New York City, of course, has had mayoral control since 2002, and it was renewed by the state legislature last summer amid much debate. Now, Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy wants similar powers to control his city's school district by removing the board of education and appointing the superintendent of schools. Rochester has long pretended to be a reform-minded school system, but it's as dysfunctional and low-performing as almost any in the country.
Other upstate mayors also would like to control their school systems, but Rochester's effort is gaining traction. Area members of the state Assembly, David Gantt and Joseph Morelle, both majority Democrats, favor legislation to institute mayoral control. State Senator Joseph Robach, is less enthused, but has not come out in opposition.
Surprise! Teacher Union Opposes
Then there is the big kahuna, Adam Urbanski, now in his 30th year as the president of the Rochester Teachers Association who also serves as vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. He is opposed (here). He views mayoral control as concentrating power in one person, which reminds him of his native Poland under communist rule.
Now, I respect Mr. Urbanski, especially given his roots in Krakow, his immigration story to America, and his spectacular rise in the labor union movement. But, with all of Rochester's problems, mayoral control becoming a slippery slope to an urban communist dictatorship is not one of them.
Mr. Urbanski makes no bones about his preference to deal with a school board, rather than a mayor, and it's no wonder: in contrast to the mayor's office, school board members are less known, more easily influenced, and easier to elect--or unelect, if they are not malleable to the union's agenda.
Mayor Duffy described Mr. Urbanski's role as to "serve the teachers and the members of his union." This is a subtle way of contrasting his agenda for the children to the teacher union's focus on adults.
Charter Schools Understand Mayoral Control and Accountability
Charter school founder and leader, John Bliss, a former Rochester district teacher, came out in favor of mayoral control in a recent article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Accountability is a familiar reality to any charter school operator, and the Urban Choice Charter School just went through a successful charter renewal. Unfortunately, teacher unions do not think like educational entrepreneurs like Mr. Bliss.
Will mayoral control over public schools become a reality in Rochester? I suspect it will, but not this year. Big changes take time for debate, which has finally gotten serious in Rochester.
for The Chalkboard
(see me Twitter at "PeterMurphy26")
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