Anyone who debates whether the mayor should control NYC’s school system probably does not know or remember what it was like before.
So for a moment, let’s remember. The nation’s largest public school system was once governed by a central board of education with enormous power in the hands of the few, combined with a series of ineffective and often corrupt community school boards that, while elected, lacked any willingness to address the system’s key problems. The system resulted in a lack of any accountability, no chain of command, and an inability to make tough decisions or significant change. It was a mess, and students suffered.
So, yes, mayoral control, which began in 2002, is a far superior model. And the State Legislature should renew mayoral control once again for a three-year period. That would last through the end of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s second term, into the start of the next mayor’s leadership.
A report card for the city school system under de Blasio would be a mixed bag. He gets good grades for universal pre-K — and now 3-K programs for 3-year-olds. His attempts to add computer science and Advanced Placement classes at more schools, and his desire to reform specialized high school admissions, also are worth applause. But de Blasio gets lower scores for his handling of failing schools, his general reluctance to embrace some best practices of charter schools, and his hesitancy to tackle the system’s biggest problems, like school segregation.
That’s exactly why it’s important for the State Legislature to review mayoral control of the school system, which carries a $32 billion annual budget, every few years, even though de Blasio in the past has advocated for it to be permanent. Every mayor will do the job differently, with successes and failures that require accountability.
A renewal of mayoral control shouldn’t come with unnecessary conditions. But it also must not lead de Blasio to become complacent. He must use his renewed power to address key issues, like parent involvement, special and gifted education, accessibility, and segregation.
And he must show that his leadership will benefit the 1.1 million schoolchildren who depend on it — and him.