What happens when mayoral control expires: a step-by-step guide

In the past week, we have interviewed dozens of people and undertaken headache-inducing reviews of state education law.

That reporting informs the following guide to what will happen if — or, as seems increasingly likely, when — the 2002 mayoral control law expires tonight at midnight:

1. The borough presidents and the mayor would convene a new city Board of Education. The current law says that, starting June 30, 2009 (which technically is today),

The board of education of the city school district of the city of New York is hereby continued. Such board of education shall consist of seven members, a member to be appointed by each borough president of the city of New York and two by the mayor.

One borough president has already appointed his member; others say their appointments are on the way. But it’s not entirely clear that Mayor Bloomberg will go along with creating a new Board of Education. If he does, he will appoint two members, too. If not, the governance structure of the city school could land in court.

2. The Board of Education members would elect a president among themselves and begin receiving salaries. State law requires that the president of the board be paid $20,000 a year and other members receive $15,000.

3. The Board of Education would select a chancellor. Chancellor Joel Klein’s contract, which is simply a letter from Mayor Bloomberg dated November 2002, would expire with mayoral control. Under the pre-2002 law,

The office of chancellor of the city district is hereby continued. It shall be filled by a person employed by the city board by contract for a term not to exceed by more than one year the term of office of the city board authorizing such contract, subject to removal for cause. The chancellor shall receive a salary to be fixed by the city board within the budgetary allocation therefor.

All but one borough president has suggested he or she would recommend keeping Klein, so it’s fair to assume that Klein would remain chancellor, should he accept the offer. He’d just have a new contract (and maybe a new salary).

4. The Board would figure out how to make money flow. Now and under the pre-2002 law, the Board of Education has final say over the city school system’s purse strings. But the simple act of letting mayoral control expire would alter the school budget, and so a reconstituted Board of Education could end up having to approve a new budget for next year.

The board could also decide that it wanted to re-approve — or revise — the current school budget. It would also have to make sure to approve (or vote down) any looming contracts.

Bloomberg administration officials argue that a system vaulted back to the pre-2002 law would cost more money to operate. They estimate the costs of running the community school districts as they used to function is $340 million. Some of that is currently covered in superintendent salaries, which constitute about $5 million of the city budget right now, not including benefits. But other parts are not.

The $110,000 in salaries for Board of Education members would also be an added cost; members of the current Board of Education, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, do not receive salaries.

Other sources said that costs would be minimal. They said there’s no reason the community superintendents could not continue to exist on their current budgets. The 2002 law did not get rid of the community school districts, and it listed much of the same responsibilities for superintendents as had existed before 2002. (In practice, the Bloomberg administration assigned superintendents other roles.)

5. Community school boards would form. According to the old law, elections for school board members cannot be held until May of 2010. There are several ways to jump-start community school boards sooner. In one scenario, the chancellor would appoint interim members, known as trustees, to take the place of the 32 school boards that existed up until 2003. This was routinely done before mayoral control when school boards had vacant seats or were deemed dysfunctional.

Department of Education officials interpret the law differently. In a memo outlining what will happen if mayoral control expires, officials said that the chancellor cannot name trustees unless a board member has violated a law. A school official also pointed out that the concept of trustees seems to be absent from the state education law.

Another scenario would have the DOE go to court to get a ruling permitting the Community Education Councils to function as the school boards once did.

The school boards become even thornier if elections are held. In an e-mail to a parent today, obtained by GothamSchools, the executive director of the city’s Board of Elections, Marcus Cederqvist, said that the Department of Justice might have to give a “pre-clearance” before elections could occur. DOJ requires pre-clearances for changes in election procedures.

6. District superintendents would be appointed. The city currently has 32 community superintendents, but under the pre-2002 law, the superintendents would have to hold a contract with the community school boards.

The Department of Education has argued that the impossibility of convening school boards would make community superintendents unlawful. But others familiar with the pre-2002 situation said that superintendents could easily be re-appointed.

They said this could happen in one of two ways. Either the community school boards would select superintendents — likely the ones already in place — or the chancellor could go over the head of the boards and appoint superintendents himself.

These superintendents would have hiring and firing power and would oversee the opening of summer school tomorrow.