Monday, June 09, 2008

School Daze and Mayoral Excess

With the speculation increasing that Mayor Mike has not yet had his fill of public adulation, it is useful to take a look at Friday's educational column by the Sun's Andrew Wolf. It's usefulness is given added impetus by the fact that the authorization for mayoral control of the NYC schools ends on June 30th: "The issue of mayoral control of the schools is due to end at midnight on June 30, 2009. If the state legislature and governor fail to act, the current Department of Education will disappear and revert into the old Board of Education at 12:01 a.m...This is unlikely to happen, but what is likely is that there will be changes in the law that will rein in some of the mayor's powers over the schools. In getting to an improved governing structure for the schools, there is likely to be much debate. Both an honest debate and some real reform would be a good thing."

What's been missing for the past seven years, with the exception of the incisive work of Wolf and Sol Stern, is a thorough examination of just what this mayor has done with the control that was given to him, a control that he did very little to actually achieve since the process had been set in motion by his predecessor who did all the hard lifting and advocacy. So, like so much else in his improbable rise to the chief executive position in this city, Bloomberg found himself on third base believing he'd hit a triple.

And Wolf begins to lay out the terms of a more critical evaluation of the mayor's educational achievements. He does so by taking a look at the role of one Ron Beller: "Take the case of Ron Beller. If you have heard of Mr. Beller, it is likely to be in the context of his career as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. Mr. Beller left that post with a hefty payout, making him a multi-millionaire in his thirties. This apparently was all the expertise needed to convince the mayor and Chancellor Klein that Mr. Beller was the man to lead the reorganization of the public schools in the period after the mayor was granted control."

Of course, this is exactly what Thorsten Veblen meant when he coined the phrase "trained incapacity." Neither Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein or Beller for that matter, came to the task with any educational background or knowledge; therefore the entire problem was viewed as a management issue-and the folks at Tweed brought in an army of MBAs to tackle the educational reorganization.

As Wolf points out, Beller was instrumental in spearheading the reorganization, and very few folks were even aware that he was around; secrecy and a lack of accountability has been the chief hallmark of the Tweed reign. Now, going forward, reform is badly needed: "The public interest here is creating a system designed to minimize damage to our school system and our children even if the worst possible person somehow sneaks into the mayor's chair. That kind of protection comes from complete transparency and a system of checks and balances that allows for the mayor to do his job while protecting the public from abuse."

Wolf underscores our point here: "When the legislature gave control of the schools to the mayor, it assigned broad and unchecked powers. This was done envisioning Mr. Bloomberg at the helm, a reflection of trust in his ability and integrity. Despite this, abuses have occurred. Secretly empowering an arguably unqualified businessman to take such a key role in this public enterprise would seem to constitute such an abuse."

Indeed it was an abuse, and when you add 25 new hires to the DOE public relations payroll you kinda get the feeling that the Tweedies would rather appear good, than actually be good. So much has been outsourced and done under the public radar that it is difficult to actually evaluate all that the kleinemen have done: "Some functions of the Department of Education have been assigned to private entities. Few disapprove of hiring outside companies that can do certain assignments more efficiently, but when government creates these entities to skirt the protections to the public built into government — things such as freedom of information, open competitive bidding, and requirements for public hearings — warning bells should ring."

So let the sunshine in here, and the legislature should set a process in motion that will insure public accountability; and a full and thorough review of all the accomplishments that the mayor and the chancellor claim they have achieved. And we agree with the NY Sun that the mayor should eschew any "finagling" of a third term; let's let his successor come in so that the age of the bamboozle can mercifully come to an end.