Keep mayoral control, but with modifications

Too often, the current debate about continuing the mayor’s control of schools is talked about as if it were a referendum on two men: Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Both have been in charge of educating more than 1 million public school children since 2002, when Albany gave the mayor real but temporary authority of the system.

That authority is set to expire on June 30, and Albany legislators are discussing ways to adjust or dismantle the current system.

Some parents, education advocates and Community Board 1 have a litany of criticisms of the current system and say the problems justify taking away Bloomberg’s power. While we share some, but not all of those criticisms of the mayor and Klein, taking away their clear lines of authority would be a mistake. Giving parents a more meaningful voice and adding transparency to the system are the only changes that are needed.

Measuring school improvement is far from a science, but reading and math scores are up and the schools do seem better.

Parents of high schoolers should remember when Mayor Giuliani and the Board of Education frequently quarreled over schools chancellors and education policy. These City Hall fights began long before Giuliani. Each side always had an easy excuse: “It’s not my fault.”

The idea that you can separate politics or politicians from schools in New York is a fantasy. The difference is the public can now hold someone accountable.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has suggested some good ways to improve mayoral control. He would take the current Community Education Councils — free from the corruption that riddled many of the old school boards — and give them independence from the city Department of Education. Like the community boards, the councils would be trained and selected by the borough presidents and would have a formal role in commenting on proposed new policies and school zones. This role, in some ways similar to the “ULURP” land-use process, should help prevent the sudden education policy shifts we have seen too many times in recent years. Forcing D.O.E. officials to listen to knowledgeable parents and answer questions should go a long way toward improvement.

We are not convinced that five different borough presidents are the best people to oversee the community councils — the citywide-elected public advocate might be better — but regardless, giving the C.E.C.’s independence and more power makes sense.

State Senator Daniel Squadron, one of the sponsors of Stringer’s proposal, favors making D.O.E. more like a city agency. The intent is to leave school policy in the hands of the mayor and chancellor, but give the City Council independent review and more say over contracting procedures.

We hope Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver resists the calls in the Assembly to make the chancellor answer to a board with fixed terms, because we have already had decades to see the problems that can create.

Silver, who has never hesitated to oppose Bloomberg, also wants to continue mayoral school control while empowering parents more and adding transparency. These ideas are on the right track and the Bloomberg administration is quietly signaling it can support these adjustments.

City officials have drawn the line in the right place. They appear ready to accept independent reviews and more transparency, but they’re saying no to anything that shifts accountability. If we can’t hold the mayor accountable when there are problems, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.