Senator to introduce bill scaling back mayoral control over city school closures, changes

Originally published in New York Daily News on March 19, 2018.

ALBANY — A Harlem state senator is set to introduce a bill Monday that would require formal community input any time the city wants to close or scale back a school.

The bill by state Sen. Brian Benjamin (speaking), a Democrat, would weaken mayoral control over the schools. (Jeff Bachner/for New York Daily News)

The bill by state Sen. Brian Benjamin, a Democrat, would weaken mayoral control over the schools by requiring majority support from the state senator, Assembly member, congressional representative, borough president and City Council member representing a district targeted for "proposed school closings or significant changes in school utilization."

Currently, the citywide Panel for Educational Policy — controlled by the mayor and his appointed schools chancellor — have the only say.

"I support mayoral control by and large without question, but I think some decisions you really need to have some local input involved," Benjamin said.

The senator has been fighting a city plan to close the middle school at Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Visual Arts in Harlem and focus only on the high school grades.

"This is the only middle school in Harlem that has a concentration on the arts," Benjamin said. "If you take that out, there is no longer that opportunity."

While supporters of mayoral control over the schools say it is designed to make one person accountable, Benjamin said that's not always the case, noting de Blasio, because of term limits, is a lame duck for the next four years.

"In this case, you can't hold the mayor accountable. He's gone," he said.

Asked whether his bill would make it harder to close or truncate poorly performing schools, Benjamin said it would simply require the city to make a better case to the community while possibly coming up with a more comprehensive plan that would satisfy local leaders and parents.

"I think this will make mayoral control better," he said. "It will be an enhancement. It will force a conversation people might not feel is necessary at this present moment."

He does not yet have an Assembly sponsor, but believes it won't be a problem.

"There's definitely been some consistent concerns on this topic across the city, particularly in communities like mine," Benjamin said.

De Blasio's office didn't take an official position on the pending bill, but noted that the 14-member city Panel for Educational Policy includes one appointment from each of the five borough presidents.

"New York City already does extensive community engagement on school closures," de Blasio spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said.