Albany lawmakers fail to agree on mayoral control but urged to reconvene

The state legislature ends its session tonight and the decision for mayoral control of public schools is down to the wire.
Courtesy of Mayor’s office
By Naeisha Rose

The state Legislature ended its annual session without reaching an agreement to extend Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of the city school system late Wednesday. There were rumblings of requests for a special session Thursday morning, but lawmakers have not reconvened to reconsider the measure before it expires in eight days, according to state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) office.

“In May, the Assembly passed legislation to extend mayoral control in New York City as well as local taxes in municipalities across the state,” Heastie said. “It remains our desire not to return as we are very comfortable with the bill that we passed. However, if the governor and/or the Senate is asking us to engage, we would be derelict in our duties not to consider those requests. With that being said, there is no plan to return.”

The mayor’s office wants a different result.

“We’re hopeful that the state Legislature will come back together to pass mayoral control for the 1.1 million schoolchildren who depend on it,” said Freddi Goldstein, the mayor’s deputy press secretary.

State Senator Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) was disappointed by the news.

“It’s unacceptable that mayoral control has been handled with such brazen political motivations by the Senate Majority—and frankly, putting public schoolchildren and parents in such situational uncertainty is unconscionable,” Comrie said. “We will stay the course, maintain our focus and remain committed to getting a long-term deal done that provides certainty, stability and a foundation of excellence for all of our children.”

At issue was whether to renew de Blasio’s tenure as head of the nation’s largest school system even though the key political players seemed to agree he should be given control. The state Senate Republicans were linking mayor control to increasing the number of charter schools in the city, while the Democrats in the Assembly favored a two-year extension. The governor was pushing for a three-year extension for de Blasio, his sparring partner on many city issues.

The legislative session was due to end at midnight Wednesday, so the pressure was on Albany to come up with an accord.

De Blasio was at City Hall Monday asking the officials who want him to reduce the cap on charter schools to put aside their politics before his control expires on July 1.

He identified the officials as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Senate and members of the Independent Democratic Conference who have been caucusing with Republicans.

Without mayoral control, public schools would revert back to being run by 32 different school districts, which often had “32 sets of priorities,” de Blasio said.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg won control of the city’s schools from the state back in 2002. He was given two long periods of mayoral control during his 12-year tenure.

De Blasio has faced hostility and only been given one-year designations during his first three years in office despite making some clear improvements in the city school system.

The mayor had to release a school-by-school budget plan for the more than 1,600 schools in the five boroughs to have his extension even considered and he released it through the city DOE website.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-Smithtown), the Senate majority leader, then released three bills in May that would extend mayoral control with the mandate that the mayor agree to loosen restrictions for charter schools and tax credits for private donors and corporations that invest in “scholarships, education funds and home-based instructional materials.”

The mayor refused to negotiate because that would cost the city money, according to his office.

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island), who is running for mayor, made a second request Tuesday for an investigation into education spending.

“The city of New York must comply with this requirement outlining how it spends the $9 billion in taxpayer money allocated by the state, and they haven’t done so,” Malliotakis said. “Examination is also needed of the city’s Schools Renewal program that has pumped hundreds of millions in tax dollars into failing schools and issued $40 million in contracts to high-priced consultants without results.”

Despite having little faith in de Blasio’s leadership, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) is putting aside politics for the interests of New York City.

“The crisis surrounding mayoral control of public schools is entirely his own making, given his fractured relationship with Gov. Cuomo and members of both parties in the state Assembly and Senate,” said Ulrich, who was at the Monday rally. “While I certainly hope mayoral control is extended for the sake of our children, I also hope that New Yorkers remember how we got into this mess in the first place.”

Ulrich, however, still holds out hope for charter schools and believes that parents should have choices in what schools they want to send their kids.

“I have always been a proud supporter of charter schools because I believe that families deserve education options, “ Ulrich said. “With so many failing schools in New York City, we should embrace charter schools, which foster competition and innovation.”

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), a member of the Education Committee and the IDC, also supports mayoral control.

“It is time we pass a two-year extender,” Peralta said. “Let’s stop playing politics and do what is right for the more than one million schoolchildren in the city.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a parent of a preschooler, supports the mayor, but also wants to keep the DOE accountable.

Both Stringer and the mayor fear that without mayoral control, New York City taxpayers will face a projected cost of “$1.6 billion more over the next 10 years” for the reconstitution of local school boards, which had unqualified administrative staff and redundancy, the mayor said.

Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) also is in favor of extending mayoral control.

“With the reduced number of absenteeism, increased graduation rates, while adding programs for literacy and expanding AP classes, the city is clearly implementing the right policies that ensures our young scholars have the knowledge they will need to succeed,” Miller said. “We need to keep this progress going and give Mayor de Blasio the ability to do so by extending school control.”

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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