So an article on NYC schools, a dialog with a mayoral candidate and a petition have all got me thinking.
First, the article was about a reauthorization in NY of a law that gave Mayor Michael Bloomberg control over NYC schools. Under this law, he has made sweeping changes, some good and some not working. Test scores have gone up.
From the article:
"The Legislature is scheduled to reauthorize the law this summer. It would do well to leave the heart of the statute — mayoral control — intact. But some legislators are rightly seeking more parental input, greater transparency and at least some checks on the mayor’s considerable powers.
In most cities with mayoral control, the mayors appoint all or a portion of a school board. They often do so in consultation with other branches of government. The board then chooses the top school official. In New York City, the mayor chooses both the schools’ chancellor and a supermajority of a board that serves at his pleasure."
So, Mayor Nickels and the candidate I had a talk with, Michael McGinn, both have talked about the mayor taking this kind of role. I mentioned to Mr. McGinn that Charlie has said he'd be for an appointed Board if the superintendent was elected. He laughed and said he hadn't thought of that. (By the way, I thought Mr. McGinn was a very thoughtful candidate. He said he knew that the mayor had no direct role over the schools but with the low graduation rates and high percentage of Seattle parents choosing private schools, it may be important for the mayor to take more of a role.)
With the NY law, Mayor Bloomberg gets to pick both leadership positions (or at least a majority on the Board). I personally would not like that. It makes it way too easy for a mayor to do a sub-par job on education but if he/she did well in other areas then it would be difficult to vote the sole person accountable to voters- the Mayor - out of office.
From the article:
"When challenged about his style, Mr. Bloomberg argues that people who don’t like his school policies can hold him accountable by not voting for him at election time. But that approach finds little sympathy with parents who say they’ve been shut out and caught off guard by decisions that affect their children’s lives right now.
Some lawmakers are seeking ways to guarantee greater access for parents and communities. In addition, other critics want a neutral agency like the Independent Budget Office to audit the city’s reporting on test scores, dropout rates and other important indicators of the system’s health."
Yes, parents who have been shut off of discussions and caught off guard by decisions that affect their children. Sound familiar? I'll have do research and see if there is a district in the U.S. that has found the middle ground for public input AND is still able to make the hard decisions. But it sounds like Mayor Bloomberg, in a huge effort to make better NYC schools, isn't putting much stock in listening to parents.
The petition issue is one that would elect some of our City Council at-large and some by district. The feeling is that the neighborhoods or regions of the city are not being heard. The Seattle Times weighed into against this idea in an editorial.
I'm not here to debate this issue about the City Council. But we have this oddity of having district primaries for the Board and then, voting on them city-wide in the general election. Many believe they have a "district" director and really that's not the case. So why do we vote this way?
Would it be better to have a majority representing regions and a minority representing the whole city? Would it be better to have the mayor appointing half the Board? Hmm.