Council Members Al Vann and Robert Jackson, who is chair of the Education Committee, introduced a resolution today asking the State Legislature to limit mayoral control of city schools. The resolution, which comes following growing controversy over recent school closings, calls on the legislature to give community councils approval over school closures and co-locations.
“The process for proposing and approving these significant changes to schools has disenfranchised communities and parents,” Mr. Vann said. “Providing a significant role for CECs in the co-location and school closure process will not only ensure that proposals are thoughtful and truly include input from communities and parents, but also will enhance community and parental involvement in our public schools.”
Ku Klux Kontroversy
Members of the City Council’s Queens delegation are fighting back against the Department of Education’s plan to close eight schools in Queens. All of the schools were part of the Restart or Transformation model programs. The delegations held a rally against the closures yeasterday and is sending a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
“The common dominator to the eight schools slated to be closed is that they all service high rates of English Language Learners and Special Needs children,” Councilwoman Diana Reyna said at the rally. “By turning his back to students with the highest need, Mayor Bloomberg is abandoning the principle of equal opportunity for all children regardless of race or disability. This Mayor claims to be known as the “Education Mayor,” but I think a more accurate title is the ‘Highest School Dropout Mayor.’”
Last Friday, Gay City News reporter Andy Humm printed a column accusing Councilwoman and likely candidate for Public Advocate Tish James of defending “KKK access to schools.” The story was based on a testy exchange about the controversy over whether churches should be allowed to hold worship services in public schools when class is not in session that took place between Ms. James and Ms. Humm after a public forum on stop-and-frisk at the LGBT Community Center where both were speaking. Ms. James, who supports allowing religious organizations access to school buildings, gave her side of the story to The Politicker and clarified her position on the controversial issue.
“The comment was made in jest, and apparently, it was taken very seriously by a reporter who obviously was very disappointed in my position regarding allowing access to organizations of faith, who have used and want to continue to use public schools on days that schools are closed,” Ms. James said.
Mr. Humm’s story, which was subsequently picked up by other media outlets, quoted Ms. James as saying the Klan is “entitled to equal access.” Ms. James, who said she knows Mr. Humm, described her interaction with Mr. Humm as a conversation that devolved into a “shouting match” and said she made the remark in an attempt to end the argument:
Reverend Jesse Jackson served as guest minister for the church service of the annual New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus association weekend at Wilborn Temple in Albany today and his sermon included a call to eliminate super PACs that allow corporations and individuals to contribute unlimited amounts to political campaigns. In a conversation with reporters after the service, Mr. Jackson reiterated his belief super PACs are leading to the “corrupting of our political process.”
“Now we see our politics corrupted by the super PAC process where a few very wealthy people can use their monies to tear down and tear up people, and discourage leadership from emerging in a democratic way. Not one super PAC ad has been on eliminating poverty, or building affordable housing, or making healthcare affordable, or reducing student loan debt, which is greater than credit card debt,” Mr. Jackson said. “The one person one vote is dead until these super PACs become illegal again.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg blamed a recent poll showing a majority of New Yorkers disapprove of his handling of the schools on the United Federation for Teachers’ ad campaign criticizing his record on education.
“Somebody goes and runs a bunch of ads every day on television, you can create exactly that poll,” Mayor Bloomberg said.
The mayor went on to suggest he could turn around the numbers by buying his own ads.
“I guess I could go spend some money and reverse the poll, the press would love it,” he said.
Last time the UFT took out ads against Mayor Bloomberg in March that’s exactly what he did. At that time, the mayor opened a campaign committee to fund a $5.6 million campaign defending his record on schools complete with polling, mailings and TV ads. Mayor Bloomberg subsequently shut his committee in October, on the exact same day The Politicker wrote a story about its activities.
Church & State
Mayor Bloomberg’s education policies have come under fire in recent weeks due to the closing of several city schools. After the mayor’s preliminary budget presentation today, Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott defended mayoral control of city schools and said he doesn’t “buy into” criticism the city hasn’t been transparent enough about school closures.
“Mayoral control has worked, it’s worked well, and we are continuing to improve and refine it to make sure it’s even better,” Mr. Walcott told Politicker.
Assemblyman Nelson Castro sent out a statement yesterday evening urging fellow legislators to support his bill to allow the use of public school buildings for religious meetings and worship. As of February 12, religious organizations will be barred from using school property in New York City. Mr. Castro, who represents the 86th District in The Bronx, described this decision as “discriminatory.”
“This issue is particularly affecting my district and my constituents. It is my responsibility to protect my community,” Mr. Castro said.
Earlier this afternoon, four of the five top-tier mayoral candidates stood on the steps of City Hall to criticize recent school closures. City Comptroller John Liu, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio took to the stand to criticize Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education policies.
The four candidates applauded and supported one another as they spoke, and their messages were largely similar. They all generally indicated the Bloomberg’s administration enjoys closing schools or fails to appreciate the significance of such actions.
“To too many people over at Tweed building, closing schools is a panacea. They think it’ll solve our problems, to close a school” Mr. de Blasio said. “They think it’s a cure-all, but in fact it misses the point.”
Year of the Dragon
Assemblyman Keith Wright said the Department of Education’s plan to close the middle school at Wadleigh Secondary School of Performing Arts is the final straw that has convinced him to propose a bill that would repeal mayoral control of city public schools.
“People are up in arms. They are quite frankly tired of the dictatorial and despotic policies coming out of City Hall where they just arbitrarily and capriciously decide that they’re going to close schools,” Mr. Wright told The Politicker. “This is the Alamo as far as I’m concerned right now. This is the absolute Alamo and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Assemblywoman Grace Meng doesn’t buy Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s claim that he can’t make Lunar New Year a public school holiday because “you cannot have … a day off from school for every single holiday or we’d have no school.”
“I think he is exaggerating when he said that we had no school days left,” Ms. Meng told The Politicker. “His policies on immigrant services have been very good, they’re very progressive. He’s done a lot for immigrant communities in New York City and it’s frustrating for me that he doesn’t understand why this community wants its first and most important holiday off.”