On School Control, Silver Takes the Middle Way

ALBANY—Once again, it looks as if Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is setting himself up as a compromise broker, this time on the issue of school governance.

He presented a middle-way plan last night–not unlike the way he positioned himself during his attempt to break a deadlock on a plan to address the M.T.A. deficit–that would keep the fundamental tenet of mayoral school control while increasing parental involvement. And as was the case during the M.T.A. debate, the conference is divided.

"We had about a four-hour conference on the subject with a lot of proposals," Silver said outside his office today. "There is no bill, just general concepts, and our proposal to address parental involvement, to address transparency, and to keep the mayoral control of the board of education itself. This is an evolving process. It will not be resolved either conference-wide or legislatively, for a few weeks."

Silver's proposal is at odds with the central proposal in another bill, which 17 conference members led by Carl Heastie have signed onto, that eliminates the mayor's ability to appoint the majority of the members of the panel for educational policy.

Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, one of the 17, called that a "baseline issue."

"I wasn't, in that discussion, convinced I'm wrong on that," he sad. "But there are plenty of ideas that are involved in the Speaker's proposal."

Assemblyman Bill Colton, another of the bill's sponsors, is hesitant even to acknowledge the disagreement.

"Things are still in flux," he told me on the chamber floor. "There's not an actual proposal, there's discussion of consensus and that consensus is work in progress."

In the meantime, with a flurry of news articles about his position, Silver can just wait.

"We're getting out in front of the issue," Assemblyman Darryl Towns, another co-sponsor of the Heastie bill. But in the end, he noted, it doesn't matter.

Whatever the Assembly passes will have to pass the State Senate, where the battle so far looks like it will be waged somewhat more fiercely.

Silver was asked if some form of mayoral control would pass this year.

“I believe, yes,” he replied. “But I believe it needs the parental involvement piece, very much so, and transparency.”

And would his conference be on board?

“My conference is on board with a lot of the issues. How on board is the issue that evolves.”