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The mayoral control debate expands territory

December 13, 2010

I have a strong feeling this post will need to be expanded and expounded upon as time goes on.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov.-elect Mayor Robert Duffy, both aggressive supporters and advocates for mayoral control

I was reading Sabrina’s recent response post to yet another advocate for mayoral control, this time in Denver. The mayoral control proponents never cease to amaze me. Mayoral control as a governance system has been debated, researched, and attempted in several cities throughout the country. However, there’s still a lot of uncertainty in policy and research circles, which mayoral control proponents don’t seem to want to acknowledge.

There’s been so many alternative proposals put forth in political debates that the mayoral control cheerleaders rejected in favor of autocratic school governance. The deceptive guise of “stability” and “efficiency” frequently get thrown around in order to bully and pressure the public into believing a viciously undemocratic governance structure like mayoral control is the only way any type of progress or change can occur in schools.
Solid ideas I’ve frequently seen blindly rejected in favor of mayoral control include intense, public screening process for school board candidates and superintendents in which grassroots organizations would interface with the usual school board interview procedures. Other ideas include putting in place structural changes requiring board members to publicly weigh in and consider constituents’ (students, parents, teachers, community members) concerns and proposals following Board meetings. More transparent, public openings for the public to voice their concern is clearly necessary.
How about nonpartisan elections for School Boards so as to not have any party machinery screen and control what types of candidates get on to school boards to begin with? After all attempting to replicate Boss Tweed’s political machine over and over again doesn’t mix well with our professed respect for democratic institutions, right?
Another idea would be the direct election of superintendents or a mixed election process somewhere in between a Board appointment of a Superintendent and a direct, public election of the leader of a district. Board members could have increased oversight of district operations and increased flexibility to grant autonomous, public schools more leverage over their day-to-day decisions.
Also, how about having School Board members paid enough that they don’t have to have other jobs and, thus, neglect their public responsibility on the Board? Either that or no salary at all to hopefully insure that the Board isn’t filled with opportunistic political vultures.  Keep in mind, all just suggestions here. Suggestions I’d like to see seriously considered rather than outright dismissed.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz permalink
    December 13, 2010 8:33 am

    I’m a former elementary school teacher and parent of child in NYC public schools. Enough said.

  2. flcertifiedteacher permalink
    December 13, 2010 10:23 am

    Re: “How about nonpartisan elections for School Boards so as to not have any party machinery screen and control what types of candidates get on to school boards to begin with?”

    Your suggestion of “nonpartisan” elections for School Boards is a system long in place in school districts in Florida; however, it is really quite a joke in terms of the reality of what happens.

    The school board candidates plaster their photos on the county political party’s website (so you know exactly WHICH “non-partisan” candidate is REALLY a Republican) and as a result, these “non-partisan” candidates can actually be quite partisan.

    The idea of an elected superintendent may sound like a good idea on its face, but the problem with that is the following: you can’t demand certain criteria exist for any political candidate, while an appointed superintendent can be required to meet certain criteria set by a school board (ie, any superintendent applicant must have at least three years of classroom teaching experience).

    In light of the failure of mayoral control (which quickly becomes a dictatorship), the joke that is “non-partisan” candidates, the risk with having a superintendent be an “elected” official who meets no criteria in education, it seems more and more to me that the best model for governing our nation’s schools is to be found in the one-room school house.

    Having teachers in charge, rotating into the principal position every two years or so, and having a parent-teacher committee that determines everything that happens in the public school, so the school is self-governing (much like some individual churches are totally self-governed), seems to me the very best way to run public schools.

    A superintendent (and a school board, even one that is getting paid), can be totally corrupt and bound solely to a political party. Money is embezzled out, no one ever investigates, the best teachers are harassed out (because these teachers, who think and may ask questions) pose the greatest threat to such a corrupt organization (and I have seen this in Florida).

    When teachers and parent step up to the plate, that’s when the best decisions are made for the schools and the students.

    But that doesn’t happen often enough, when the power to control public schools is taken further and further away from the teachers and parents. Politics, greed, money, and power has completely overtaken the mission of public education in this country.

    To wrest back control, I would recommend every public school district in this country opt for complete self-governance, and outsource functions like payroll and benefits to a company with certified public accountants, so that no administration center is even needed any more.

    That is the only way I think this country can reclaim education for the public and perhaps even move forward. The power structure now in most public school districts (be it mayoral control or school board) is leading to very harmful situations on the school and classroom level.

    • markfriedman1 permalink
      December 16, 2010 11:30 am

      flcertifiedteacher, I found your response interesting and it got me thinking. What’s stopping us from demanding that there be a reformed model of education elections for leaders/superintendents or a mixed form of election with a check and balance from a school board in terms of confirmation? Also, what’s stopping us from demanding that any such form of election have prerequisite requirements like educational experience, leadership in education, scholarship etc in order to attempt to filter out the clearly bogus candidates who would attempt to jump on such an opportunity?

      Outsourcing certain administrative, fiscal functions in districts is an idea I’ve seen floating around Detroit and other cities for awhile now. I know there have been policy recommendations by Comptrollers in Texas and Michigan that have advised as much but I’m still unsure whether this would really bring about fiscally responsible saving on the part of the district. I’m also a bit concerned as to how such private firms for such functions as payroll would be held accountable and transparent.

      But I know, I know……we don’t have accountability, transparency, or fiscally sound oversight in many of our current departmental models and it is certainly a systemic policy concern in many school districts. Therefore, I do take your suggestions seriously, just with some hesitation. Thank you for the input and let’s keep this dialogue going.

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