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Testimony before the
City Council Education Committee

March 1, 2002
Remarks as prepared for delivery


I would like to thank you for the opportunity to discuss one of the major issues facing the City of New York today: educating our children. Over the course of the last eight weeks, I, along with Deputy Mayor Walcott and other members of my staff, have met with the City's educational, political and business leadership, as well as with leading parent organizations and individual parents, to discuss this issue. It is evident that we all share a common goal: ensuring that every New York City child receives a high-quality education that prepares him or her for a successful future.

While we all share this goal, we also have many different strategies for achieving our common objective. Hearings such as this one convened by Chairwoman Moskowitz are an important part of the public discourse regarding education. By working together, we can ensure that the New York City public school system is the best in the world. I commend the Council for this series of hearings and look forward to working together with you in the future.

In that light, I would also like to commend Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for the vision and leadership he has exhibited concerning this important issue, and thank him for convening the Assembly Speaker's Advisory Committee on School Governance. I think we should also recognize the efforts Steven Sanders, Chairman of the Assembly's Education Committee, has been putting into improving the educational process.

Very simply, I seek a school system that:

The current system is broken.


The root of the problem is in the system, the way it is structured, organized, and managed. The ultimate goal, enhanced student learning, can be achieved only when each of these factors are in alignment.

The best way to achieve this goal is to abolish the Board of Education and give the Mayor control of the school system. Retaining the board and adding additional appointees will not accomplish the desired change. It would serve only to bring more cooks into an already overcrowded kitchen, increasing expenditures, and advocating so many different alternatives that nothing would get changed. The resulting pretense of progress without substantive reform would be too cruel a hoax to play on our children and parents in their time of need. We need a direct line of accountability, and a single empowered voice to get meaningful improvements.

And the Mayor must have sole control over the appointment of the Schools Chancellor, with the Chancellor reporting directly to the Mayor, the way all current City Commissioners charged with delivering services to the public do. While some have proposed various systems of nomination and/or approval, none of these designs would serve to provide the direct authority and responsibility so necessary to fix a system universally agreed to be "broken." If democracy can be trusted to provide us with public safety, social services and economic development, how can we responsibly condemn our children to something less?

Parental Input

Mayoral control of education is only one component of the type of change I am advocating. Mayoral control must be complemented by increased parental involvement in the school system.

Community School Boards, while well-intentioned, have been largely unsuccessful in improving educational achievement for our children, especially in low-income and minority communities. The reforms of the 1996 School Governance State Legislation, which had the impetus to eliminate scandal and patronage, have left the boards with little to do. And the low turnout of voters has made clear that parents and community members do not see community school boards as effective avenues of involvement.

In trying to improve communications, too frequently we have failed to distinguish between parental involvement in the education of children and parental involvement in the work of the schools. For most parents, it is the former that is paramount. They want to help their children at home and in the classroom. It is these activities where research and experiential evidence indicate a direct benefit in children's learning.

On the other hand, for some parents, participation in activities concerning school governance is their way of choice to help their child. The school leadership teams, parents associations, and PTAs are avenues for such participation. We expect that school principals will undertake activities to promote both kinds of parental involvement.

The 1996 School Governance State Legislation required that each school have an operating school leadership team, half of which members are parents. These teams play an important role in decisions in the schools, including the development of comprehensive educational plans. At the district level, we propose an advisory body drawing from the parent members of these school leadership teams. These bodies would provide a forum for parents and other community members to bring concerns about the schools.

Further, we propose borough bodies, with members appointed by the respective Borough Presidents in consultation with their City Council Delegations, drawn from the District School Leadership Teams. In addition to their sounding board function, these Borough Boards would offer an opportunity to knit more closely the work of the schools with other borough activities.

In sum, we are proposing: an increased role for parents, first at the point where their involvement has the greatest consequence for teaching and learning, namely at their children's schools and in their homes; also, the establishment of District Advisory Boards; and, finally, the establishment of Borough bodies that will integrate more closely the activities of the school with the life of the Borough.

