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Mayoral Control: Ready For Renewal

Commentary By Dr. Roy Hastick

CaribWorldNews, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Aug. 7, 2009: The Assembly, led by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Education Chairwoman Cathy Nolan, is to be commended for acting expeditiously to pass legislation in support of mayoral control more than a month ago. 
I also wish to commend State Senate leaders John L. Sampson, and Malcolm Smith, for their commitment to this legislation and for agreeing, a little more than a week ago, to renew the mayoral control law and put the education of New York`s children first.
For the past seven months many concerned members of the community have been advocating for renewal of the mayoral control law.  The law, which was established in 2002, expired on June 30th of this year.  Prior to its expiration parent organizations, education groups, political leaders and hardworking parents from across the city, state and nation began lobbying for it to be renewed, and even improved. 

This was simply because folks from across the spectrum-whether Republican or Democrat, immigrant or native born-know that effective school governance is essential not only to the development of high-achieving, able-minded students, but to the sustainment of a productive, skilled workforce and the effective functioning of one of the world`s economic capitals.
It is for this very reason that nearly two months ago I wrote an Op-Ed calling on our political leaders and all involved in the education reform debate to remember the positive difference mayoral control has made and to vote for its renewal.  
That call, and those of tens of thousands of parents across the City, has finally been heard.  A week ago an agreement was reached between the mayor`s office and State Senate, and now the Senate has agreed to go back to Albany to vote on a bill that will renew mayoral control for the next six years.
With all the focus on politics, it is important to remember that New York`s public school parents and children are the real winners in this debate.  Having the mayor in control of the city`s schools-whoever that mayor may be-is best for our children.  The reason is simple: accountability.  Having the mayor in charge of the schools puts the responsibility on him (or her) to deliver improvements or face the consequences on Election Day.

To me, this is a common sense solution.  If the mayor is responsible for every other essential service in the city, including fire, police, healthcare, and housing, why not hold him or her responsible for the education of our children?
Both locally and nationally, evidence shows that mayoral control is working.  Here in New York City, we`ve seen improved reading and math scores, increased graduation rates, a narrowing of the achievement gap between children of color and white students, less school crime, and higher teacher salaries.  
In the end, everyone-from UFT President Randi Weingarten to New York City Chancellor Joel Klein-came together to support a bill introduced by the Assembly that both renews and improves mayoral control. Parents now have more input into how our schools are run.  Two of the mayor`s appointees to the citywide education council, the Panel on Educational Policy, must also be parents. Parents will also have advanced notice and greater input before low-performing schools are closed.  
The new law, once passed, will also require more transparency regarding school finances, so that parents can be sure money is being put to best use in educating their children.  It also calls for an independent audit of student test scores and other school performance data so that communities can have even greater confidence in the progress of their children and their schools. 
The Senate has agreed to pass this bill, along with several additional amendments, such as a parent training academy run out of CUNY (City University of New York) to help parents get the skills they need to effectively negotiate the system on behalf of their children, an arts council to evaluate ways in which we can more meaningfully and cost-effectively integrate the arts into education, and school safety meetings in each school to make sure that schools are safe and children treated with dignity.
All of these measures make sense to me and promise to enhance a system that has already made significant improvements to the education of New York`s children.
New York`s children have come a long way in the seven years since mayoral control became law.  Still, we are far from where we need to be.  The renewal of this law will enable us to continue that progress. In six years when it is time to renew again, I hope that we will have made so much progress there will be no need for debate, but rather an unequivocal call for renewal.  All that is left now is for the senate to vote the mayoral control legislation into law.  New York`s 1.1 million schoolchildren will be able to start school this fall confident that someone is in charge of the schools.
Dr. Roy A. Hastick, Sr., is the president, CEO and founder, Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc.