WINDSOR TERRACE — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday morning held up Exhibit A to support his quest to convince Albany to keep him in charge of city schools: the city’s Pre-K for All program.
As state lawmakers wrap up their current legislative session Wednesday and remain deadlocked over mayoral control — with provisions for charter schools delaying the decision — the city’s mayor visited a “stepping up” ceremony for a class at Windsor Terrace’s K280, the School of Journeys pre-K in the former Bishop Ford High School. Many consider it to be a model program created under the mayor’s pre-K expansion.
This Department of Education-run program — which has nearly 500 preschoolers, whose teachers are trained in Reggio-style, child-centered learning — and the other free “full day” (6 hours and 20 minutes) pre-K programs across the city would not have been possible without mayoral control, de Blasio said.
The mayor’s promise to bring free “full day” pre-K for 3-year-olds also will fall by the wayside if Albany decides to revert the school system back to the Board of Education’s decentralized control over the 32 districts, the mayor said.
If no agreement is made by June 30, the city would see a return to the old system of local school boards starting July 1, with officers needing to be voted in for each district. It was a system rife with corruption, many watchdogs said.
“The old system existed for decades, and the vast majority of children did not get full day pre-K,” de Blasio said after handing out certificates to the now-5-year-olds in the pre-K class. “Under mayoral control it did happen, and we’re going to build it for 3-K.”
He added, “If we don’t get mayoral control, 3-K for All is dead because we don’t have the power to implement it over 32 districts.”
For a family with two kids, these two programs could “easily” save them $50,000, he said, adding, that starting kids in school younger sets them up better, in terms of academic and social emotional development, by the time they start kindergarten.
“This is about making the entire school system better for all children,” he said, citing other initiatives he’s worked on, including afterschool for middle schoolers and expanding AP courses and computer science training.
De Blasio was frustrated that the discussion about the charter school cap was a sticking point since, he believes, it should be a separate issue — and because the current cap allows for the continued growth of the charter sector that now educates more than 100,000 city kids. Moreover, the city’s big initiatives like Pre-K for All, afterschool for middle school and the planned 3-K for All include charters, he noted.
“I don’t want to pretend to understand the Albany process because it makes no sense to me,” de Blasio said.
Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College of Education and chief academic officer of the NYC Public Schools during the Bloomberg administration, noted that he does not always agree with de Blasio on many issues, but he strongly believes in the importance of mayoral control.
Suransky recounted that when he started working in the school system as a teacher under the old Board of Education, some districts operated on a pay-to-play system, with the going rate for assistant principal jobs at $15,000 and principal positions starting at $30,000.
“I believe mayoral control changed that,” he said. “We’ve seen the end of patronage and corruption in the system. With clear accountability in the system transformational change can happen. Pre-K for All could not have happened under the decentralized system.”
Without mayoral control, the system lacks stable leadership and coherence, he added.
When mayoral control lapsed for the summer of 2009, Suransky said it was not only a “tremendous distraction,” but with months without “clear direction,” there were lasting impacts on the school year.
Dick Dadey, of the Citizen’s Union watchdog group, echoed the importance of mayoral control and believed it should be passed with no strings attached.
Last year when the state gave de Blasio a one-year extension of his control over city schools, lawmakers gave itself new oversight powers over DOE funding, for instance, by requiring the mayor to publicly disclose the funding formula for each school under his control.
While the Board of Regents has an important role steering state education policy, he said, there’s little reason why a lawmaker from Syracuse or a state senator from Long Island should be in charge of city schools.
“It’s an overreach,” Dadey said. “It’s a threat against our own home rule.”