I do recognize that abolishing Local School Boards will implicate the provisions of the voting rights act. The overall proposal that we present will enhance, not diminish, participation of members of the "protected classes" in the life of the school system and the education of their children. And thus, I am confident that it will pass muster with the Department of Justice.


The first rule is: "if we can't measure it, we can't manage it." Currently, we have better management/information tools in our jails than in our schools. While the school system has made progress-collecting data, it now must use that data to hold managers accountable for better student performance. The public and our parents have a right to expect more. These are their schools and their children.


Schools, like any other operating unit with people involved, need to be managed. In order to be successful there must be a system of responsibility and matching authority. We must ensure a qualified teacher is in each pro-learning classroom. And we must require work rules that support, rather than prevent, teaching and learning.

A strong Commissioner for Education reporting directly to the Mayor will instill accountability for student achievement, administrative and instructional leadership and financial operation. Superintendents, principals and assistant principals, given sufficient human resources and the authority and flexibility to use these resources, centrally or on a shared basis, can deliver remarkable results. The fundamental management principle required to fix our "broken" schools is to put both the authority to do, along with the responsibility to produce - down at the level where our children get a service customized to their individual needs. This new governance and parental involvement structure will do that!


We must insist on zero tolerance of crime in our schools. If we can have safe streets, we can have safe classrooms, hallways and lunchrooms. We already have professional crime preventors on the City's staff. They are called "New York's Finest." To not use them where needed is "sick." It took over two years to negotiate an agreement between the NYPD and the Board of Education. Imagine that! As a result of that agreement, the police are already assigned to most schools. It is my goal to make sure that in the future, every student, teacher, parent and administrator will be safe not only out of the school, but also in the school. It will never take two years to guarantee the safety of our schools.

Labor Issues

The lifeblood of any organization is people. We need highly qualified teaching professionals who are adequately compensated for their work. At the bargaining table in contract talks with the teachers union, I have given two instructions to those who will be conducting the negotiations for the City. First, within the limits of the City's resources, ensure we provide a fair wage for teachers, and also reward those in schools where student achievement is above average. And second, examine each and every clause in every union contract, and ask the key question: "Does it contribute to the enhancement of teaching and learning?" If not, eliminate it.

I will instruct my Deputy Mayor for Operations and my Labor Commissioner to also negotiate future contracts with principals, custodians and other school-related unions consistent with providing quality services to students.


To help find enough qualified teachers, and to retain them for more than a few years, we must take several steps:

Fiscal issues

At the same time, we will work to ensure adequate funding for our schools: from Albany; from Washington, in the context of the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act; and from our own resources, to the extent we can find the funds.

School Facilities

Currently, the management and maintenance of school facilities are chaotic at best. There is no coordination between the School Construction Authority and the Board of Education's Division of School Facilities. Both entities have overlapping functions, which result in jurisdictional issues and, ultimately, finger-pointing when something goes wrong. There is no accountability in the way schools are constructed or maintained. I will create clear lines of responsibility and proper management structures to provide kids with safe, clean schools that are not filled beyond capacity. Just think, even if we could have done no better than average for our region in construction costs, we would still have had twice the number of new classrooms now and for no extra money.


As Tip O'Neill said about all politics being local, all efforts in education must recognize that it is the school and its classrooms which must be the focus of our attention. Teachers and supervisors must be empowered to promote teaching and learning. The district and central bureaucracy must be flattened so that additional resources can be provided to the school. Increased discretion must be granted to those at the school within the context of meeting system standards. Only then can we truly say that we provided the children of the City with the tools necessary to give back and make a difference in society.

I mean to use the bully pulpit of City Hall to focus on school performance and place the Mayor himself on the line. We must be here for the students - not the system.

Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good
We oft might win,
By fearing to attempt.

-- Shakespeare's Measure for Measure

I welcome any questions you may have.