Good morning. It’s Tuesday. Today we’ll look at whether Mayor Eric Adams should retain control of the public school system in New York City.
Mayor Eric Adams’s control over the school system in New York City is up for renewal in June. The State Legislature, which will decide whether or not to extend the mayor’s primacy over the nation’s largest public school system, seems open to revisiting a model of school governance that was instituted in New York 20 years ago and has since become entrenched. Whether mayoral control has improved the system has been a subject of considerable debate ever since.
I asked Troy Closson, who covers education for the Metro desk, about the future of mayoral control.
Mayoral control of the schools carries a political risk for Adams, as it did for his predecessors: He can use his role to put education high on the city’s agenda, but he probably can’t improve test scores, can he?
No, but let’s take a wider view.
One reason this moment feels different is that Adams is the third mayor who has had mayoral control.
There are parents and educators who feel it’s time to take stock. They are well aware that some cities have moved away from mayoral control. Chicago is in the process of doing so right now.
That has made some families in New York say what they might not have said a couple of years ago — that maybe it’s possible to have a different model here.
Mayor Adams is pushing hard to maintain control. He has also talked about how this is the first time a Black mayor and Black chancellor have been in control and that he believes it’s important to keep that in mind.
Does the criticism of Adams’s administration affect what parents are saying?
From the parents’ side, definitely.
The decision makers in Albany will probably look at the full 20 years that New York has had this system and will evaluate where it has worked and what needs to be improved.
How close are Adams and David Banks, the schools chancellor?
The mayor and the chancellor have been family friends for a long time, so coming into this role, Banks was in a different position from some other recent chancellors.
Looking back at Adams’s first two years in office, the mayor said that dyslexia should be a priority, along with improving reading for Black and Latino kids, and that’s what the chancellor has concentrated on.
That speaks to the power it carries for the mayor to have full say over the selection of the chancellor.
Banks was a New York educator before mayoral control, and he has argued that after seeing problems with the prior system, mayoral control is the better model.
He has also tried to frame the current frustrations with mayoral control as having to do with other administrations. School closings when Michael Bloomberg was mayor have come up in the conversation with frustrated parents and teachers, but there’s also deep anger over Adams’s cuts to education.
Where does mayoral control stand with the State Legislature?
There hasn’t been a groundswell of legislators who appear interested in taking away mayoral control and moving to a completely different system, but a lot of legislators seem willing to have conversations about whether tweaks are needed.
Back in 2022, when Adams received the two-year extension on mayoral control that’s now running out, it was tied to a new class size law. The city has been somewhat resistant to the idea of mandated reductions, frustrating some lawmakers, I think.
It’s also worth noting that when Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio were in City Hall, the teachers’ union never fully stepped into the debate on mayoral control. Michael Mulgrew, the head of the union, was in Albany last week and told lawmakers he wasn’t against mayoral control. But he pointed to places like Boston and Cleveland, where there are checks and balances. Mulgrew essentially said that’s where he wants to go here.
What is the union saying?
Mulgrew is arguing that the mayor should not select a majority of the Panel for Educational Policy, which votes on issues like school funding and mergers.
He told legislators that limiting the mayor’s power wouldn’t have stopped initiatives like universal prekindergarten or the chancellor’s plan to overhaul the way reading is taught — but it could have prevented the mayor from making unilateral cuts to education, as Adams did. The union’s involvement is going to be interesting to watch. Mulgrew’s proposal would be a huge loss for Adams.
How angry are parents?
It’s always tough to gauge the mood of the whole system.
But a big group of parents felt that the thing that most defined Adams’s first year in office was rollbacks to education and cuts. That has come up over and over at recent public hearings, where hundreds of parents have spoken out against mayoral control.
Also, this is a rough moment for the system. Enrollment dropped in the pandemic, and the system is facing tough questions about budgets and space in school buildings. That’s why, as families look ahead, they want a say in what happens.
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I often get up early for a 6:30 a.m. gym class. I turn on the light in my kitchen, where the window faces kitchen windows in the building next door.
As I pour coffee into my thermos, I see the man who lives directly across from me in his kitchen. He’s making coffee too.
We turn off our lights, go out the door, take the elevator downstairs and walk out onto the street at the same time. He has two terriers. We both say “hello.”
“Looks like you’re back in town these days,” he said one morning last fall.
Yes, I responded. We had spent most of the summer on Long Island but were back for the winter.
I mentioned that he had new neighbors downstairs with two young children. (I can see into that kitchen too.)
Yes, he said, they’re really nice. The building has had a lot of turnover with new families, he added.
Ours too, I said.
We got to the corner, wished each other a good day, and I turned right toward the gym.
Fifteen years of living across the courtyard from each other, and we still haven’t exchanged names.
— Erica True
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.