and Queens Assemblyman Rory Lancman, both support the NYCLU’s goal of making the school system more transparent. The NYCLU officially takes no position on whether to renew mayoral control. But it’s says the current system is “absolute” and “unfettered.” It cites the reluctance by the Department of Education and NYPD to disclose information on student arrests, suspensions and expulsions. There have also been incidents in which principals don’t feel like they’re fully in charge of their buildings, because of the NYPD’s responsibility for school safety. The report is available here.

While the NYCLU wouldn’t say whether it thinks the current system of mayoral control should be diluted, the two lawmakers did share their thoughts.

State Senator Perkins is one of a handful of lawmakers who want end the mayor’s control of the Panel for Educational Policy. Bloomberg currently gets to appoint eight of the 13 members, including the chancellor - who chairs the body. The five others are appointed by the borough president. In 2004, the mayor fired three panel members because they were about to vote against his plan to stop promoting third graders who got low scores on their state math and reading tests.

Perkins supports proposals by the teachers union and a group called the Parent Commission that would give other elected officials the majority of the panel’s appointees. “If you can’t but mimic the mayor you are denying the public that alternative voice, that alternative idea, that kind of debate our democracy is built on,” he said. As for the Panel, he said Bloomberg “won’t even allow it to be a rubber stamp because if it makes an impression he will fire them.”

Perkins’ position isn’t shared by the leaders of the State Assembly and Senate. Both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith have said the mayor should still appoint the majority of the Panel’s members. But they haven’t said much else about what they do want to change. And lawmakers are surely giving them their thoughts.

Assemblyman Rory Lancman says he originally thought the mayor should control the Panel. But he now says, “The lack of ideas or suggestions coming forth from the mayor and the chancellor about how to address all the legitimate concerns that have been raised are really starting to turn me in the direction of maybe the mayor should not have a majority of members on the panel.

Lancman said he and other lawmakers are getting calls from parents who feel excluded from decisions about the opening and closing of local schools, among other matters. “People sick and tired of having money wasted on no-bid contracts, they want education decision making” he said. WNYC asked him if all the lobbying - by opponents of mayoral control such as the teachers union, and supporters from the group Learn NY - would have any impact on his decision. He said those groups pale in comparison to what he hears from his constituents.

“Ultimately we’re answerable to parents in our districts and people who elect us and if we come back with a solution that is unsatisfactory to parents we will hear it ways more than UFT, the school board association, and Learn NY. They can’t do anything compared to what parents in our district can do.”

Lancman said the mayor should start listening, too.

“I really urge mayor, that we are in the ninth inning of a ball game, to really step up to the plate. Come up with some ideas or proposals for addressing our concerns or he’s going to end up with a result that’s going to be same result with congestion pricing, or the Jets stadium, or any other issue where he’s been completely resistant to compromise.”