June 30, 2009
As Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg warn of “total chaos” and ominous “uncharted territory” if mayoral control expires tonight, another, less-frenzied possibility is emerging. The possibility hinges on the success of efforts underway right now to produce a compromise mayoral control bill in the Senate, according to a spokesman for the Campaign for Better Schools, which is pushing a compromise.
A compromise would find a middle ground between the bill introduced by state Senator Frank Padavan, with the support of Mayor Bloomberg, and the one introduced by Senator John Sampson, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, who favors adding checks to the mayor’s power. But it would still mean the June 30 deadline would pass without a new school governance law to replace it.
That’s because in order to become law, both houses of the legislature have to vote for the same bill. But a compromise bill would be different from the one the Assembly passed two weeks ago.
“Our point is that schools will open up as usual tomorrow, even if mayoral control expires,” said the spokesman, Shomwa Shamapande. “Let’s get the legislation right and make sure parents have a voice.”
Shamapande would not disclose details of the talks he said are underway, saying he does not want to jeopardize the effort. I asked him if he is confident the talks will produce a compromise. “We’re hopeful. I’m not going to go with confident,” he said.
No other lawmakers returned calls immediately to confirm the talks.
Meanwhile, members of the Parent Commission on School Governance, which advocated for more parental involvement in the city’s public schools, are also calling in with optimism. Patricia Connelly, a member of the commission who is in Albany today, said that the commission’s favored bill picked up two new Senate co-sponsors yesterday, Eric Adams and Toby Ann Stavisky. The bill already had three co-sponsors: Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Velmanette Montgomery, and John Sampson, the acting Democratic leader. UPDATE: Shirley Huntley is the bill’s main sponsor. I neglected to mention her before.
Parent commission members are also hoping that the Senate passes a bill with stronger checks to the mayor’s power — even if that means mayoral control expires for some time period. “Are you kidding, of course! I’d rather have it expire than have the Padavan-Silver bill pass,” said Leonie Haimson, a member of the commission who is also in Albany. “There’s no debate on that one.”
UPDATE: Another set of parent leaders, including the group Time Out From Testing, the Center for Immigrant Families, and the president of a Manhattan parent council, are also saying the impasse creates an opportunity to check the mayor’s power over the school system. The parents say they want a “true partnership” with the mayor, rather than a dictatorship where he runs the public schools unilaterally.
Here’s a statement they sent out today:
Parent leaders today called attention to the tremendous potential provided by the sunsetting of the mayoral control law that dictates the terms of governance for the New York City school system.
Jane Hirschmann, chair of Time Out From Testing, said, “This is a golden opportunity to return public education to the public. For seven years we have had a dictatorship, an administration that is not accountable to anyone – most especially to parents, children, teachers and taxpayers. Parents have been sold a bill of goods about test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates, bus schedules, and school safety. Children have themselves become test scores, subjected to a never-ending schedule of interim assessments, test prep and high stakes exams that control curriculum and instruction.”
For taxpayers , the past seven years have been a disaster with no bid contracts totaling several hundreds of millions of dollars that have been a bonanza for private companies such as McGraw Hill and IBM.
Perla Placencia from the Center for Immigrant Families remarked, “Building a meaningful partnership among parents, schools, and communities toward achieving high-quality education for all our children is fundamentally inconsistent with the top-down and undemocratic system of mayoral control of our schools.” Tina Pack, parent leader who has 6 school-aged children, added: “We need to recognize parents as our children’s first educators and make sure that we build a system that maximizes the critical role they play, together with educators, in our children’s growth and learning.”
Lisa Donlan, President of CEC1, said, “This is a great opportunity to give parents, teachers and communities shared decision making power at the district level by allowing the CECs to act as interim community school boards and to re-empower district superintendents to support schools in their districts.”
“Parents are calling for a true partnership, not a dictatorship, revealed through a board that is fairly constituted with power spread among parent representatives, elected officials (including the mayor) and outside experts–a board where the Mayor does not have the majority of votes or appointments. We need transparency, most particularly a mechanism that provides oversight of contracts and educational data such as test scores, graduation rates and teacher turnover,” added Hirschmann.