De Blasio delegates mayoral control pitch to business leaders, education officials

Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spent just shy of six and a half minutes making the case for his continued control of the public school system Wednesday, then turned the pitch over to top education officials and city business leaders sitting beside him at City Hall.

De Blasio will use a similar strategy  at the Senate’s hearing Thursday and have city Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña testify in support of mayoral control of New York City schools. The mayor said he believes the testimony he gave at a previous Senate hearing on the matter was sufficient.

“To go to Albany and spend four hours answering any and all answers – literally every single question that was offered – I think that was a great show of respect and we covered the subject matter well,” de Blasio said, adding that he believed he had shared more information with the Legislature than his predecessor. “In the case of 2009, when it was renewed for six years, there was no hearing that Mayor Bloomberg was part of.”

Without action from the state government, de Blasio’s control over the public school system is scheduled to elapse in June. Last year, de Blasio sought permanent control over the city’s schools, but his plan was met with resistance from the governor and the GOP-controlled state Senate. He wound up with only a one-year extension of the school governance structure.

This year, de Blasio called for a seven-year extension, the same time frame granted to Bloomberg in 2002. For the second consecutive year, the Democratic-led Assembly pared down this request and passed legislation that would grant de Blasio – or anyone voted to succeed him – another three years of mayoral control.

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan missed the chamber’s first hearing on mayoral control earlier this month, but nonetheless said he was displeased with the responses de Blasio gave and called a second hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday.

At City Hall on Wednesday, de Blasio had several executives affiliated with the Partnership for New York City business consortium articulate the argument for mayoral control of city schools. The partnership’s co-chairman, Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman, said 100 CEOs affiliated with the group sent a letter to leaders in Albany urging them to grant the mayor control over city schools for at least another three years. Like all organizations, he said, school systems need stability and the ability to work on multi-year initiatives, which could be curtailed by another single-year extension.

Richard Beattie of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, senior chairman of the partnership, noted that he spent about a year on the Board of Education that existed before control of schools was centralized under the mayor. Beattie said coming to a consensus was difficult for the old board, which included two mayoral appointees and five members selected by borough presidents. Before 2002, the Board of Education made pedagogical decisions and oversaw high schools, while local school boards oversaw administration and budgets for elementary and middle schools.

“It was the worst governance structure one could imagine,” Beattie said. “I resigned after about 12 months in absolute frustration. And by the way, it was not unusual in those days to have the mayor make one announcement about education and have the chancellor make another announcement the next day, 180 degrees different.”

Beattie and Fariña said it was difficult to secure multi-year grants and recruit employees without the security of knowing the mayor would have sufficient time to advance one set of priorities.

De Blasio described the old Board of Education system as rife with corruption and argued that a decentralized approach did less to ensure that students receive a comparable education regardless of where they lived. But above all, he said, no one has come up with a viable alternative.

“Someone show me an alternative to the system we have now of mayoral control of education,” de Blasio said. “I have not heard a single person say – Democrat or Republican – say, ‘I have a better idea.’ So why don’t we ratify the thing that’s working and get back to work on helping our kids?”

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