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Bloomberg Nears Control Over Schools

New York City: Mayor's 'understanding' would give him power over chancellor and boards.

June 07, 2002|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — In a major political victory, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg reached an agreement with state legislators Thursday that gives him virtually complete control over the nation's largest public school system.

Bloomberg, a Republican who had made education reform the priority of his first six months in office, announced that he and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had reached an "understanding" that must be approved by the Legislature and New York Gov. George Pataki before taking effect.

Under the plan, which has been the subject of intense negotiations, the mayor would have full power to hire and fire the school chancellor. The city's eight-member board of education would be replaced with a 13-member advisory panel.

Just as important, the sweeping revision would allow Bloomberg to appoint the school system's 32 district superintendents and would abolish New York's 32 community school boards by next June. In return for these concessions, the mayor would agree to avoid making crippling budget cuts in public schools unless the city were to face an economic catastrophe.

"There is an understanding between the mayor and myself, and we've spoken to both the governor and [state Senate leader] Joseph Bruno about that understanding," said Silver, a Democrat from Queens who had the power to approve or scuttle the deal. "We believe we can move forward to bring about a new era in education in the city of New York by having a board of education that is controlled by the mayor."

The proposed changes would put Bloomberg in control of a school system with 1.1 million students, giving him powers that had been sought unsuccessfully by his predecessors for 25 years. But the deal also is fraught with peril for the mayor, who has said he wants to eliminate inefficiencies and run the school system more like a business.

New Yorkers, who have indicated in polls they want the mayor to have such powers, have said that school reform is their priority. Expectations are running high, and Bloomberg faces huge obstacles.

Although the recently approved New York state budget has earmarked millions in new aid for city schools, the mayor is considering as much as $1 billion in spending cuts as part of a "doomsday" budget scenario. New York faces an unprecedented $5-billion deficit, and Bloomberg has said that all city agencies must be prepared for more cuts.

Additionally, the city's teachers have been working without a contract for 18 months, and they recently took the first steps toward authorizing a strike vote if they fail to reach a new contract agreement.

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