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Albany fails to act on mayoral control of NYC schools

New York State senators work at the state

New York State senators work at the state Capitol in Albany on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, during the last scheduled day of the 2017 legislative session for their chamber and the Assembly. Photo Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo failed to extend the 15-year-old control of New York City schools by the mayor before the end of the 2017 session Wednesday, leaving the major issues on their final agenda undone.

Some legislators said they plan to return to Albany in the coming weeks to try again to renew mayoral control of New York City schools, though it was far from certain. They said they still hoped to extend that authority and avoid a costly return to a less centralized governance by neighborhood school boards, a practice abandoned as ineffective in 2002.

While lawmakers were gridlocked over that issue, they moved forward on many others. They rushed to approve a five-year contract with the Civil Service Employees Association, the state’s largest public-sector union, waiving a required three-day waiting period before acting.

They also approved a measure that would allow Nassau County union employees to get contractual step increases — salary hikes based on years in the job — even during a wage freeze.

A late bill backed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) would name the new Tappan Zee Bridge for former Gov. Mario Cuomo. The father of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo served from 1983 to 1994.

And lawmakers gave up on proposals to strengthen oversight of the state’s economic-development programs, even in the wake of a federal investigation of the Cuomo administration’s initiatives.

But the stalemate focused on the extension of mayoral control of New York City public schools due to expire June 30, an issue that was linked by the Assembly to sales-tax reauthorizations for dozens of counties that have to be renewed by Dec. 31.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) refused to bend on the Republican-led Senate’s demand to expand city charter schools, which the GOP set as a condition of extending mayoral control.

“We’re not going to pass a bill that requires us to do anything with charters,” Heastie told reporters at around 11:30 p.m. after the Assembly adjourned. “We have no intention of coming back,” he added, when asked whether lawmakers would return later in the year.

Flanagan stuck to his argument, too.

“I will continue to work to extend mayoral control because I believe very strongly in the accountability it provides,” Flanagan said. “But I also believe that the 50,000 boys and girls in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx who are now on waiting lists for a seat inside a charter school deserve the best possible education we can provide. I will never stop fighting for those kids, and will not leave them without a voice.”

In Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to apply pressure on Albany, although he has a poor relationship with Senate Republicans, a rocky relationship with fellow Democrat Cuomo and a mixed relationship with the Assembly’s Democratic majority.

“If they don’t get this done today, or worst case by June 30, then all bets are off as to what happens thereafter,” de Blasio said in a news conference.

He said that if the mayoral control law expired, the school system would revert to control by a seven-member board of education, stacked with political appointees, and 32 separate community school boards.

In 2002, the state Legislature placed mayors in charge of New York City schools and made them accountable as a way to improve education. Senate Republicans extended the experiment for several years at a time under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican.

The sales-tax reauthorizations expire Dec. 31, if the legislature doesn’t renew them.

Rank-and-file lawmakers were mostly supportive of ending the state legislative session on time Wednesday night with or without a deal. But they accepted the possibility that the Legislature could convene Thursday and Friday or return in the fall for a special session.

Two major issues were dropped in the past two days that were at one point expected to be tied to mayoral control for a typical end-of-session deal of disparate issues.

Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, said a proposal for procurement reform hadn’t been part of negotiations for days and apparently was dropped from the table without agreement.

The measure would restore some authority to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to do pre-audits of Cuomo’s contracts and his major economic development programs. Some of them, the Buffalo Billion program, is under federal investigation.

“There have been no discussions of procurement reform in the last few meetings,” Klein said. “There is no agreement.”

Another issue was dropped late Monday night. The proposed Child Victims Act that Democrats had hoped would be part of deal with mayoral control died for the 11th straight year in the Senate.

The bill has been opposed by the Catholic Church and insurance companies, which would have to pay settlements and verdicts. Opponents also noted that a “look-back” provision could open cases that are years and even decades old. Time can erode evidence and testimony that could exonerate the wrongly accused, the opponents argued.

Democrats called it a crushing disappointment for victims of childhood sexual abuse. On social media, TBS’ “Full Frontal” TV host Samantha Bee tweeted: “We’re sure @NewYorkGOP and Senator John Flanagan have an adequate explanation for killing it, right?”

With Laura Figueroa

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