Legislators object to including mayoral control in budget negotiations

State Sen. John Liu wants to wait to decide on mayoral control until after the state Education Department completes a review of the policy.

State Sen. John Liu, the chair of the Senate’s New York City Education Committee, sponsored the last bill extending mayoral control of city schools.

State Sen. John Liu, the chair of the Senate’s New York City Education Committee, sponsored the last bill extending mayoral control of city schools. NYS Senate Media Services

As Mayor Eric Adams looks for Albany to grant an extension of mayoral control of the New York City public school system, Gov. Kathy Hochul is supportive but progressive legislators may stand in his way – especially since the state Education Department has yet to complete a study of the effects of mayoral control of the school system.

The mayoral control law allows the New York City mayor to appoint both the chancellor of the city’s public schools and a majority of the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, which functions as New York City’s school board. The law, first passed by the state Legislature in 2002, was originally scheduled to expire in 2009 but has since been repeatedly extended. Most recently, the Legislature granted a two-year extension in 2022. Mayoral control is now set to expire on June 30, and Albany is once again faced with a decision about the future of school governance in New York City

On Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul included a four-year extension of mayoral control in her executive budget proposal. “I once again support New York City Mayor Eric Adams request to continue mayoral accountability for the school system for another four years, which has been granted to every mayor since the year 2002,” Hochul said during her budget remarks. 

In a press release, Adams called Hochul’s proposal for an extension a “ringing endorsement of the work our administration has done and continues to do to drive test scores and enrollment up.”

But Hochul’s proposal to include an extension of mayoral control in this year’s budget has attracted some opposition. State Sen. John Liu, the chair of the Senate’s New York City Education Committee and the sponsor of the 2022 bill to extend mayoral control, told City & State that the issue of mayoral control should not be a part of budget negotiations. “Mayoral control of New York City Public Schools has no impact on the state budget, nor is it affected by the state budget,” he said.

Overdue report

Liu believes that the state Legislature should wait to decide on whether to extend mayoral control until after the completion of the state Education Department’s “comprehensive review” and report on school governance in New York City. Liu’s 2022 mayoral control bill required the Education Department to undertake that review and submit the results to the state Legislature and the governor.

Liu said that the education department’s review “must inform” the legislature’s decision and that it was “shocking” to see the governor include the extension in the budget. “We are waiting for the State education department’s comprehensive study of school governance in major school systems around the country as well as a thorough review of experience under 20 years of mayoral control in New York City.” 

Liu’s 2022 bill set a due date of Dec. 1, 2023 for the state Education Department to complete the study and present its findings. But the department missed that deadline, which has since been extended to March 31, 2024. That’s just one day before the new state budget is due. 

An Education Department spokesperson blamed the delay on a lack of resources. “Last year's Enacted Budget did not provide sufficient funding for the State Education Department to conduct the required five hearings,” spokesperson JP O’Hare said, adding that the department “negotiated with the Legislature to submit the final report by March 31, 2024” and receive additional funding to support the study this fall.

So far, O’Hare said, the state Education Department has completed three of the five required public hearings and has contracted with the City University of New York to complete the review. The final two public hearings are scheduled to take place on Thursday in Manhattan and on Jan. 29 in Staten Island, and members of the public can sign up to testify.

Liu said that the Legislature will have “sufficient time” to incorporate the results of the study into their decision about extending mayoral control, since the study will be complete by March 31 and the current mayoral control law will not expire until June 30. “That comprehensive study should and must inform the weighted decision that we have to make with regard to school governance in New York City and whether mayoral control is the best system to operate under in the coming years, or do we consider another system, like many school districts around the country have in recent years,” Liu said.

Mayoral mismanagement

State Sen. Jabari Brisport, a socialist representing parts of Central Brooklyn and a member of the Senate’s New York City Education Committee, voted against the extension of mayoral control in 2022 and told City & State that he still opposes it. Brisport said that when he attended the state Education Department’s public hearing in Brooklyn, many members of the public showed up to voice concerns “ranging from losses of funding in the school system to class sizes.”

“These are two main things that should be concerns for all New Yorkers as we face a vote on mayoral control,” Brisport told City & State. “When you have a mayor that doesn’t want to fund schools, that doesn’t want to follow the law that is designed to make school classes better for children and teachers, how can that person be trusted to maintain governance of the nation’s largest school system?”

For his part, Liu said that any decision on mayoral control should be based on the results of the state Education Department’s review and “should transcend whoever happens to be the mayor currently and should transcend what’s currently happening with our schools.”

He acknowledged that, “as a practical matter,” some legislators will see Adams’ “failure to embrace class-size reduction” and “continued threats and acts of school budget reductions” as evidence against mayoral control, he said that it is important to take a broader view. 

“The issue of mayoral control, or school governance, should more be based on the experience that we now have of 20 years of mayoral control under three different mayors,” he said.

Too much power?

Some members of the education community and the state legislature are already fed up with the system, regardless of who the mayor is.

Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, a member of the city’s Panel for Education Policy who was not appointed by the mayor, said that under mayoral control, she does not think the panel is “balanced and/or democratic.”

“When you have thirteen appointees that are already the majority that are serving one constituency, which is the mayor, you drown out the voices of the other ten people that are on the panel,” Salas-Ramirez said. “The mayoral appointees will basically do what the mayor says, they’ve demonstrated to not be autonomous in those positions. If you are, City Hall has shown that you don’t get reappointed.”

The United Federation of Teachers, the influential union representing most public school teachers in the city, is also opposed to mayoral control of schools. The UFT website states that all three mayors who have been granted mayoral control over the public school system have “exercised their power over schools in arbitrary ways” and tended to “override the expertise of educators and ignore input from parents when it suits them.”

“It is simply not acceptable that one person has blanket authority over the country’s largest school system,” the UFT website states.

Opponents of mayoral control have questioned why New York City is the only school district in the state in which the mayor is given such direct control over the school system.

“We should consider alternatives. I think it’s worth looking back at democratically elected school boards,” Brisport said. “People forget that New York City is the outlier in having mayoral control. People express concerns about moving back to a system of more local control or democratically elected school boards, but that is the norm in most school districts across the nation.”

Brisport said we need to “call into question why a majority-minority school district like New York City has mayoral control when predominantly whiter districts have some form of elected school boards or more local governance across the state and the nation.”

Tom Sheppard, a member of the Panel for Educational Policy who was not appointed by the mayor, said he takes issue with the fact that New York City is the only school district in the state that has mayoral control, “including the Governor’s hometown in Buffalo.”

“With her proposal for a four-year extension of mayoral control, Governor Hochul has shown complete disregard or (lack of) respect for the voices of students, families, and educators who have already testified or who have yet to testify before the New York State Education Department’s mayoral control hearings to say overwhelmingly that mayoral control needs to end,” Sheppard said.