The legislative session ended last night without a deal on mayoral control of New York City schools, meaning that unless lawmakers reconvene specifically to fix this, the city will revert to a fractured Board of Education system starting on June 30th.
The Democratic majority in the state Assembly had sought to take the management structure of the city's schools out of consideration, because Republicans have used the issue of mayoral control as a way to extract concessions for the charter school industry, by tying it to routine tax extensions. Senate Republicans, tacitly aided by a group of rogue Democrats who bucked the extender plan, played chicken with mayoral control, trying to link its approval to greater allowances for charter operators, even though no legislators have seriously argued for a return to the old Board of Ed system.
Speaking at a press conference last night shortly before the politicians called it quits in Albany, Mayor de Blasio said, "I say to you they should stay. I said lock them all in a room until they get it right. They have until midnight on June 30th. If they want to stay in Albany all the way to June 30th, God bless them, but get it done."
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who has no charter schools in his Long Island district but oversaw the effort to squeeze New York City to allow even more to open here, told reporters, "I believe in mayoral control. Are we there yet? No. If we need to come back to Albany we’ll come back."
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who engineered the attempt to break with the past two years of horse-trading, said his position is not up for discussion. “I have no intention of coming back," he told the Capitol press corps.
The city got its current system under Michael Bloomberg in 2002. It has saved the city money on staffing by centralizing the office structure, and while advocates would like to see tweaks to accomplish such things as increased community input, no one is arguing that the old way worked better.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, center right, and Governor Cuomo (Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)
"For New York City to be singled out because of mayoral control of city schools while everyone else is getting their local bill passed, it’s outrageous," said Dick Dadey, director of the good-government group Citizens Union, speaking at de Blasio's press event. He pointed to the nearly three dozen state legislators forced out of office for corruption since 2000 and said, "You can’t have faith in a process where so much of the decisions are not made based on the merits, but made on the political horse-trading that goes on."
In managing the school system, Bloomberg enjoyed autonomy the likes of which de Blasio hasn't seen, with six- and seven-year terms of uncontested mayoral control. Control did lapse for a little over a month in 2009, amid turmoil in the state Senate's leadership. During that period, officials scrambled to reconstitute the Board of Ed in a way that replicated the status quo, lobbying borough presidents to appoint officials from the Bloomberg administration to the board and re-pick then Chancellor Joel Klein as steward of the schools.
De Blasio argued that the current situation is not comparable, because the legislature is basically stable, and lawmakers have gone and driven off the cliff anyhow.
"You can say that’s going to be fine, I don’t argue that’s going to be fine." he said. "And is it going to get resolved in August like last time?[...]So here’s the problem, when you open up Pandora’s box you don’t know what happens next."
The Independent Democratic Conference and Governor Cuomo have both wanly said they support mayoral control while declining to fight alongside Heastie to dissociate the issue from bargaining over charter school regulation. State Republicans, the IDC, and Cuomo, have all reaped large campaign contributions from financiers and corporate bigwigs who support charter schools. There are currently over 200 charter schools in New York City.
In negotiations, Flanagan reportedly sought to raise the cap on the number of charter schools that can open in a given year, even though there are still around 23 charter schools left to open before the cap is reached. Senate Republicans managed to raise the cap by employing the same mayoral control brinksmanship in 2015, and loosened regulations for opening a charter school that year and in 2016, having given de Blasio only a year extension. Flanagan's spokesman, Scott Rief, noted to Gothamist that there are 50,000 students on charter school wait lists (the number is actually 44,000), saying that new schools will essentially be full from the moment they open.
"The need and the demand are great," Rief said. Again, Flanagan represents Suffolk County.