Faith, business leaders sign letters urging extension of mayoral control

Ahead of a rally at City Hall Thursday, more than 140 New York City faith, community, and business leaders signed separate letters asking state officials to extend mayoral control of public schools.

Both letters urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Carl Heastie to give the mayor reins over the school system for at least another three years.

“Our children can’t afford to return to the damaged system of past,” said the March 4 letter from the faith community, signed mostly by Christian and Islamic leaders across the city. “We implore you to pass a multi-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools and let our schools, our communities and our city continue to move forward.”

An initial copy of the letter didn’t include any signatories who were rabbis, though one was later added along with a representative from a synagogue in Flushing. An official from the education department said it is continuing to gather names of supporters.

The mayor and Chancellor Richard Carranza have briefed faith and community leaders about accountability and how schools have fared under mayoral control, an education official said. City officials then drafted the letter and identified “key important faith leaders” across the city to sign it. Some of the signatories will rally in Albany and on Thursday at City Hall with de Blasio and Carranza to show their support.

“Our faith leaders know that mayoral control is moving our school system forward and delivering for students, parents, and communities,” said Will Mantell, spokesman for the city education department, in a statement. “We’re excited to have their support as we advocate for an extension of mayoral control.”

The department did not say whether anyone declined to sign the letter. Faith leaders sent a similar kind of letter to state lawmakers in 2017, a department official said, when mayoral control was last up for consideration. 

Separately, a  letter organized by the Partnership for New York City, a business group that does lobbying, policy, and advocacy work, was issued Thursday morning and signed by more than 100 representatives from major businesses, including the presidents and CEOs of Viacom, Inc., Lyft, and Pfizer, Inc. The Partnership’s president and CEO Kathryn Wylde will also attend the rally at City Hall on Thursday.

“A quality education is the key to unlocking economic opportunity for the city’s residents,” the Partnership letter said. “Mayoral accountability for management of the system is essential to achieving that objective.”

Mayoral control depends on approval from state lawmakers, who have in the past only granted de Blasio one or two-year extensions, seen as retribution from Senate Republicans for the mayor’s attempts to unseat them.

Now Democrats control both houses, and no significant appetite exists to dismantle mayoral control and go back to the fractured school board system, which had its own set of political trade-offs. A three-year extension is among Cuomo’s legislative priorities.

But according to Sen. John Liu, a Democrat who chairs the Senate’s New York City education committee and prefers to call mayoral control “mayoral accountability,” there’s a desire among “very vocal advocates, as well as colleagues in both houses,” who want to see some changes in mayoral governance, such as how the chancellor is selected, how community education councils are formed, and how the Panel for Educational Policy is composed. The mayor appoints a majority of the Panel’s members.

Staten Island Republican Assemblyman Michael Reilly has announced plans for a bill that would install a series of changes to the Panel, such as giving one of the mayor’s appointments to the public advocate and preventing members from being removed “without just cause” so that they don’t face political backlash over a vote.

You can read both letters below.