pep rally (corrected)

Liu proposes fixed terms, public nominations for PEP members

Comptroller John Liu's report on the Panel for Educational Policy includes a proposal for a nominating committee.

The city’s school board, used as a rubber stamp for mayoral proposals since 2002, would gain independence under a plan put forward today by Comptroller John Liu.

The plan makes Liu the first of the likely candidates for mayor to propose specific changes to the board, known since 2002 as the Panel for Educational Policy. Any changes would require the approval of the state legislature, which is next set to consider New York City’s school governance in 2015, to become permanent, but a new mayor could take some of the steps immediately upon taking office.

Whether and how to reform the panel is one of the stickiest questions that mayoral candidates face on education.

On the one hand, changing its structure would mean diminishing the mayor’s authority over the city’s schools. On the other, ceding some control would send a powerful signal that the new mayor intends to include parents and community members in decision-making about schools, something the Bloomberg administration has drawn fire for not doing.

Candidates have so far been closed-lipped about how they would handle the dilemma. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who formally announced his candidacy for mayor this week, said last April that the city should “not continue the status quo” but that he had not determined exactly how the panel should change.

Now, Liu — who has not yet formally declared his candidacy — has come down on the side of restructuring. Under his plan, the mayor would continue to pick eight of 13 panel members and each borough president would still appoint a public school parent — but many other features would change.

Instead of giving the mayor carte blanche to choose panel members, Liu would limit his or her picks — and those of the borough presidents — to people nominated by a selection committee made up of elected officials, community members, labor leaders, and educators. The committee would publicly screen candidates put forth by its members and the public and select two or three for each spot. Then the mayor would choose from the shortlisted options. Liu would not require the borough presidents to pick prescreened candidates, but they could.

Instead of serving at the will of the public official who appointed them, panel members would serve fixed four-year terms that could be ended only with “due cause.” Such a change would preclude a repeat of the “Monday Night Massacre,” when Bloomberg yanked panel members who said they would vote against his social promotion ban proposal in 2004.

And while the panel members currently serve on a volunteer basis and typically do not convene except at required monthly meetings, Liu would pay them a stipend and require them to sit on sub-committees focusing on different policy issues.

Finally, under Liu’s proposal, power to approve or reject the mayor’s pick for chancellor would move from the State Education Department to the panel, and chancellors would need to have “at least 10 years of successful experience as a public or private school educator.” Bloomberg received waivers from SED for each of his three chancellors because they did not meet a requirement that chancellors hold a superintendent’s license.

An architect of the original law giving control of the city schools to the mayor, former Assemblyman Steven Sanders, said he thought Liu was on the right track with some of his proposals but missed the mark on others.

“The notion that a mayor cannot find a qualified educator who is also a great administrator and innovator is simply absurd,” Sanders said, backing Liu’s proposal to require chancellors to have education experience. Sanders also said fixed terms would give panel members something he fought for and did not win in 2002: “some degree of independent thinking and oversight.”

But he said he thought Liu’s nominating process was not necessary. “Let the mayor appoint persons he likes and let the borough presidents do the same,” he said.

De Blasio and the other two Democratic candidates for mayor, City Council speaker Christine Quinn and former comptroller Bill Thompson, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Liu’s proposal or the structure of the PEP.

As comptroller, Liu is responsible for the city’s fiscal stewardship, and he released the report as part of a series in the “Beyond High School NYC” initiative, which aims to boost the number of city students who graduate from college and contribute to the city’s economy. A previous report in the series called for the city to spend $176 million a year on guidance counselors to help more students get into college.

Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately reflected some details of the comptroller’s proposal. It also said the changes would require legislative approval. In fact, a new mayor could make some of the proposed changes immediately.

Liu’s full report about the structure and responsibilities of the Panel for Educational Policy is below:

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:


The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.


In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news