Next Battle in the War Over School Reform
The sniping has
begun. Both sides are rolling out their think tanks and their
big guns. Coalitions are forming. The next war in the Middle East?
No, the next battle in the war over control of New York City’s
public schools. You thought that war was over—that Mayor Bloomberg
won when he got the New York State Legislature to give him control
of the schools. Hardly. What the lords have given, the lords can
Last year, the
Mayor succeeded in persuading the State Legislature to eliminate
the Board of Education and make the schools into a mayoralty agency.
The support of the UFT was crucial in gaining the necessary votes
in Albany. The UFT went along because the Mayor would not grant
them the contract they needed to bring home to their rank-and-file
(with significant salary increases) unless the UFT supported his
takeover. This resulted in a temporary truce between the Union
and the Mayor. Inevitably that truce was doomed to end when the
new contract negotiation started, and, when the pressure of a
huge budget deficit required layoffs and Union givebacks.
But that is only
the tip of the iceberg. No one believed the Mayor was really going
to take charge so completely, that he was going to shake up the
system so thoroughly. When Bloomberg announced his reorganization
plan everything changed. Local school boürds were relieved of
authority—soon to be superseded by ten instructional districts.
District Superintendents would either be moved up or phased out
at the will of the Schools Chancellor. Administrative staffs were
downsized. Curriculum changes were to be instituted and plans
for restructuring the Special Education program announced. Long
entrenched bureaucracies were threatened, jobs were at stake.
The new organization deprived the State Legislators and the City
Council Members of influence over local education policy, and
even worse, eliminated political patronage jobs at the local school
boards. The members of the local school boards were largely silenced,
and the opportunity for local politicians to use these boards
as power bases gone.
So now the next
battle of the war begins. Will the Mayor succeed in consolidating
his gains? Will the local politicians, allied with the teachers
and supervisors unions, regain control? You won’t see this war
on CNN, but it will be just as hard fought as the War in Iraq.
And, as usual, the real danger is to the children and their parents.
In the long run the battle will be for public support, and the
public will have to choose sides. I don’t know whether the mayor’s
reorganization will work, but it’s worth a try. I do know that
a return to the status quo would be a disaster. The mayor’s plans
need some revision. He needs to provide greater mechanism for
dissent and the opportunity for real parental input. He needs
to offer transparency to the City Council so they can exercise
some oversight. With these exceptions, I support the Mayor’s reorganization
If Mayor Bloomberg
hasn’t learned yet that being the CEO of New York City is a lot
different from being the CEO of a large corporation he is about
to receive an education. The budget will be held as ransom. Whispering
campaigns will begin about senior stýff members. Demonstrations
will be organized. The Mayor will have to show that he can be
as tough as his opponents and that he cares enough about the schools
to risk his political career. If it wasn’t for the collateral
damage this battle might be worth watching. #
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