Barrett: Deal for Mayoral Control Close after Bloomberg Gets the Scalp He Wanted


Senate Democrats and negotiators for the mayor have apparently worked out terms to settle the recent deadlock about extending the mayoral school control bill. Sources say the mayor has agreed to an amendment that would provide $1.6 million to the City University to oversee a parent training and exchange program, which was a key change sought by Senate Democratic Conference Chair John Sampson and other senators.

Sampson is now trying to get the full Democratic conference to sign off on the four chapter amendments to the assembly bill, which also include a temporary commission to examine the police protocols used in schools, a new oversight committee to guarantee that school arts funding meets state standards, and a change of rules to permit superintendents to visit schools and oversee principals. Sampson is expected to round up any recalcitrant Democratic senators today.

The protracted battle between Mayor Bloomberg and senate Democrats — featuring the mayor’s comic Neville Chamberlain attempt to liken the Dems to Nazis — revolved around the original amendment’s language, which proposed that the parent funding go to NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Urban Education. The Bloomberg negotiators, according to a senate source, threw a fit at the thought of it.

The New York Post, which has turned itself into an echo chamber
for Chancellor Joel Klein and the mayor throughout the year-long debate
over the school bill, ran a story on July 20 claiming that the
Democrats were trying to “shower enemies of mayoral control” with the
paltry $1.6 million, and citing “the center’s visiting scholar” Deborah
Meier as a “thorn in Hizzoner’s side.” The paper left no doubt who was
feeding it, citing “aides to Bloomberg and Klein” who said they were
opposed to “having the city subsidize an outfit that includes critics
of their education reform.”

The problem is that Debbie Meier, a
78-year-old retired New York City teacher and principal who created a
widely acclaimed network of East Harlem Schools decades ago, says she’s
never worked for the Center. Meier, who lives in upstate Hillsdale, is
listed on the Center’s website as a resident scholar, but she says
“that’s an honorary position” prompted by the decision of the Center’s
director, Dr. Pedro Noguera, to allow her “to keep an office there.”
Meier says she was formerly a part-time visiting scholar at the
Steinhardt School of Education, which houses the Center, but that she
“wasn’t hired by the Center or ever paid by it.”

“I would have
absolutely nothing to do with the parent grant had the center received
it,” Meier says. She no longer teaches at the Steinhardt School and is
not paid anything by it. Ironically, Michael Steinhardt, the hedge fund
billionaire whose donations funded the Steinhardt School, is a close
friend of the mayor’s for 30 years and was one of the major early
supporters of Bloomberg’s presidential bid in 2006 and 2007. The
Metropolitan Center is so respected it has received grants from the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a prime backer of Bloomberg and
Klein’s education efforts (Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank are also
donors to the Center).

“The mayor got his facts wrong,” says
Meier, who has authored articles questioning Bloomberg’s school
achievement claims. “But even if he got his facts right, it would have
been disgraceful to block the funding for the reasons he said. He needs
a little understanding of academic freedom.” Meier called the
Bloomberg/Klein denial of the funding “blackmail,” accusing them of
“threatening anyone out there who disagrees with their version of
mayoral control.” She expressed surprise that Bloomberg would be so
open about a policy that essentially said that “any institution”
associated with a critic of the policies “has to be punished,” even if
he got the nature of the association wrong.