Only in New York City?

November14

I know that many of us were looking forward to a winding down of controversy as various “reform-y” Superintendents/CEOs/Chancellors/EduCzars are being asked to leave, or are seeing the hand-writing on the wall, and taking the hint. Michelle Rhee was given her “walking papers” in D.C.’s recent mayoral election (and is sure to become a fixture in my city as she joins her fiancee, Mayor Kevin Johnson). Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Ken Huberman attempts to depart before the end of Mayor Daley’s term, and leaves CPS largely rudderless. The latest story on everyone’s mind is New York City Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein is going but it’s his replacement, Media Executive, Cathleen (Cathie) Black that is generating a tsunami of commentary.

Is this a sign of things to come? I have no idea, but I did have a very interesting conversation with my husband about the Chicago situation that seemed worth sharing, because it points up one of the abuses that can result from Mayoral control and is not talked about as much. It also dovetails very nicely with this HuffPo piece by Mike Klonsky. It’s one thing when there is a non-educator with an out-sized ego put in charge of schools, but it’s the second stage that could be the most dangerous to schools. Chicago started out with Arne Duncan (remember him?) as their CEO, and whatever you think of how CPS was run, it was run as a school district (maybe not a public one).

But following Duncan, things devolved to the point where Mayor Daley began to treat CPS as “just another city department”. His final appointment, Ken Huberman, was from the transportation department. Not only was the top job considered “interchangeable” with other city departments, but staff were too. This is the part where the institution was really decimated, as folks who knew about education, were replaced by folks who knew about…transportation. Now, it is not only the top of CPS that’s thin in terms of institutional knowledge of that agency, and just basic knowledge of education period. So thin that they had to look outside of CPS to the non-profit community just to get an interim CEO.

The “interchange” of staff between city departments and CPS, may not have been so much for the benefit of the schools, but instead as a way to move the payroll burden from one department to another. This is where my husband shared his story. Back in the day, we both worked as public library advocates in Oakland. He was much more involved in this for much longer and at a higher-level than I was. One of our efforts was to get dedicated funding for libraries through a local parcel tax. This was passed during a rather thin revenue period for the city (the 1990s). Some city management types began to look on this “pot” of money the library had gotten as a potential resource to shore up the budgets of other departments. The library was asked to take on employees from other departments, to which the then Librarian said, that unless they were a librarian or had some background for the job, no. That’s a hard thing to say in a system when a “strong” mayor is making the request (which was why California cities went to a city-manager form of government in the first place–it was a reform against abuse, like patronage appointments).

Given these fiscal times I think it will become very tempting, too tempting, for some mayors to resist tapping the regular streams of money that come to schools. Once that happens, there will be problems because as we all know, that money comes with an obligation to provide services, so if you take some of it away, the service suffers. I will simply point to the recent report on school funding by state, and Illinois’ horrible rating, and you can see that this practice of “shifting” costs onto schools there is like picking the bones of a carcass.

My own thoughts, New York is may be entering “stage 2” of Mayoral reform, where it simply becomes another source of patronage, and positions for friends.

4 Comments to

“Only in New York City?”

  1. November 14th, 2010 at 8:40 pm      Reply Bernardo Says:

    Good post. But it’s Ron Huberman, not Ken.


  2. November 15th, 2010 at 4:21 am      Reply Jenny Says:

    Intriguing view. This had not occurred to me but I think you make a great point. I’ll be paying even more attention to what happens in DC and NYC through this lens.


    • November 15th, 2010 at 8:52 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

      You should because D.C. still has mayoral control, right? So, the danger is that it might slip back into being a patronage game again, but we’ll hope for the best from Mr. Grey (and verify, no?).
      Saying at CTA (Calif Teachers Association) No permanent enemies, no permanent friends ;-).


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