Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Keeping Bloomberg After School

As Liz B points out, the coalition to combat the mayoral blank check on school governance is really gearing up for a major fight-something that Mayor Mike doesn't need as he continues to dose out the fiscal Castor Oil to New Yorkers. The various groups gathered to contest what they term, the mayor's "one man rule"

"Participants, who shouted "one man rule has got to go," deemed mayoral control a "failure" and announced the formation of the Campaign for Better Schools, which includes more than 25 groups like AQE, the New York Immigrant Coalition and the Coalition for Educational Justice, to fight its reapproval without changes. Elected officials on hand for the rally: Councilman Bill de Blasio, Sen. Eric Schneiderman and Sen. Kevin Parker. Schneiderman and Parker both voiced support for stronger public participation in education policy-making, which is an issue that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has also cited (specifically, the need for more parental input) as a priority for his Democrat-controlled house."

Can't you just hear the late Marvin Gaye singing, "Let's Get it On?" We can feel the winds of change blowing, and that breeze is about to gust away the Bloomberg educational narrative-parroted by all of the folks on Mike's own personal dole. Gotham Gazette lays the issue out well:

"As the mayor's allies have marshaled his wealth and prestige to press their case, other key players -- teachers, parents, administrators, politicians -- stake out their positions. On Saturday, for example, the union that represents school principals and other administrators released a report calling for significant change in the current system. At the crux of this -- beyond the power, politics and money -- is the question of how well the nation's largest school system has served its students over the last seven years and what, if any, changes in governance would help the schools do better."

The key question comes down to: Who're gonna believe? That's because the mayor's rapidly reaching that Grouch Marx point ("Who're going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?") of no return-with the folks closest to the actual running of the system, parents administrators and teachers, debunking the mayoral spin.

And the severe budget shortfall will dramatically impact the debate: "Then there is the new budget reality. Between the implementation of mayoral control in 2002 and last summer, the school system's operating budget increased by 42 percent to $16.9 billion. Those additional funds may have papered over policy differences.Now with funding cuts looming, fights will almost certainly arise over what and where to cut, revealing other fissures.. This has already become apparent. Last week the Independent Budget office released a report, which concluded that the education department spent some $135 million last year on programs to assess and rate schools. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended the expenditures as "some of the smartest dollars we've spent." But Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who requested the report, said, "I'd rather see cuts in the accountability initiative than cuts in individual school budgets."

Increased, and independent scrutiny, is not a palliative for the mayor's hopes; something that he's prepared to counteract with a multi-million spin job: "The fight over school control, coming just months before the 2009 mayoral election, will become inextricably tied to Bloomberg's re-election campaign. A private group, set up by close Bloomberg allies, has announced plans to raise $20 million for a public relations and lobbying effort aimed at preserving mayoral control. Meanwhile the mayor has indicated he could spend up to $100 million to win re-election -- and some of those millions of dollars in advertising will undoubtedly trumpet his actions on education."

In our view, however, the grass roots efforts for greater transparency and parental input will be hard to counteract. As the NY Daily News reports: "It's time to end one-man rule of our schools," said Victoria Bousquet of the Coalition for Educational Justice, who has two sons at Medgar Evers Preparatory School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. "Mayoral control has not delivered results." Leaders of the campaign say they want to rein in the mayor's power to set policy and make budget decisions. They also want to get a clearer picture of the Education Department's finances."

It's gonna be the elite, and the mayor's media toadies, versus the folks. And with the mayor's image taking a beating, we don't believe that his credibility will go unchallenged, and ultimately destroyed. We'll give a student the last word on this sensitive subject: "Robert Moore, a 16-year-old student at Bushwick High School for Social Justice, said students and parents should have more say in how the schools are run. "In the current system, the mayor's voice is the only one heard," he said."