It is telling that, after 20 years in which his union had fractious relationships with the city's two previous Mayors, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew sought early on to build a strong one with Mayor de Blasio but is now talking about reworking mayoral control of schools.
The breaking point clearly has been the Mayor's mishandling of the school system since the coronavirus began wreaking havoc on life in the city. Mr. de Blasio was a week slow in shutting down the system in March, and grudgingly did so in no small measure because he was facing a rebellion from Teachers alarmed by both the growing number of illnesses and the foolish decision by the Department of Education to stop providing information about those who were coming down with them in individual schools.
The Mayor was slow in both crafting a plan for reopening this fall and enlisting the school unions' input in that process. He delayed the opening of in-person classes only when a pending strike-authorization vote by the UFT forced him to act. At a time when the city faces a severe budget crunch, he has been forced to add thousands of Teachers to deal with the reality that a majority of students and their parents have opted for strictly remote-learning.
And while it's been a point of pride for the Mayor that the city has offered in-person classes while other major cities throughout the nation haven't, it's been on a decidedly limited basis, with some Teachers saying that only a half-dozen students are showing up for those classes while they sometimes must instruct as many as 40 online.
Mr. de Blasio offered some candor just before Thanksgiving when he acknowledged that he should have devised a "Plan B" for reopening the schools if a rise in virus cases meant they had to shut down for any period of time. But he also deserves a demerit for not charting that course from the outset, given the expectation that a second wave could hit here as well as nationally once colder weather arrived.
Mr. Mulgrew's discontent with the Mayor's handling of this situation has been shared by Mark Cannizzaro, his counterpart at the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. But we doubt this alone, as serious a failing as it's been, would have been cause enough for the UFT leader to be calling for changes that would weaken Mayors' authority over the school system by, among other things, diluting their role in selecting Schools Chancellors.
Richard Carranza is on the same ideological wavelength as Mr. de Blasio. But that has sometimes placed them at odds with other key players in the system, most notably on school suspensions and testing for admission to three of the city's elite high schools.
Mr. Carranza boasts of the large drop in suspensions over the past couple of years, even though the current statistics are largely due to the reality that there aren't that many students coming to school whose misbehavior would warrant such discipline.
But Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd, who represents School Safety Agents and has long taken issue with the argument that it's a sign of bias that the majority of suspensions are given to black and Latino students, likened the decline to a self-fulfilling prophecy, saying that it was bound to happen once standards for imposing suspensions were watered down.
Mr. Mulgrew and Mr. Cannizzaro have not been as outspoken on the subject, but comments they have made occasionally suggest they are not convinced that problem schools have been transformed into peaceful centers of learning by substituting restorative justice for meaningful punishment for out-of-control students.
The Mayor and Mr. Carranza have also looked to do away with the admissions exam for the Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant High based on the low passing rates in recent years for black and Latino students. They seemed determinedly oblivious to the protests of Asian community leaders and parents that doing away with an objective means of measuring students' readiness for top science and math schools would come at their children's expense. The Mayor was also unmoved when elected officials of color, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams--himself a graduate of Brooklyn Tech who said his middle-school grades were poor enough that he wouldn't have been admitted except that the special test showed he had the aptitude to succeed--spoke in favor of the current system.
It hasn't helped his case that Mr. de Blasio has not used his power to end special testing in five other high schools where it is not required by law. This has fueled a suspicion that he harps on supposed bias in testing for the three elite schools as a distraction from his administration's failure to upgrade middle schools in many of the city's poorer neighborhoods.
Mr. Mulgrew has indicated that he will be quizzing mayoral candidates next year about their willingness to share power with other elected officials, school unions and parents in deciding on an endorsement for a successor to Mr. de Blasio. If the Mayor is offended by his plan, he might pause to consider how he's lost the confidence of school-union leaders.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.