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New York City
April 2002

An Education System that NYC Deserves
By Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The question of how to arrive at the most effective and optimal form of school governance has vexed educational and political leaders for over a century. Since the consolidation of the five separate boroughs into one unified city and one unified school system in 1898, there have been nine different constructs established to operate the public school system.

Today we are engaged in a vigorous debate as to what structure of education decision-making will help insure a quality education system for our schools and the 1.1 million students they serve in the 21st Century.

I believe that any new structure must include the following principles: a central board of education that deals with important policy but not micro-management; a Chancellor with the authority to make day-to-day education decisions and implement policy; a Mayor that has appropriate influence over the selection both of members of the central board and of the Chancellor; meaningful parental involvement in the local schools and local school districts and public input into the development of important education policy; and financial resources to make our school system competitive with surrounding suburban school districts, which currently fund public education at a rate about 50 percent higher than New York City.

The continuation of a central board, in some form, is essential. This is true not only because every city and every school district in the United States has a central board, but also because policy decisions for public education should not be made in secret and must allow for public and parental input. Running a public school system simply is not the same as administering the Sanitation Department, or City parks, for example.

And how schools educate the children of this city is a vital concern to parents, and parents, therefore, must have a voice in that process.

Any Mayor of this city must have an appropriate level of influence and accountability for public education policy and academic outcomes, but in a democracy we allow for other voices to be heard and an avenue for dissent. The Mayor must have the ability to shape the Board of Education and to have a leading role in the selection of a Chancellor. But no Mayor should have—or needs—exclusive or dictatorial powers over education policy to the exclusion of the public or parents.

A Chancellor must also have clear and unequivocal powers to run the day-to-day operations of the sprawling system. Neither the central board nor the Mayor’s office should be involved in micro-management. That should be the job of qualified administrators with no political ax to grind.

If we are wise enough to devise a new paradigm for public education governance but we continue to under-fund the system, improved academic results will elude us and our children will lose out. If public education is our No. 1 priority, as it should be, we must insure that we do not continue to lag behind other districts in the money invested. Currently NYC pays its teachers 30 percent less than nearby suburban districts. We have class sizes 30 percent larger in the elementary schools. We have hundred-year-old overcrowded school buildings that are not equipped with technology of the 21st Century. To remedy these problems and meet the State’s higher learning standards will require a greater investment on the part of the City. Otherwise all our well-intentioned and thoughtful governance reforms will falter.

During the next few weeks I will be devoting every effort to provide the necessary reforms to insure that NYC reclaims its place as the city with the finest public school system in the nation. This can most certainly be accomplished if we have a sincere desire to arrive at a consensus and if we commit to the investment of ample levels of resources by both the State and the City. This is a framework for accountability that will show up where it matters: in every classroom.#

Assemblyman Sanders is Chairman of the NYS Assembly’s Education Committee. You can contact him either at (212) 979-9696 or at sanders@assembly.state.ny.us.


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