Lawmakers and interest groups are crafting plans to weaken or end mayoral control of the city's public schools once Mayor Bloomberg leaves office as voter support for shared power grows.
The City Council, the principals union, and the teachers union have all convened working groups charged with proposing what to do when City Hall's control expires in 2009. While saying no decision has been reached, some members of the working groups say they are inclined either to balance the mayor's control with independent oversight or squash it altogether. The opposition to mayoral control was seconded by a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday showing 51% of voters support balancing the mayor's power with an independent school board. As Mr. Bloomberg took over the schools in 2002, support for mayoral control was split, with 45% of voters approving and 43% opposing.
Supporters of mayoral control of the schools cautioned that polls should not dictate policy.
"You have to remember that 51% of New Yorkers thought the Yankees should have traded A-Rod last year," the executive director of the lobbying group Democrats for Education Reform, Joseph Williams, said. "Making tough decisions sometimes forces you to lose votes in the popularity contests, but it is part and parcel of mayoral control."
Mr. Williams challenged some of the opposition as coming from politicians who stand to gain from a diffusion of power.
The chairman of the City Council's education committee, Robert Jackson, who led a community school board before the boards were thrown out in 2002, said he would like mayoral control eliminated. He dismissed the charge that school boards were corrupt and ineffective, crediting his Community School Board 6 with precipitating the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that recently produced a windfall of more than $5 billion for city schools.
A recent City Journal article by Sol Stern, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who initially supported mayoral control, criticizes Mr. Bloomberg for using his power to "undermine accountability" by distorting data and deflecting all criticisms.
Others challenging the policy argue Mr. Bloomberg could have run the schools better if he had oversight help. "There's lots and lots of my members, as well as parents, who believe the governance system has to be changed," the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said. Ms. Weingarten, who originally supported mayoral control, said she stands by her admiration for Mr. Bloomberg's decision to take over the schools. "Until he said let me control the schools, there was never a mayor who put his entire political capital behind the schools," she said.
Manhattan's president, Scott Stringer, said he wants to preserve mayoral control, pointing to victories including rising test scores in both math and reading. But Mr. Stringer said he is concerned that Chancellor Joel Klein's use of the power has alienated parents so much that he risks destroying support for the policy.
Likely mayoral candidates are also considering how to address the policy's impending expiration, a source in discussion with candidates said. The source said candidates so far are looking at options that would add checks without diluting power.
A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Stu Loeser, touted approval ratings reported in the Quinnipiac poll. Fifty-two percent of voters said they approved of Mr. Bloomberg's handling of the schools and 41% approved of Mr. Klein's.