The New York state legislature has approved a deal to grant New York City two years of mayoral control over the city's schools, averting the return to the troubled Board of Education system that would have happened if mayoral control expired. The expiration deadline was tomorrow.
Early Thursday morning, the Assembly passed a bill that included an extension of mayoral control. Legislators had returned to Albany on Wednesday, summoned by Governor Cuomo after they ended their session last week without a decision on the school issue. The Senate approved the measure this afternoon.
"Mayoral control of New York City schools is critical to the futures of more than one million kids," Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. "Providing a two-year extension gives the system an important measure of stability that’s key to initiatives that have produced record achievement."
He continued, "Our state government’s action allows us to refocus our attention away from the political process and back to our classrooms, where it belongs."
At a press conference following the deal, Cuomo addressed the arguments by Republicans who stopped short of actually criticizing the mayoral control system, but criticized the mayor to justify their reluctance:
The question is not really, "Is the mayor’s performance optimum?" The question is, "What is the alternative" We don’t operate in the ideal, we operate in the real, right? It was mayoral control versus what? Versus the Board of Education? It’s no contest.
Assembly Democrats' gambit of tying mayoral control to routine tax extensions paid off this go-round. Since Mayor de Blasio took office, Senate Republicans have held his authority over city schools hostage, passing only one-year extensions and each time squeezing out regulatory concessions for the charter school industry in the process. The latest deal includes no goodies for charter operators.
A return to the borough-president-appointed school board system with elected community boards would have cost New York City over $100 million a year, according to the Mayor's Office.
Brought back to address the school crisis, lawmakers took the opportunity to put all manner of other pet issues on the table, using Wednesday's special session to add on a bailout for a central New York casino and racetrack, money for Adirondack road and well construction, and over $50 million for flood victims near Lake Ontario.
Cuomo also got approval for a measure close to his heart: naming the new Tappan Zee Bridge after his father, Mario Cuomo. Cuomo the Younger first introduced the renaming bill last Wednesday, late in the final day of the legislative session as legislators worked to hammer out more substantive issues. The Republican-and-rogue-Democrat-controlled Senate voted unanimously to approve the renaming that night, but the Assembly declined to put it up for a vote at the time.
Cuomo today explained the last minute introduction of the naming by saying, "You don’t need a lot of time. It’s kind of a yes or no question. I don’t think a lot of legislators would say, 'I need more time to go back and study the facts.' You either think it’s a good idea, or you don’t think it’s a good idea."
He also claimed that the Senate's approval was somehow remarkable, saying, "The Senate voted for it unanimously. I can’t remember the last time they did anything unanimously."
As Politico noted when Cuomo said something similar last week, 1,220 of the 1,927 bills that passed the Senate this year passed unanimously, including several immediately before and after the renaming legislation.
The legislature did not use the special session to do anything about the ongoing MTA emergency.
De Blasio is holding a press conference at 4 p.m.