A controversial report on mayoral control of NYC public schools adds a new wrinkle to the debate

With Mayor Eric Adams’ authority over the New York City’s public schools on the line, a new study of mayoral control that painted an unfavorable picture of how parents and teachers feel about the status quo has added a new wrinkle to the debate in Albany.

The state Education Department’s $250,000 report, released Tuesday, offered no formal recommendations of its own.

But an analysis of feedback found members of the public seeking stronger checks on the mayor’s power and a commission to consider reforms. Those views echoed the position of the local teachers union, which wants the city’s Panel for Educational Policy to have greater decision-making authority.

Adams and his team have blasted the study as a “sham,” saying it was based on the views of “professional” parents, who turned out for a series of borough hearings last winter.

But state Sen. John Liu, D-Queens, chair of the NYC Education Committee, said the study will be a “vital component” of lawmakers’ “deliberations and decision-making process.”

“This rather authoritative report gives us the history leading up to mayoral control,” Liu said. “It discusses what’s happened during mayoral control — the good, the bad and the ugly. And it also analyzes the decision-making process that other major school districts around the country have undergone.”

“So this gives us a great deal more information and insight that we didn’t have at our fingertips before,” he said.

Liu and State Sen. Shelley Mayer, D-Westchester, chair of the statewide Education Committee, issued a joint statement shortly after the study’s release, saying it will be “invaluable” as the expiration of mayoral control approaches in June.

Schools Chancellor David Banks, who told reporters Thursday afternoon he had not been in touch with lawmakers since the study’s release, disagreed with its conclusions.

“While the report was thorough, my team and I must confess, we were disappointed to read its takeaways,” Banks said.

“My message to the state legislators is really quite simple,” the chancellor continued. “There is no perfect governance system. It does not exist. But the system that we have I believe on balance is better than what we had before.”

Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, D-Bronx, chair of the Education Committee, said the report did not change his mind — and in fact “confirmed” his thinking on the issue.

“Some people, like myself, believe that under mayoral control, we can point our finger at someone if we think they’re not doing a good job,” he said.

Benedetto, like the chancellor, said he had not spoken with other lawmakers about the report since it came out, as the roughly two-weeks-late state budget is taking precedence in Albany.

While Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, had called for a four-year extension of mayoral control in the budget, the Legislature had little appetite for it during budget negotiations. Benedetto, an ally of Adams’, in December called for six more years of mayoral authority, but anticipated a diversity of opinions in the spring.

“It will make for an interesting last two months of the legislative year as we discuss this in our conference and see which way we want to go,” Benedetto said.

Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, D-Brooklyn, another Adams ally, said the report does not directly advocate for or against mayoral control.

“But everyone ultimately wants the best for our schools,” she said, “and knows (an extension of) mayoral control will keep us in the right direction.”

Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, a member of the Education Committee, said he expected the report will influence lawmakers’ decision on mayoral control. “I think Senator John Liu will make sure it does,” he said.

When mayoral control was last renewed in 2022, the Legislature tasked state education officials with writing the report. And while the study revealed pushback with the current structure, the nearly 300-page report found few parents and teachers want to go back to the old system of dozens of local school boards.

Betty Rosa, the state Education Department commissioner, told reporters before one of the public hearings this winter that she heard a range of opinions on mayoral control.

“We are here to listen, to capture information and do our analytics,” Rosa said. “Then the governor and the Legislature have to take a look at the report and say, what’s the next step?”

New York’s version of mayoral control gives Adams more power than the leaders of similar school systems studied by researchers. Other districts governed by the mayor share some authority with a City Council or nominating panel, or have abandoned the model in recent years.

A literature review found “no conclusive relationship” between school governance structures and student achievement.

The schools chancellor, however, suggested the data speaks for itself, with graduation rates, student achievement and teacher retention all on the rise.

“You can get into the political back-and-forth until the cows come home, but I’m here to try to lead this system,” Banks said. “And we would like to have the support of our state to continue to give us what we need to provide our leadership.”

The Legislature is expected to take up the issue of mayoral control after the state budget is finalized.