Friday, March 15, 2013

UFT Talks of Empowering SLTs

UFT supports a modified Mayoral Control over the NYCDOE. One of its points is to empower School Leadership Teams as "budget watchdogs" over school budgets and to re-empower SLTs regarding selection of principal candidates. Dear colleagues, Several months ago a group of UFT members volunteered their time to serve on a committee charged with drawing up recommendations for the official position of the UFT on school governance in New York City. I am writing you today because their work is now completed and their recommendations will soon be brought before the union’s executive board for debate and then to the Delegate Assembly for further debate and, hopefully, a vote to adopt them as our official position on school governance. I thank the members of the committee for the great job that they have done. Instead of waiting to begin this public debate with the sunset of the current school governance law in 2015, we felt it was important that the city begin having it now and that it be initiated by the UFT, the people who have served under the worst mayoral control system in the country. It is our intention that we set up a system of school governance that will allow us to become a great school system in which the voices of all stakeholders are heard and to create an environment in which all our children will achieve. I am expecting that some in the press may erroneously report the story as the UFT and Michael Mulgrew are trying to end mayoral control. I want to make sure you know that is not the case. We are not proposing to end mayoral control. We do not want to turn the clock back to 2001 or return to the chaotic days of the old elected school boards. Rather, the reforms we are proposing would create checks and balances on mayoral power over our schools. They are sorely needed to ensure that parents, communities and educators have some say in how their schools are run. Once adopted by our executive board and Delegate Assembly, we will immediately begin to lobby for them in Albany. In cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., mayoral control operates in a way that protects against possible abuses by mayors driven by politics and ideology rather than the best interests of children. In Boston, for example, a screening panel puts forward a list of candidates from which the mayor chooses a seven-member school committee. That committee, in turn, chooses the superintendent. In Washington, D.C., the mayor chooses the chancellor directly, but appoints only four of the school board’s nine members. Those four mayoral appointees must be approved by the City Council. The other five members are elected. These are the kinds of checks and balances on mayoral power that we have lacked in our city. New York City needs a system of school governance that supports schools and communities and helps teachers to help students. That is not what we’ve got now. Schools are community institutions; they function best when parents, students, teachers and other community members have a voice in how they are run. Our schools are at the same time pillars of our city. Their success is crucial to our city’s future. That’s why it is so important to balance community input in school governance with central control by the city and the Department of Education. While many decisions for schools can be handled at the school or community level, some cannot. The city has to have authority to step in when needed. In considering the governance changes needed in New York City, we debated whether to put forward only modest proposals now and to fight for more sweeping changes when the mayoral control law expires in 2015. But we decided that the need was too urgent for us to wait, and that it was best to start the process now. That is why we are calling for the following significant, system-wide changes now: A representative and responsive PEP: The Panel for Educational Policy has responsibility for a whole range of decisions in the school system, and so must become more responsive to parents, students, communities and educators. Right now, the 13-member panel includes eight appointees of the mayor and one appointee for each borough president. We’re recommending to the state Legislature that the mayor appoint five, borough presidents continue to appoint five, and that the city comptroller, public advocate, and City Council speaker also each appoint one. Panelists should serve three-year terms, that can be renewed and they should not be removable except with just cause. An independent, qualified chancellor: A more representative PEP should have a significant role in choosing the schools chancellor. Our proposal is that the PEP puts forward the names of three candidates, among whom the mayor must choose. In addition, the State Education Department should end the practice of granting waivers to allow non-educators to serve as chancellor. The chancellor should serve a renewable two-year term and be removable only for just cause during that term. Real authority for district superintendents and Community Education Councils: We also propose that the state’s Education Law be amended to restore some power and independence to high school and community superintendents so that they may advocate on behalf of schools in their districts, and to grant to Community Education Councils the power to make decisions that directly affect the schools in their communities. This can be achieved by giving Community Education Councils a role in selecting superintendents and by having superintendents serve renewable three-year terms, during which time they could be removed only for just cause. The Community Education Councils should also have decision-making power over all school co-locations in their districts. Empowerment for School Leadership Teams: We will also work to ensure that School Leadership Teams are given the authority they need to fulfill their role as budget watchdogs. This includes ensuring that they get access to full information on their schools’ finances. School Leadership Teams should also be re-empowered to put forward the lists of candidates from which new principals are chosen, a power that they had prior to the introduction of mayoral control in 2002. The changes we are proposing will establish a sharing of power and responsibilities for local communities and individual schools while retaining a significant role for the city’s top executive in running the school system. Our proposed reforms would help to ensure a balance of power, which our students, our schools and our city critically need. In solidarity, Michael Mulgrew United Federation of Teachers • A Union of Professionals 52 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 • 212.777.7500 •