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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mike Wants To Keep Control of the NYC School System

July 1, 2009
As Law Expires, Bloomberg Moves to Keep Authority Over Schools

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was set to lose control of the New York City school system at midnight Tuesday, but despite dire predictions of chaos from the mayor and others, it appeared that the nation’s largest school district would continue to operate largely as usual.

The shift of power, from Mr. Bloomberg’s hands to the clutches of a yet-to-be-appointed Board of Education, came after an impasse between Republicans and Democrats in the State Senate thwarted attempts to renew mayoral control of schools, which the Legislature authorized in 2002. The law set June 30, 2009, as the day the mayor’s control would end if it was not renewed.

At a videoconference with Gov. David A. Paterson in Albany, Mr. Bloomberg said the expiration of the law would mark a “nightmare flashback” to the days of the old Board of Education, which had a reputation for constant friction.

But while authority over schools now technically rests with the seven-member board, the mayor is expected to retain his authority by persuading at least two borough presidents to appoint people favorable to his policies. The mayor picks two board members and each borough president names one.

Mr. Bloomberg’s allies were reaching out to borough presidents on Tuesday in hopes of earning their support. The Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, and the Staten Island borough president, James P. Molinaro, have said they expected their appointees to be philosophically in tune with the mayor and to support the ideals of mayoral control. Mr. Stringer said he would appoint his legal counsel, Jimmy Yan, to the board on an interim basis as he conducted a search for a permanent member, if one was needed.

“Maintaining the system has got to become paramount, not political expediency, not political gamesmanship,” Mr. Stringer said. “You can’t let education issues be driven by the courts.”

Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president, said he expected his appointee, the former Hostos Community College president Dolores Fernandez, to challenge the idea of retaining the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, and he said she might seek to overturn the mayor’s policies.

“Whether it’s existing policy or future policy,” he said, “you can anticipate that will be challenged.”

Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, said he planned to appoint his chief of staff, Carlo A. Scissura. Mr. Stringer and Mr. Markowitz called for an immediate meeting of the reconstituted Board of Education on Wednesday.

Under the old system, 32 neighborhood school boards were responsible for overseeing middle and high schools in their districts and for hiring superintendents. Since Mr. Bloomberg took control in 2002, those boards have been turned into parent councils and stripped of their power. The chancellor now appoints superintendents.

Mr. Bloomberg said there was no clear way to resurrect the old system when summer school is beginning and schools are contemplating staffing and curricular options.

“Every decision, from personnel decisions to policy decisions, will be subject to litigation and uncertainty,” he said. He added that he would try to keep Mr. Klein, the man he appointed chancellor, in office, because Mr. Klein is under contract. The mayor’s staff has also considered going to court to seek an extension of mayoral control until Albany votes on the matter.

As the prospects of Senate action dimmed on Tuesday, supporters of mayoral control — including the City University of New York, Harlem community groups and charter schools — flooded reporters’ inboxes with statements of support.

The crisis in the chamber showed few signs of resolution.

The Assembly passed a bill in June that retains the core elements of mayoral control but adds several limits on the mayor’s authority, like curbing his ability to close schools and approve contracts.

Many Senate Democrats, however, have made clear their intention to challenge the bill and push for more parental input in education decision-making. While the Assembly’s bill most likely has enough support from Republicans and Democrats to pass, it faces the obstacle of Senator John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, the Democrats’ new leader and a critic of mayoral control, who could prevent it from being debated.

In a statement, Mr. Sampson said Democrats “have real concerns which should be discussed and addressed before passage of this legislation.”

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