Adams fights to control city schools, state legislature weighs options

Mayor Eric Adams holds a media availability at City Hall to discuss the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) Executive Budget. Tuesday, April 26, 2022
Photo by Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

As Albany lawmakers remain divided on whether to extend mayoral control of New York City’s public schools, Mayor Eric Adams declared that he can’t accomplish his education agenda without a continuation of the policy during his State of the City address Tuesday.

“None of this is possible without the continuing support of  mayoral accountability,” Adams said after laying out his education budget priorities. “You have a public school mayor that happens to be African American. You have a public school chancellor that happens to be African American. [Both of whom] grew up in the city [and attended public schools].”

To underscore his point, Adams said that if his predecessor Bill de Blasio – who’s originally from Boston – was given control over the city’s schools for eight years, he should get the same opportunity.

“If mayoral accountability was given to folks that were Red Sox fans, you darn sure can give it to people who are Yankees and Mets fans,” Adams said.

The mayor has previously said he wants mayoral control to be extended for four more years – the duration of his first term.

But Adams’ ability to keep control over the city’s public school system is ultimately at the whim of Albany lawmakers, who aren’t unified on whether to renew the policy or let it expire. 

This is something state electeds will ultimately have to come to an agreement on before the state legislative session ends June 2. According to a published report from the news website Gothamist, state Sen. John Liu (D – Queens), chair of the Senate Committee on New York City Education, said they tabled mayoral control until after the budget process because it merited more attention than the legislature could give it at the time.

Mayoral accountability was established in 2002 by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wrested control of the city’s public schools from the Board of Education and local school boards, arguing they were mismanaging the system. Today, the mayor has near total supremacy over the system, as they appoint the chancellor and most members of the oversight board known as the Panel for Education Policy (PEP).

Critics have argued mayoral control puts too much power in the hands of the mayor and doesn’t give parents enough say in their children’s education. 

Assembly Member Michael Benedetto (D – Bronx), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Education, said his committee hasn’t yet gotten into discussing mayoral control after pushing it out of the budget process – but are likely to take up the issue on Monday.

“Probably first thing next week we will be having a discussion on ideas from the people in our conference to state where they stand,” Benedetto said. “And when that happens we’ll have a better idea on what’s going on with mayoral control or school governance in general. We will be listening to the opinions of members of the Democratic conference to see where they stand on these issues.”

There are three main options on the table, Benedetto said. First, is doing away with mayoral control altogether. Second, is to extend mayoral control for a year but form a state task force to study the effectiveness of the policy to determine if it’s worth continuing further.

“If a committee or task force is formed, it most likely will be empowered to look at school governance in general, and come back with the best recommendation [for how] the New York City school district should be run,” Benedetto said. “So, that’s what they will probably be empowered to set up. What system should we come back with and recommend for the future?”

And third, is to keep mayoral control in place, but with some changes. Benedetto said some of the ideas for tweaks to mayoral control, which have come out of hearings the Assembly has held over the past few years, include set terms for PEP members and giving parents a larger say in how the schools are run.

Benedetto said he’s personally in favor of continuing mayoral control, but for three years instead of four years like Gov. Kathy Hochul suggested, while giving parents more of a voice.

“How exactly we do that? I don’t know just yet,” he said. “But you want to increase the voice of the parents and make sure they’re being heard because it’s the education of their children.”

The Assembly Member said he favors mayoral accountability because it simplifies things by making one person ultimately accountable for the performance of the school system.

“You can point your fingers and say, ‘Hey, Mayor Adams, you have not done the job that you were supposed to do educationally and we’re mad at you for that. And we want to change the governorship of school maintenance in the city and we want to move to a new person who has a better vision,’” Benedetto said. “And from hearings that we’ve had over the years, I think it’s been shown whether it’s the mayor controlling the schools or whether it’s a school board controlling the schools doesn’t make all that much difference in the performance of the schools.”

Yet, Benedetto said, mayoral control has yielded some really positive results for the city’s school system, like the Universal Pre-K program de Blasio implemented early in his tenure as mayor.

As the mayor continues to make his case to Albany lawmakers for why he should continue to run the city’s schools, he’ll have support from a crucial ally: City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. During an unrelated press conference Thursday, the Speaker said she strongly supports the continuation of mayoral control.

“Mayoral accountability is important,” the Speaker said. “I believe that, listening to the mayor’s comments, both the mayor and the chancellor come from the school system. And we definitely would still like to see that.”