New York City

Understanding mayoral control

State lawmakers are expected to address mayoral control of New York City schools before the end of session after it was excluded from this year’s state budget.

Eric Adams at  Bayside High School in Queens.

Eric Adams at Bayside High School in Queens. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is continuing his bid for a four-year extension of his control over the city’s public school system after the state legislature opted against including the policy in this year’s budget. “We have another half of this session, and I’m hoping the lawmakers will continue to look at these important things. And the last one is crucial to me is mayoral control. This is the first time we have an African American mayor, an African American chancellor, both are public school-educated,” Adams said in a recent radio appearance on WBLS “Open Line.” Gov. Kathy Hochul previously expressed her support for the extension of mayoral control in her own executive budget proposal, but neither the Senate nor the Assembly addressed the measure in their one-house budgets. As lawmakers prepare to take up the issue before the legislative session ends on June 2, here’s a quick explainer on the history of mayoral control of schools.  

WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS ANYWAY?

How the mayor gained control of the schools

In 2002, newly elected Mayor Michael Bloomberg was granted mayoral control of the city’s schools after making it a central issue to his campaign. This gave Bloomberg the power to appoint the city’s schools chancellor and a majority of the members to the Panel for Educational Policy, which runs the city Department of Education. The mayor isn’t guaranteed control over the school system in perpetuity. It’s up to the state legislature to renew the mayor’s authority every year or two, and it’s set to expire again in 2022.

Bloomberg wanted control because he believed the schools were being mismanaged. Upon gaining control, Bloomberg closed struggling schools(and opened new and smaller schools in their place), created more charter schools and instituted merit pay for teachers. Bloomberg said these changes led to higher graduation rates and higher test scores. However, some critics questioned whether the city’s measurement of those achievements were accurate. At the time, many were unsure of how Bloomberg would do with the city’s schools, but he proceeded to assert a strong sense of accountability over the city’s education system. For example, Bloomberg made school data public, including report cards, test scores and teacher evaluations.

Before the state legislature granted the city mayoral control, the city’s schools were run by 32 community school boards and the Board of Education, which crafted education policies and selected the schools chancellor. Members of community school boards were elected, and prior to 1996, they each appointed a superintendent for their district. Corruption, on both the financial and political level, was rife in many community school boards, which led to the state legislature to limit the Board of Education’s power in 1996 and ultimately led to the system’s demise. While the Board of Education was in charge, the mayor mainly controlled the school system’s budget and union contracts.

New York City has been granted mayoral control of the city’s school system since 2002, which means that the mayor has the power to appoint the city’s schools chancellor and a majority of the Board of Education, known as the Panel for Educational Policy. The mayor isn’t guaranteed mayoral control over the school system in perpetuity. It’s up to the state legislature to renew the mayor’s authority every year or two and it’s expected to expire on June 30.

POWER PLAYERS

Who really controls the city’s public schools

  • New York City Mayor Eric Adams: As mayor, Adams appoints the schools chancellor and nine of the 15 members to the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which governs the city Department of Education and is imbued with power by the state.
  • Schools Chancellor David Banks: In his role, Banks acts as the chief executive officer and superintendent of the city Department of Education, which means he’s responsible forleading the department and implementing its educational policies.
  • Panel for Education Policy: The city’s education oversight panel has 15 appointed members, including the chancellor, that advises the department on all matters tied to the city schools and its students’ welfare, similar to how the city’s old Board of Education once functioned.
  • The state legislature: State lawmakers ultimately decide whether or not the city’s mayor can continue to have mayoral control.
  • Community Education Councils: Each of the city’s school districts has its own Community Education Council and there are four citywide councils. Nine of the 11 officers on each board are voted in by city residents and two by the borough presidents every two years and are responsible for holding monthly meetings so that community members can discuss their concerns or ask questions. These councils also provide recommendations to the Panel for Education Policy.

PRO/CON

The arguments for and against mayoral control of schools

Legislators, education advocates, teachers and parents have been questioning the effectiveness of mayoral control for years now and have yet to reach a general consensus on its value to the city’s education system.

More centralized control of the education system allows the city to set broad standards that it says have contributed to higher graduation rates, greater college attendance, new schools and methods of teaching, and better relationships between schools and the communities they serve. Mayoral control has taken power away from all the little fiefdoms that had been rife with corruption, but its centralization has significantly reduced the influence of different communities throughout the city. Many parent leaders, in particular, feel they have been squeezed out of making a meaningful impact on their schools in recent years due to their reduced role in this (relatively) new system.

Mayoral control faced even more scrutiny under former Mayor Bill de Blasio due to some of his controversial educational policies, including spending nearly $800 million to save some of the city’s most underperforming schools that showed mixed results, and his controversial attempt to diversify the city’s specialized high schools. And then there’s his mismanagement of school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. These criticisms are important to take note of, as they are likely to factor into whether or not the state legislature will continue to renew mayoral control, or if it will attempt to overhaul how the city’s schools are managed.

Adams has tied mayoral control to the city’s ability to get students back in classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the implementation of universal Pre-K.

State lawmakers said they made a concerted effort to keep policy decisions out of this year’s budgetary process, and that included mayoral control. Parents groups have also called on the legislature to examine increasing the number of students and parents on the city’s PEP as they weigh the extension of mayoral control this year.

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