Brennan Introduces Legislation to Create Alternate Governing Structure for NYC Schools; Two New Reports Also Released Showing Need for Restoration of Checks and Balances

May 5, 2009
New York State Assemblymember James F. Brennan (D-Brooklyn) is introducing legislation on an alternative governing structure for the New York City public schools modeled on the Boston school system. Brennan is simultaneously releasing two new reports on New York City schools under mayoral control, his fourth and fifth this year. Together, the reports reflect the need for a new set of democratic checks and balances in the governance of the public schools.

The new legislation would retain the structure of the Board of Education (aka Panel on Education Policy) with seven mayoral appointments and five appointments made by the borough presidents of each borough. However, the mayor’s appointments would be selected from a list of fourteen names, recommended by a thirteen person nominating panel. The proposal is similar to the structure of the Boston school system. In addition, a vote on contracts would be restored to the Board of Education’s powers.

Brennan’s two new reports demonstrate the need for a better governance structure. One report, “Damaging Missteps and Wasted Funds Under Mayoral Control,” reviews some of the more egregious problems that resulted from the constant reorganization of the school system, the vast expansion of no-bid contracts and the changes in educational policy that were implemented with no input. The other report,“New York City Student Performance on National Tests during Mayoral Control,” places the performance of New York City children in national perspective, rather than through the inflated claims of success by the New York City Department of Education.

“This new legislation is intended to ensure that major administrative reorganizations, policy shifts and contracting be properly vetted to avoid some of the misinformation, missteps and wasted funds that have occurred under mayoral control,” said Brennan.

“Vetting multi-million dollar no-bid contracts is simply good government,” commented Brennan. “DOE no-bid contracts have escalated from $15 million in 2001-2002 to about $300 million in the 2008-2009 school year,” he continued. Currently, although the DOE is controlled by the mayor and functions as a city agency, it is governed by the state and is not constrained by city contract regulations.

Far from being a model of efficiency and responsibility, the DOE’s run-away no-bid contracts and the lack of input by an independent body such as the Board of Education, have led to serious and costly problems in the schools. Brennan’s report revisits a small sample of about a dozen missteps that have occurred throughout the system, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“From admissions and enrollment in pre-K, kindergarten and gifted and talented programs to compliance with special education mandates, to custodial contracts, busing contracts and the infamous Snapple contract, there has been significant mismanagement of the school system,” Brennan continued.

The mayor and the chancellor have staked their claim on continued absolute control of the schools on their management skills and rising student test scores. The Brennan reports released today is critical of DOE’s management skills and also brings into question how New York City public school students are doing in relation to national test scores.

In the report “New York City Student Performance on National Tests During Mayoral Control,” Brennan examines the achievement of New York City schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment (NAEP TUDA) from 2003-2007. The review demonstrates that Department of Education’s claims of unparalleled student achievement are inaccurate. Brennan points to the U.S. Department of Education’s analysis of the NAEP TUDA results, which indicate that New York City schools have made significant progress in only one of the four major tests areas. The review shows that, when compared with other large U.S. Cities, the rates of improvement of New York City schools are lower than other comparable districts in two of the four major test areas. While New York City schools started out ahead of many districts in 2003, their slower rates of improvement represent a lack of progress relative to other comparable TUDA cities.

The Massachusetts legislature granted mayoral control of the Boston school system in 1991, and voters reauthorized this structure in 1996. The Boston model is designed to forge a consensus approach to governing the schools by requiring that the mayor choose appointees from a list of nominees who are selected by an education panel. Likewise, Brennan’s bill proposes that the nominating committee be representative of parents, high schools, special education, teachers, administrators, higher education experts, and the business community, in addition to the mayor’s appointments to the nominating panel.

Learn NY, an organization that formed to support Mayor Bloomberg’s control of the New York City public schools, features the achievements of Boston schools on its website.

“This consensus school governance structure has worked well in Boston,” Brennan continued, “where test scores and graduation rates have risen and where the Boston schools outperform other Massachusetts districts with similar populations.”

“The additional input and expertise that this consensus model represents will serve to add appropriate and, based on recent experience in New York City schools, necessary checks and balances on the administration, policies and outsourcing of goods and services for New York City’s public school children,” Brennan stated.