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Senate, Assembly differ on mayoral control of NYC schools

ALBANY — The Senate and Assembly now have competing bills to extend mayoral control of New York City schools in what may be the last big issue to be resolved during this legislative session.

On Monday the Republican-controlled Senate proposed a five-year extension of the bill that puts New York City schools under control of the mayor.

However, the Senate bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) also requires that more charter schools open in the city.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) has rejected any increase in city charter schools, which are publicly funded, but privately run schools. Charter schools are opposed by politically powerful teachers unions, which represent members in traditional public schools. Heastie argues state funding for charter schools could detract from funding for traditional public schools.

The Assembly passed its mayoral control bill on May 22. It calls for a two-year extension, and, to gain Senate Republican support, tied dozens of local sales tax extensions to the bill. The Assembly bill would extend mayoral control through June 30, 2019.

In response, the Senate has been passing the local sales tax extensions — critical for their municipalities back home — individually.

The Senate was poised to pass Flanagan’s bill and related bills Monday.

“God bless them,” Heastie told reporters. “We’re not doing them. Next question.”

Rank-and-file legislators in each chamber, however, said a deal is in the works in closed-door talks. Several Senate Republicans said they may drop their insistence on expanding charter schools, even though it has been a perennial priority for some of its wealthiest campaign contributors. Meanwhile, several Assembly members said mayoral control is a top priority for some city members and for Mayor Bill de Blasio who is running for re-election this year.

That means this, as with most major issues in Albany, will go to closed-door negotiations between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Flanagan, Heastie and Democratic Independent Conference leader Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx). The session is scheduled to end June 21.

“I never said we wouldn’t talk,” Heastie said Monday. “But if I’m told the only way we are going to get mayoral control is I have to do something on charter schools, they are the ones who said they aren’t ready to negotiate.”

Klein has proposed a two-year extension, but with additional elements to increase parental involvement through Community Education Councils, which were a bigger part of the school system when it was controlled by community school boards.

“Many parents would love to take on a more active role in their child’s education and I want to give those parents the ability to get involved and be heard through Community Education Councils,” Klein said. “This is a sensible approach to extending a system that works for our city.”

In 2002, mayoral control replaced the system of community school boards as a way to make an elected official accountable for school performance.

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