By State Senator Shirley L. Huntley
As the children go back to school, here is something else to think about: mayoral control. In a matter of months, mayoral control as we know it will be up for renewal in the City Council and, if passed there, then the State Legislature. The Legislature can go in one of three directions—we can renew the policy as is, reject it altogether, or revise mayoral control as we know it; to protect the rights of students, parents, educator and administrators and bring them into the process, which I believe is the answer.
With more than 1.1 million students affected by mayoral control and more than 1400 schools currently answering solely to the mayor (whose duties are carried out by a Chancellor who has displayed no appreciation for others opinions and an outright contempt for parents who have a vested interest in local education) it is clear that there needs to be changes.
I was a local education leader when mayoral control first passed in 2002. At the time I loudly voiced our concerns that the bill would cut out the role of parents and place too much power with the Chancellor. Unfortunately, we have been proven right and no place is that more clear than on these five major issues:
1) The current Chancellor is not an educator and has no educational background. Running schools like a business is not what education is about.
2) Superintendents currently may work in numerous school districts. Instead, they should work within their district only, have real decision-making power, and answer to the Chancellor.
3) The Department of Education currently has control over standardized testing, which has allowed a major disparity in performance based on a child’s race at younger ages to affect the child’s entire K-12 education.
4) Parents are no longer involved in zoning issues or picking new principals, but should be brought back into the process.
5) The Panel for Educational Policy allows the Mayor autonomy when instead the body should be empowering parents in all major decisions.
There are countless implications of these practices as they stand, perhaps the notable which is the practice of the Department of Education to spend millions in taxpayer dollars on “consultants” even while ignoring other experts and parents.
As a State Senator, I have begun the duty of ensuring my colleagues, who I believe did not fully understand the law in 2002, are fully educated this time to make a thoughtful decision when the legislation comes before us in 2009.
As part of that effort, Senate Democrats recently launched the New York City Task Force on School Governance, which I am Co-Chairing. The Task Force is holding open public hearings throughout all five boroughs for parents, educators, administrators, and community leaders to express their thoughts, including one in Queens on October 2nd, 2008 between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. at Queens Borough Hall, 120-55 Queens Blvd, 2nd Floor.
It is very important that people take advantage of this opportunity to submit oral and written testimony. At the end of our hearings, we will be proposing a new direction for mayoral control, based on what we already know, what we hear from the community, as well as, what we have learned from other cities, like Chicago and Boston, which have also implemented this kind of policy.
Here in New York, the trial-and-error practice of the Department of Education has proven to be a stunning waste of tax-dollars. In the Mayor and Chancellor’s haste, they have created chaos for school districts, children, and parents, instead of achieving the very reasoning behind mayoral control: efficiency and accountability. Those are worthy goals that I support—however, I cannot support the process as it is. By sidelining parents and those who have the greatest interest in a strong education, the Mayor and Chancellor have cut good ideas and important input entirely out of the process.
Though the Department of Education likes to pass around surveys to give the illusion of participation, parents recognize this policy needs to be changed. In fact, a recent poll by Class Size Matters, an advocacy group, found that nearly 6 in ten parents oppose mayoral control altogether. A Quinnipiac poll places Chancellor Joel Klein’s favorability at about 37%--roughly on par with President Bush.
Perhaps had the Mayor and Chancellor included parents, educators, administrators, and community leaders the problems with the current policy would, perhaps, not be so glaringly obvious. However, in showing their true colors they have underscored the urgency to get parents, educators, administrators, and community leaders back into the process. I invite you to join me at my hearing on October 2nd at Queens Borough Hall, so that together we can right the wrongs of mayoral control.