Politics

De Blasio faces little pushback at first mayoral control hearing

Photo by Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office.

In what felt like political déjà vu, Mayor Bill de Blasio returned to Albany to plead for continued control of city schools, encountering a slightly friendlier audience than he did last year.

De Blasio is fighting to oversee the school system after lawmakers gave him only a one-year extension of mayoral control in 2015. He faced a public test on Wednesday — his first mayoral control hearing in front of the Republican-controlled Senate this year — but survived the four-hour session with only a few contentious moments.

Some of the mayor’s critics even offered his administration praise.

“Chancellor Fariña is certainly an excellent advocate on your behalf, and on the schools’ behalf, and on the children’s behalf,” said Carl Marcellino, the powerful Republican chair of the education committee. “She does her job and she does it very well in my opinion.”

Getting into the good graces of Senate Republicans is de Blasio’s ticket to securing a longer extension of mayoral control. The Senate blocked a longer extension of the policy last year, crippling de Blasio’s hopes then of earning a permanent, or at least a three-year, extension of the policy.

Most observers believe that lawmakers extending mayoral control is inevitable, given the instability that would result from overhauling the governance of the country’s largest school system. But how long de Blasio will get is still up for debate, since a long-term extension would mean the Senate forgoing a political bargaining chip — and a chance to check in on de Blasio’s education agenda — over the next few years.

“I want to highlight the importance of this legislature not continuing to play the game of giving you one-year extensions,” said Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat from New York City. “There is no way to plan for a public school system for over a million children, not knowing from year to year to year whether or not your entire system is going to go into legal collapse every 12 months.”

On Wednesday, the mayor leaned on familiar arguments to make his case for a seven-year extension of the policy. De Blasio talked about his new slate of college-readiness policies, and argued that any other leadership structure would encourage corruption and create chaos.

“There is a broad understanding that this system has worked far better than the previous,” de Blasio said. “There’s also a broad understanding that there is no viable alternative.”

De Blasio still faced skepticism. Not every Senator praised the mayor, and some questioned him about how he handles failing schools.

The second public hearing is scheduled for the end of May in New York City. The legislature’s final decision will likely come at the end of the legislative session.

This article was first published on Chalkbeat New York on May 5.

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