Renew Mayoral Control—and USE it

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City helps Brian Budhu (R) with a hereditary dog breeding assignment during a visit to a 9th grade Living Environment class at Richmond Hill High School in Queens on March 19, 2015 in New York City. Richmond Hill High School is one of 94 troubled schools selected as a Renewal School where the de Blasio administration is focusing resources and leadership to raise achievement. (Photo by Charles Eckert-Pool/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City helps Brian Budhu (R) with a hereditary dog breeding assignment during a visit to a 9th grade Living Environment class at Richmond Hill High School in Queens on March 19, 2015 in New York City. (Photo: Charles Eckert-Pool/Getty Images) (Photo: Charles Eckert-Pool for Getty Images)

Mayor de Blasio is pushing Albany to renew mayoral control over the city’s public schools, which is set to expire at the end of June. Mayoral control was a hard-fought battle, denied to Rudy Giuliani but finally granted to Mike Bloomberg in 2002. The law gives the mayor the power to appoint the chancellor, who runs the Department of Education and serves as the chairman of the Panel for Education Policy (formerly known as the Board of Education). The mayor appoints eight of the 13 members of the P.E.P., and each of the borough presidents appoints one member.

Giving the mayor real authority over the schools—and demanding accountability—has made a real difference for children and families. Kids and their parents have far more school options; test scores and graduation rates have inched up; and corruption and patronage are down.

While mayoral control is essential for real accountability, Mr. de Blasio seems content to want the power in theory, but he appears unwilling to exercise it in reality.

While mayoral control is essential for real accountability, Mr. de Blasio seems content to want the power in theory, but he appears unwilling to exercise it in reality—at least when doing so conflicts with the desires of the teachers union. That was all too evident last week when the Panel for Education Policy vetoed the co-location siting of a Success Academy charter school. The charter school applied to P.E.P. to be allowed to use classrooms in a Brooklyn middle school that had plenty of excess space. In fact, the site was recommended by the Department of Education. The P.E.P. however, rejected the application. A month earlier, with 30 witnesses waiting to testify, the P.E.P. inexplicably postponed a vote on the site, saying it needed more time. It was not a model of managerial efficiency.

Whether this was yet another example of the mayor’s apparent disinterest in actual managing is a reasonable question. What is equally plausible is that the turndown was a not-so-subtle display of political payback: Success Academy is run by Eva Moskowitz, a frequent critic of Mayor de Blasio and the bete noire of the teachers union.

There are more than 50,000 children on waiting lists to get into charter schools. Success Academy alone has had to turn away 19,000 children just this past year. It is clear that New York parents want the charter school option for their children, but the P.E.P.’s bureaucratic sclerosis is thwarting the pace of new openings.

We favor extending mayoral control of schools to Mr. de Blasio and to his successors. But we urge Mayor de Blasio to use it—and show the fortitude to stand up to the United Federation of Teachers. The union opposes mayoral control, but the mayor has a larger responsibility here: to do what is best for the city’s children.

Moreover, we urge him to hone his administrative skills. The city—and particularly its schools—does not run on promises. 

Renew Mayoral Control—and USE it