mayoral control clash

De Blasio skips Senate hearing, angering lawmakers with mayoral control on the line

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference to call for an extension of mayoral control.

In the ongoing tussle over school governance in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a compromise Wednesday — and said he was resting his case.

The mayor reduced his request from seven years of continued control to three, the amount the Democrat-controlled state Assembly voted in favor of this week. But he also announced on Wednesday that he would not attend the second scheduled mayoral control hearing on Thursday, backing out of a long-scheduled event and drawing the ire of Senate Republicans who will vote on any extension.

In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, de Blasio defended his education record alongside prominent New York City business leaders who urged state lawmakers to renew the mayoral control law. De Blasio also pointed out that he already sat for one lengthy Senate hearing on mayoral control earlier this month.

“I think to go to Albany and spend four hours answering any and all questions, literally every single question that was offered, I think that was a great show of respect and we covered the subject matter well,” he said.

Still, his decision to skip the second hearing immediately drew criticism from Senate Republicans, who stand in the way of a long-term extension and others who are wary of de Blasio’s education agenda.

The most powerful member of the state Senate, Majority Leader John Flanagan, sent out a swift response saying he is “extremely disappointed” by de Blasio’s decision. Flanagan, a Republican who formerly headed the Senate education committee, also criticized de Blasio when he did testify at a state hearing on the issue two weeks ago, calling his knowledge of city schools “disturbing.”

The current chair or the Senate education committee, Republican Carl Marcellino, was also “disappointed” that the mayor will not attend the second hearing, according to a statement from his office.

Several advocacy groups opposed to de Blasio’s education policies joined the fray Wednesday, and planned to rally outside Thursday’s hearing.

“Mayoral control was put in place to bring accountability to public education, not to allow City Hall to escape scrutiny,” said Jenny Sedlis, the executive director of StudentsFirstNY, a pro-charter school group that has frequently battled with de Blasio. “The mayor wants the authority without taking responsibility for his failed education record.”

Even de Blasio’s allies questioned his decision to miss the hearing.

Assembly Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan said she thinks is it “outrageous” that the Senate would expect him to testify again. Still, she said:“If I were the mayor, I would have went.”

De Blasio’s move ensures a bumpy ride over the next few weeks as the state legislature decides whether to extend mayoral control and, if so, for how long. The back-and-forth between de Blasio and state lawmakers has been underway since last year, when the mayor asked for a permanent extension of mayoral control and got one year instead.

People on both sides of the debate tend to agree that mayoral control is an improvement over the previous system of many local school boards, and that de Blasio is likely to get an extension. De Blasio often argues that mayoral control has allowed him to tackle big projects, like universal prekindergarten, and that it makes him accountable for progress in city schools.

However, his adversaries in Albany also realize signing off on a long-term extension would mean sacrificing a political bargaining chip.

The Assembly passed a bill on Tuesday extending mayoral control for three years. Over 100 business executives also signed a letter to lawmakers asking for a long-term extension, and many of those appeared with de Blasio at City Hall today.

“There is no justification for exposing more than a million students to the turmoil that would result from the expiration of a system that has served the city well,” the letter reads.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.