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Mayoral Control of City Schools

Mayor Duffy Sparks Controversy
The Outreach Community Center, works to ensure the success of children and their families through its many programs.
27 February 2010  |  000 Views  |  News

Mayor Robert Duffy's plan to take over supervision of Rochester's Schools eliminating the need for a School Board has sparked an ongoing wave of public debate. This has become a hot button issue for parents, teachers and school officials, that shows no sign of cooling any time soon. Opposing sides of the matter, argue about whether or not Mayoral control will improve the current educational success rates and some speculate that Mayor Duffy is simply seeking to control the $119 million he now provides to city schools in aid in each year. Such control would give him authority of over $1 billion, a sum which many see as too much responsibility for one person.

At the core of the argument is the sincerity or successfulness of the mayor in helping students achieve higher test scores and schools in achieving higher graduation rates. John Pabon, Vice President of the Rochester Teacher's Union who staunchly opposes mayoral control had this to say referring to the majority of the teacher union members. "We are against mayoral control. We believe it's a bad idea. We believe that he is not sincere about improving test scores or improving the dropout rate. It's all about money. He just wants to balance his budget."

When the mayor held a private meeting with City Council in which he distributed a draft of his proposal, "Mayoral Accountability" for the City School takeover, Van White, Vice President of the City School Board, voiced his concern over the private meeting saying, "It's a poor excuse to say; how you are going to operate in a transparent way over the school district if in fact you begin investigations into how you might govern in secret? It just can't work that way."

Mayor Duffy announced that he plans to hold public forums. There were, in fact, two meetings scheduled for the first week in February which were postponed until the legislation could be completed by Governor Patterson's office. These are intended to give the public a bird's eye view of what his plan includes and how it could benefit the most important stakeholders, our children.

The mayor did outline some of the changes he expects to implement. One key change - the City School Board would be replaced by an unpaid advisory board with City Council overseeing appropriation of the schools budget, thus giving it more power. The superintendent would report to the mayor.

The most important thing for me is the children of the City of Rochester and their families. It's not a matter of money because I think the per capita investment for kids is somewhere in the $22,000 to 23,000 per student range. All I'm asking for is perhaps a four year test of a different system to see if it can work. I'm not asking for a permanent change.
Mayor Bob Duffy in an interview with City Newspaper

Mayor Duffy points to New York City's marked improvement in graduation rates since mayoral control. However former interim superintendent Dr. William Cala, strongly refuted Mayor Bloomberg's statistics on just how well students have fared since mayoral control began in 2002. "The graduation rate in New York City for African Americans and Latinos is 29% so if we want to emulate that we need to think twice. I think this is about money and it's about control. Control isn't going to fix children." He also stated that the school budget in New York City climbed from $12.5 billion to $21 billion in the past 8 years, further evidence that mayoral control has not resulted in fiscal stability that was at the height of the proposed change.

Dr. Cala, now a professor at Nazareth College, points out that in order for there to be real improvement in academic performance among the city school district's enrolled students the underlying issues of poverty must be addressed. Rochester has among the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world and in his words, can be compared to that of third world countries. Living conditions, lead poisoning and child abuse are all causative factors which will not be magically changed by mayoral control.

Not everyone is critical of the mayor's proposal. In fact, the presidents of 19 area colleges and universities spoke in support of it, calling the old paths "clearly dead ends." In a letter e-mailed to the Democrat and Chronicle, the presidents of every major post-secondary school in the region said the school board system of governance was a failure, that it is time to "venture down new paths" and try a new approach. Joe Klein of KleinSteel who is not a city resident himself, feels strongly that mayoral control will bring a semblance of order and structure to what he considers to be a dysfunctional school board. In a rebuttal to those who contend that mayoral control will cost Rochester residents the right to vote, he said, "only 4400 turned out to vote in the last school board election," barely 4% of registered city voters which he denotes is indicative of the apathy among city residents with regard to education.

Perhaps the most beneficial result of Mayor Duffy's plan to date is all of the discussion it has spurred. The move to take control has created a heightened sense of urgency among parents, educators and community leaders and led to renewed efforts to arrive at solutions that could improve our school system's success rate. Whether you agree or disagree with the Mayor, he has done us a service by spurring us to action.

Denise P. Logan
- Writer
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