Education is not a Private Corporation
Bloomberg and Klein Must
Accept Debate and Dialogue and Adhere to State Law
In late April,
I chaired an important oversight hearing of the Assembly Education
Committee to review how Chancellor Klein and City Hall are doing
now that the first school year under the new governance system
is drawing to a close. There is widespread concern and dismay
from many corners of the education community about some actions
of the Chancellor, who of course acts as the appointee of the
Chief among these
is the virtual evisceration of the 32 community school districts
and their absorption into 10 gigantic regions, as well as the
rendering of the new Board of Education (arbitrarily renamed the
“Panel on Educational Policy”) as nothing more than a silhouette,
its members barely consulted, participating in little or no debate,
and summoned to news conferences almost as props.
I was the sponsor
of the law that granted the Mayor substantial—but not absolute—control
over the City schools. My legislation also abolishes community
school boards, though what parent- and community-based entities
they will be replaced with has yet to be determined by the Legislature.
While this major overhaul of school governance—the biggest since
decentralization over 30 years ago—does provide for the end of
the existing school boards, the law does not in any way
abolish school districts.
Some of our existing
local community school districts are already larger than school
districts in over 99 percent of the country. They cannot be made
so large that parents have no points of entry, no reasonable access
to an accountable local superintendent. The districts are not
supposed to be mayoral fiefdoms. Effectively tripling the
size of school districts renders the local center of power entirely
inaccessible. Schools can’t be franchise outlets, with corporate
headquarters miles and miles away.
In fact, when
I negotiated Mayoral control with the Bloomberg administration
last year, there was never any discussion of eliminating the districts
(as opposed to the local school boards.)
can do almost anything they want in managing and supervising district
superintendents. They can have regional superintendents oversee
the performance of the district superintendents. They can have
superintendents report to whomever they choose. But State law
requires a superintendent for each school district, a superintendent
whose jurisdiction is solely that one school district, not three
or even four districts.
If the Mayor wants
school districts abolished, or their lines changed, then he must
ask the Legislature for such changes. Whatever may be said, good
or bad about our governance reform, one fact that is not rationally
disputable is that the Legislature certainly did not grant the
Mayor or the Chancellor absolute authority to do absolutely anything
and everything they choose, by edict, or in violation of State
newly modeled citywide Board of Education has the legal authority—and
obligation—to discuss, consider and vote on important policy
matters. The legislative intent was to maintain public debate
and awareness about important educational policy. What is wrong
is for the Mayor to, once again, ignore or evade State law and
pretend that the “Board”—or “Panel”—has no role.
The City Department
of Education (itself another fiction, actually—under State law
it remains the Board of Education, a State-created entity) has
no legal authority to merely dictate every structural change,
however radical, with the public totally locked out, even of an
opportunity to comment.
I, along with
my colleagues, share the hope that Chancellor Klein will succeed
in professionalizing our public school system to give each student
the best possible education, to bring New York City’s schools
up to a level of excellence across the board.#
Sanders is chairman of the NYS Assembly Education Committee. You
can contact him at 201 East 16th Street, New York,
NY 10003 (e-mail: email@example.com; tel.: (212) 979-9696).
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