Though most expected candidates haven’t even officially announced their campaigns for mayor, a big part of the race to replace Mayor Mike Bloomberg is already taking form in the area of education policy.
This week, mayoral hopefuls have been offering their views on the current Administration’s education record, and this morning, we got a chance to hear from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — who supports key aspects of Bloomberg’s policies.
On Tuesday, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and former comptroller Bill Thompson — all expected to run for mayor in 2013 — debated Bloomberg’s controversial school closure policy and weighed in on the system of mayoral control of the school system.
The Voice sat in on part of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council meeting at Tweed Courthouse this morning, where Quinn, another likely mayoral candidate, stopped by to update the advisory group of parents on the City Council’s education efforts.
Quinn — who is often seen as being closely aligned with the mayor and is moving to distance herself from his politics as she prepares for the mayoral race — told parents that she is in favor of mayoral control.
When Bloomberg took office in 2002, he took control of the city’s school system, which was a shift from the traditional structure of elected school boards that was intended to increase accountability by giving central authority to the city’s mayor.
It’s an oversight model that the current Administration says has allowed the city’s Department of Education to improve test scores, increase graduation rates, successfully open new schools and shut down failing ones, and offer better school choice for parents. This system, though, has left some parent organizations and other community groups feeling excluded from the process.
Quinn today told parents that she thinks the mayor’s powers should remain intact, but said the city could better respect the Community Education Councils, which are advisory groups that include parents and are basically the current version of the city’s district school boards that existed before mayoral control.
“It’s a small question,” she joked when a parent asked for her opinion on mayoral control.
She said that when mayoral control was up for renewal, she was supportive, but with a caveat: She wanted to see that the City Council have legislative authority rather than the state Legislature. Municipal control of the agency would make a big difference, she said.
“Whoever the mayor is, whoever she or he is, is going to be held more accountable if the people right here [at the City Council] are the ones who can pass the laws, and it’s going to be immediately more empowering for parents and guardians if all they have to do is get on the subway and not go up to Albany and talk to people who…our children is just not their concern,” she said. Paper work and budgetary documents would be on the same computer system as every other city agency if the City Council had direct legislative powers, she added.
“I want to be clear, I don’t want to mislead, I would not limit the mayor’s power,” she continued.
She said that the Community Education Councils need to be taken much more seriously, a suggestion that other mayoral hopefuls have made.
It’s a logical stance given that Bloomberg’s fairly polarizing nature in the realm of education has alienated parent and community groups — areas where mayoral candidates would want to get votes.
Quinn said that the city’s community boards, which are also advisory, actually play an important role in development issues and that CECs should take on a similar role in education.
“I gotta tell you, Community Boards’ advice — very powerful, very impactful. Even on really big land use issues, their resolutions, they’re literally on the table when we’re negotiating. We’re checking things off. That doesn’t mean you always agree…but it’s very much in the process,” said Quinn, adding that she’s served on a community board, so she knows how important that process is.
“I don’t think it’s the structure, and I don’t think it’s that government doesn’t respect citizen advisory boards. I think we haven’t respected the CECs,” she said, not directly criticizing Bloomberg. The CECs should still be advisory, she said, but added, “I do think we need to honor and respect them and embrace them the way we have community boards.”
Bill de Blasio, earlier this week, said that CECs should have a much greater role in the process of school closures. When reporters asked Bloomberg about increasing CECs; involvement, he basically dismissed the idea, saying that mayoral control means the mayor has control, and that ultimately experts should make decisions.
The Voice was curious about what Quinn thinks the city could actually do in practice to change the dynamics of the CECs’ involvement in education. We didn’t get a chance to ask Quinn, who had to run out after taking questions from parents, but chatted briefly with members of her staff.
A staffer told the Voice that it means the city should really listen to the CECs, since right now they’re very symbolic. The staffer said that the CECs will often hold large rallies and protests, but that parents feel completely ignored by the Dept. of Education. Additionally, concerns over the election process of the CECs need to be addressed, Quinn’s office said.
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