June 28, 2009
If the still-splintered State Senate doesn’t get to work and renew mayoral control, the city is in for a summer of litigation, Mayor Bloomberg warned this morning.
He made his comments at a hastily organized press event held in Harlem today to urge state politicians to pass a new school governance bill before the current law, giving control of the schools to the mayor, expires on Tuesday night. The senate has not held a legal vote since early June, when a leadership coup ended its regular session.
Should the school governance law expire, technically the system would revert to its pre-2002 structure. But the law doesn’t include instructions for reconstituting the old school boards or dismantling the current system.
“The bottom line is that the schools chancellor would have to run the school system for the next day,” Bloomberg said. “And you know right away that that would be in court.”
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein did not speak at the press conference, but he echoed Bloomberg’s warnings to me afterwards. “I don’t want to spend my summer meeting with the lawyers,” he said. “That’s what would happen.”
Klein said he would be opening summer school on Wednesday as planned, even if mayoral control lapses before then.
A period of legal wrangling represents a less dire consequence than Bloomberg has predicted in the past, when he said there would be “riots in the streets” and a resurrection of the Soviet Union if mayoral control ends.
One possible reason for Bloomberg’s newfound calm was the confidence of Frank Padavan, a Republican senator who was among the crowd of people joining Bloomberg this morning. Others included Gov. Paterson, teachers union president Randi Weingarten, two borough presidents, and a handful of city principals.
Padavan said the senate would have no trouble passing the mayoral control bill already passed by the Assembly whenever it does agree to hold a legal session. In addition to the 32 senators who have said they will vote with Republicans, Padavan said he could count “at least a dozen more” who vote for an identical bill. “The governor would sign it in a New York minute,” he said, standing in front of Paterson.
But others in the group suggested that the bill that passed the Assembly isn’t necessarily the one the senate should pass. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said he hoped the senate’s bill would provide for more parent involvement.
And Weingarten, who has taken heat for her mayoral control position, said there is enough time for an entirely different bill to be formulated and passed. If that happened, the Assembly and Senate bills would to be brought into concordance before Paterson could sign a single bill into law.
“Whether they pass the bill that Senator Padavan is sponsoring and Assembly Speaker Silver is sponsoring and the mayor is pushing, or whether they pass another bill and they work with the governor over the next 24 hours to get to a bill that everyone agrees to, the bottom line is we cannot have this chaotic situation for kids,” she said.
Discussing changes to the Assembly bill would be akin to “opening Pandora’s Box,” Bloomberg said today.
“At this point if you start making any changes, it’s a joke,” he said. “You’re saying you’re not going to pass anything because we all know that it would quickly spiral out of control and never come up in any meaningful timeframe with any compromise or in fact with anything that makes any sense.”
The press event was held in a courtyard inside East Harlem’s PS 57. Audible throughout were shouts from two contingents of protesters kept outside the schoolhouse gates. Several dozen mayoral control critics railed against Bloomberg’s school policies under the stony eye of a cadre of police officers.
“We didn’t want this event to go unremarked, and we didn’t,” said Leonie Haimson, a member of the Parent Commission on School Governance, which is sending a group of parents to Albany tomorrow morning to lobby for changes to mayoral control in the senate’s deliberations. “The mayor is using scare tactics to cram the Assembly bill down the senate’s throat,” she said.
A smaller number of mayoral control supporters was organized by the lobbying group Learn NY, but most declined to provide their names or why they thought the issue was important.