Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Explained: Mayoral Control vs. RI Mayoral Academies

New York, Chicago, DC and Providence are all cities with "mayoral control" of their public school district. There is some variation in exactly how that is mediated. For example, is there some kind of mayor-appointed school board? Can its members be removed at any time? Do they have to be confirmed by city council? Do they negotiate and sign contracts?

Providence has had mayoral control for a long time, although it is still somewhat weaker than in New York, where the board members serve at the pleasure of the mayor.

To try to explain this weird "mayoral academy" construct we've now got in Rhode Island -- which is completely different than "mayoral control" of a district, I'll lay out a New York-based parallel to the Achievement First Mayoral Academies proposal in a way which may make more sense to outsiders who know more about the New York metropolitan area than they do about Rhode Island suburbs.

So... if Achievement First Mayoral Academies was transposed to NYC:

  • The mayor of Yonkers would have submitted to the NY Dept. of Education a proposal to create a 80,000 seat (scaling up in proportion to the rough difference in scale between PVD and NYC) "Executive District," called the Most Excellent Executive District (MEED), that would by law have a student population divided equally between the two cities.
  • No representative of the New York City school district or city government, or NYC community organization would have been involved in drafting the MEED proposal.
  • While the Yonkers mayor would submit the proposal, the charter holder would in fact be New York Executive Districts (NYED), a non-profit chaired by the mayor of White Plains, whose board also includes the mayor of Yonkers, a few public figures from across New York state, and a couple school reform advocates from outside New York state entirely. NYED's board includes no representatives of NYC government or NYC constituency groups.
  • The proposal itself was written by the putative contractor that would manage the executive district, Most Excellent Academies (MEA) from Boston, MA, which manages several urban charters in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The proposal, while strong in many areas, is primarily pasted in from their Mass.-based charters and does not address several of the unique legal requirements of executive district governance, including proposed by-laws, as required by NY statute and Dept. of Ed. regulation.
  • While the lack of bylaws requires some quesswork about the governance structure of MEED, basically the chair of the district's governing board is either the Mayor of Yonkers or NYC, as chosen by NYED, with the balance of 8 board members being chosen by NYED from all residents of Yonkers and NYC.
  • Let's pause and review the Mayor of NYC's power in his two districts now:
    • New York City Department of Education: board serves at the pleasure of NYC mayor.
    • Most Excellent Executive District: NYC mayor may serve as one member among nine at the pleasure of NYED, founded by and whose board is chaired by the Mayor of White Plains.
    See the difference?
  • NY Dept. of Ed. staff declines to require NYED or MEA to complete MEED's application in the initial review phase and pass on the proposal for public comment.
  • Prior to the public meetings regarding the application, MEED backers make presentations to the Yonkers school board and an educational advisory panel, but undertake no significant public outreach in either Yonkers or NYC. The proposal is virtually unknown in NYC before the first public meeting. The Mayor of NYC is not briefed on the proposal before, during or after the public comment period, and takes no position on it.
  • Significant opposition to MEED is demonstrated at two public meetings in Yonkers. Most public officials in Yonkers, other than the mayor, are strongly against the proposal. One meeting is added in NYC and is mostly attended by residents of Yonkers and a group of Most Excellent parents bussed down from Boston.
  • The New York Board of Regents discusses but declines to vote on the proposal through the summer months. The NY Governor declines to take a definitive position, but is clearly skeptical.
  • NYED stages a press conference where the mayors of New Rochelle and Mount Vernon express their enthusiasm for creating Executive Districts in the future.
  • Question interlude: What do you think Mayor Bloomberg would think of all this?
  • If you said, "He'd finally come out in favor of it, with no strings attached," you'd be right. And he'd get his own appointed board to pass a nonbinding resolution in favor of it as well.

The preceding is, of a fiction, but it is a direct translation of what's gone down in Providence this year. It is completely nuts.

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