Friday, July 24, 2009

Barrett: Deal for Mayoral Control Close after Bloomberg Gets the Scalp He Wanted

By Wayne Barrett in Featured, Wayne Barrett
Senate Democrats and negotiators for the mayor have apparently worked out terms to settle the recent deadlock about extending the mayoral school control bill. Sources say the mayor has agreed to an amendment that would provide $1.6 million to the City University to oversee a parent training and exchange program, which was a key change sought by Senate Democratic Conference Chair John Sampson and other senators.

Sampson is now trying to get the full Democratic conference to sign off on the four chapter amendments to the assembly bill, which also include a temporary commission to examine the police protocols used in schools, a new oversight committee to guarantee that school arts funding meets state standards, and a change of rules to permit superintendents to visit schools and oversee principals. Sampson is expected to round up any recalcitrant Democratic senators today.

The protracted battle between Mayor Bloomberg and senate Democrats -- featuring the mayor's comic Neville Chamberlain attempt to liken the Dems to Nazis -- revolved around the original amendment's language, which proposed that the parent funding go to NYU's Metropolitan Center for Urban Education. The Bloomberg negotiators, according to a senate source, threw a fit at the thought of it.

The New York Post, which has turned itself into an echo chamber for Chancellor Joel Klein and the mayor throughout the year-long debate over the school bill, ran a story on July 20 claiming that the Democrats were trying to "shower enemies of mayoral control" with the paltry $1.6 million, and citing "the center's visiting scholar" Deborah Meier as a "thorn in Hizzoner's side." The paper left no doubt who was feeding it, citing "aides to Bloomberg and Klein" who said they were opposed to "having the city subsidize an outfit that includes critics of their education reform."

The problem is that Debbie Meier, a 78-year-old retired New York City teacher and principal who created a widely acclaimed network of East Harlem Schools decades ago, says she's never worked for the Center. Meier, who lives in upstate Hillsdale, is listed on the Center's website as a resident scholar, but she says "that's an honorary position" prompted by the decision of the Center's director, Dr. Pedro Noguera, to allow her "to keep an office there." Meier says she was formerly a part-time visiting scholar at the Steinhardt School of Education, which houses the Center, but that she "wasn't hired by the Center or ever paid by it."

"I would have absolutely nothing to do with the parent grant had the center received it," Meier says. She no longer teaches at the Steinhardt School and is not paid anything by it. Ironically, Michael Steinhardt, the hedge fund billionaire whose donations funded the Steinhardt School, is a close friend of the mayor's for 30 years and was one of the major early supporters of Bloomberg's presidential bid in 2006 and 2007. The Metropolitan Center is so respected it has received grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a prime backer of Bloomberg and Klein's education efforts (Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank are also donors to the Center).

"The mayor got his facts wrong," says Meier, who has authored articles questioning Bloomberg's school achievement claims. "But even if he got his facts right, it would have been disgraceful to block the funding for the reasons he said. He needs a little understanding of academic freedom." Meier called the Bloomberg/Klein denial of the funding "blackmail," accusing them of "threatening anyone out there who disagrees with their version of mayoral control." She expressed surprise that Bloomberg would be so open about a policy that essentially said that "any institution" associated with a critic of the policies "has to be punished," even if he got the nature of the association wrong.
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