When mayoral control of the schools was up for renewal three years ago, we supported it, but with some reforms. Like a majority of state lawmakers, we did not back one significant change that some sought: a change to the composition of the Panel for Educational Policy that would have taken away the mayor’s majority.
We argued that his control of eight of the PEP’s 13 members was the heart of mayoral control, that it was the very lever by which it was exercised. This made sense because, after all, mayoral control means “control.”
Events since the renewal of mayoral control have, however, changed our mind. We now believe that while the school system must ultimately answer to the mayor — just like other executive agencies from the Police Department to the Environmental Control Board —a stronger, more independent legislative body is necessary to provide the checks and balances at the core of all American systems of government, from the tiniest village on Long Island to Washington DC.
As state Sen. Shirley Huntley of Jamaica says of the PEP’s eight mayoral appointees, “They all just fall in line with what he wants. The mayor cannot have that kind of power.”
Too much power concentrated in the hands of one individual, however intelligent and well-meaning, is indeed inherently dangerous.
Look at the chaos caused this year by Bloomberg’s insistence on shutting another 26 schools, eight of them in Queens, and remaking and reopening them under new names. Week after week of angry protests. Teenagers who might be expected to be skeptical of authority figures declaring how much they appreciate their teachers. Letters from prominent members of the community (see the one by Marcia Maxim Comrie below) lamenting the expected loss of longstanding community institutions.
It’s all being done to help students who will benefit from smaller learning communities, better technology and the like. We know that. But despite its constant denials, we also know the Department of Education is removing vital resources from the students who are left in the schools it deems inferior. That is unfair, and an egregious move considering that what happens during their teenage years will shape the lives of those students forever.
Huntley supports a bill that would change the PEP in just the way we now think it needs to be changed. The problem is it has no chance of becoming law. We propose instead a joint city-state commission to study how the improvements that have been made under Bloomberg can be retained while the system is made more responsive to the community.
With the support of lawmakers, the panel would then propose detailed legislation that actually could be enacted, to provide for a better system for all students in all schools.