Who Controls The Schools?

Four years ago, Michael Bloomberg won a policy victory that had eluded his predecessors for decades: He persuaded Albany to grant him direct control over New York City’s public schools.

Gone with the stroke of a pen (and after intensive Mayoral lobbying) was the sprawling, unaccountable bureaucracy known as the Board of Education. No longer could a Mayor blame faceless pencil-pushers for poor reading scores. Beginning in 2002, the educational buck stopped in the City Hall bullpen.

Mr. Bloomberg’s bold move has paid off tremendously for the city and its one-million-plus public-school students. Test scores are up, and so is parental satisfaction with the direction of public education. But there is a legislative fly in the ointment: The law that granted the Mayor control over the schools is due to expire in 2009, which will be Mr. Bloomberg’s last year at the helm.

To his credit, Mr. Bloomberg doesn’t want his eventual successor to lose the power that he gained. So he has embarked on an aggressive campaign to make sure that the city’s schools do not revert back to the depressing, dysfunctional past. He wants to make Mayoral control permanent. Anybody who cares about public education ought to cheer him on. It’s the right move for our public-school students.

Since 2002, New York has emerged as a model of accountability in public education. School officials and educators know they have to produce results or face questions from the Mayor himself. Now, mayors across the country are demanding the same kind of control that Mr. Bloomberg has. The old model of a supposedly impartial, professional and utterly unaccountable Board of Education is history. In its place is a Mayoral agency that is expected to perform, or else.

Mr. Bloomberg said he fears that the gains of the last few years will be lost if Mayoral control is allowed to become a short-lived experiment. His fears are justified. There is nothing to suggest that the old model will work, but that doesn’t mean Albany won’t try to revive the old system for its own purposes. Historically, Albany resents strong Mayors in New York City and often sees itself as a counterbalance to figures like Mr. Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani. Already, some legislators are whispering that the Mayor has too much control over the schools.

What nonsense. Mr. Bloomberg and his brilliant schools chancellor, Joel Klein, have worked wonders with the schools, and they have done so because the Mayor has the power to hold schools and educators accountable. It really is that simple.

Albany can’t look to the past. It did the right thing by giving the Mayor control, and it can do so again by making that control permanent.

What do the candidates for Governor have to say?

Crime Rate Falls In the Safest Big City

Last week, when the F.B.I. released statistics showing that New York remained the safest large city in the country in 2005, the daily newspapers didn’t run the story on page one. Instead, that remarkable information was buried in the news pages, registering a few column inches at most. This is testament to just how accustomed—dare we say jaded?—New Yorkers have become to the fact that the city’s crime rate has been creeping along at low, 1960’s-era levels for several years now. But news of a crime drop is always reason to celebrate. A safe city creates the conditions for a thriving city: Residents don’t sell their co-ops and flee to the suburbs; tourists from around the globe arrive in record numbers; parents around the country feel good about sending their kids to our universities; and neighborhoods once thought dangerous are now attracting new investment.

The F.B.I.’s report showed that while, nationwide, overall crime in 2005 dropped by 1.2 percent, in New York it fell by 4.3 percent. The national homicide rate increased 3.4 percent last year; in New York City, it dropped by 5.4 percent. And this year, through early September, overall crime in the city is down a further 5.04 percent compared with 2005. Clearly we’re doing something right.

The Bloomberg administration has built on the crime-fighting accomplishments of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his roster of police commissioners. In fact, when Michael Bloomberg took office, many citizens expected the crime rate to rise. And yet this mild-mannered technocrat billionaire and his extraordinary police commissioner, Ray Kelly, continue to bring crime down to ever-lower levels, while committing 1,000 officers to counter the daily and lethal threat of global terrorism. Last summer, we learned that the NYPD—working with the F.B.I. and other intelligence services—foiled a plot to bomb the PATH commuter-train line.

Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly seem to understand that this is not the time for complacency. If crime rates start to climb, historically it’s been profoundly hard to reverse direction. Earlier this year, the Mayor announced the hiring of 800 more police officers, as well as a new push to get illegal guns off the streets. Census figures indicate that the city will be gaining an estimated 200,000 people in the next five years. With such a significant surge in population growth, adding resources to crime prevention is smart government.

The High Holy Days

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the holiest days in the Jewish religion. The 10 days of penitence which link these holidays are a time for internal reflection and consideration of the past year and the years to come. It is a time of faith and family and forgiveness.

From the celebration of the Jewish New Year, heralded by the plaintive call of the shofar, to the emotional crescendo of the beautiful and mournful Kol Nidre service on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, those of the Jewish faith have the opportunity to assess their lives, to examine their commitments to family, friends and work, to start anew. Then, in prayers on Yom Kippur, one asks that he or she be written into the Book of Life, God’s ledger of who shall live and who shall die, based upon who has been righteous and who has not.

Naturally, many will think of the world situation. Americans have a deep and abiding connection to Israel, not least because it is the only democratic government in the entire Middle East. And as home to the world’s most thriving Jewish community outside Israel, New York bears special witness to the slow march toward peace in that region.

There will be much warmth and joy as families gather in the city to celebrate new beginnings and symbolically cast sins into the water. May all New Yorkers join in the spirit of renewal.