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New York City
July 2002

A New Era for City Schools
By Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The new school governance law, which Speaker Silver and I spearheaded in negotiations with the Mayor and his top aides, will dramatically restructure the way the school system operates, and I believe it will prove to be a huge victory for the children and the future for our school system.

As Chairman of the Education Committee,
I worked intensively to negotiate the deal with the Bloomberg administration to make the new law possible. We won a tremendous–—and very important victory—by requiring in law that the Mayor, who will now have central but not total control of the schools by way of appointing
the Chancellor and naming a majority of members to a newly configured Board of Education (BOE) will be legally bound to sustain, if not increase, the City’s appropriation for the Board of Education from one year to the next.

Also, I applaud the Mayor for dropping his insistence that he be granted absolute control of the schools and that there no longer be any form of central board. What we have achieved, in a sense, is the best of both worlds: accountability plus continued public debate with parental input. It was never acceptable to the Assembly majority that the Mayor—any Mayor—should be given absolute autonomy over education policy with no vigorous public debate. This legislation ensures that decisions will be made openly and in a manner that includes the public and the voices of parents and the community.

Under provisions of the legislation, the Mayor will have sole power to appoint the Schools Chancellor, who will head a 13-member BOE, as well as sole power to appoint seven other members of the board. The remaining board members, appointed by the borough presidents, must be parents of children currently in public school in New York City.

This is unprecedented. Never before were there any qualifications at all for any members of the BOE, but now at least five —all of the appointees of the borough presidents—must be parents, ensuring that the parents’ voice will be represented in each and every policy decision made by the Board.

District superintendents will be appointed
by the Chancellor. The board will no longer have a role in day-to-day management decisions but will approve the school system’s budget, capital spending plan and citywide educational policies and standards. The Mayor will also have sole control of the School Construction Authority.

The plan will eliminate the city’s 32 community school boards on June 30, 2003, and the Legislature will hold public hearings in each borough in the fall to get the input of parents and communities to ensure their involvement and participation in the development of a new governance system at the community level. That process is expected to lead to further legislation creating some form of local or borough-wide entities that will effectively replace the school boards. The school governance plan
also stipulates that the City may not reduce its contribution to the education budget from one year to the next, except if City revenues decline, which has happened only once in the past 25 years. Even then, if the revenue to NYC from all sources combined drops— excluding State and federal aid—any year-to-year budget reduction of City funding for the Board of Education would have to be proportional to that drop. So a one percent drop in City revenue could be followed by no more than a one percent cut in City funding for public schools.

No Mayor will ever again be able to balance the City’s books on the backs of our schoolchildren or respond to a dramatic rise in State aid to education by actually cutting the City’s contribution. The Assembly Majority has long been dedicated to ensuring that every child in our state receives a quality education, and we recognize that achieving this goal requires resources as well as partnerships with educators, parents and other community members. We have been successful in our efforts to create a new structure for New York City school governance that incorporates these principles.

Finally, because history has shown that it is essential that we have a chance to review results of sweeping governance changes, the new law “sunsets” after seven years, when we’ll have the option to renew it or make adjustments. We’ll see what will have worked with Mayoral accountability and what may need to be improved.

With the governance debate over and a new contract in place between the City and the teachers, it’s time to put the focus back on the classroom. All in all, I am confident that what we’ve achieved will—over time—make a difference there, where it really counts.#

Assemblyman Sanders is Chairman of the Education Committee. You can contact him at sanders@assembly.state.ny.us or by mail to 201 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003.


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