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Agreement Gives NYC Mayor Direct Control of City's Schools

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have reached an "understanding" that gives the mayor direct control of the city's schools.

"There is an understanding between the mayor and myself, and we've spoken to both the governor and Senator (Joseph) Bruno about that understanding," said Silver. "And we believe we can move forward to bring about a new era in education in the city of New York by having a Board of Education that is controlled by the mayor."

The agreement in principle, which must be approved by both houses of the state Legislature and signed by Gov. George Pataki, gives Bloomberg direct control of city schools — a goal of New York City mayors dating back to Edward Koch more than two decades ago.

This year, however, an unusual confluence of circumstances — most significantly, widespread public anger about the city's moribund 1.1-million pupil school system and Bloomberg's sheer force of will — were enough to eventually close the deal after months of tense negotiations.

Most details of the plan remained unclear Thursday afternoon, but Bloomberg aides said the mayor would likely discuss the plan in detail later in the day.

Bloomberg, a Republican, made education reform one of the primary themes of his mayoral campaign last year, even after the World Trade Center attack when conventional wisdom suggested it was rebuilding — not education — that was on the mind of the average voter.

The public concern with the condition of schools grew so intense in fact, that state Assembly members representing the city warned Silver that voters would take their anger out at the polls if no deal to reform schools was reached.

The accord, which has been more than three months in the making, expands the Board of Education from eight to 13 members. Bloomberg will pick a new chancellor to serve on the board and will also select seven other members as well. The city's five borough presidents will continue to pick one member each.

Bloomberg had sought to strip the board of most of its authority, including setting policy, but Silver said Thursday that the board would continue to be involved in both policy-making and budgetary decisions.

The two did agree, however, to abolish 32 community school boards next June, and in the meantime, to have local school superintendents be selected directly by the chancellor.

The U.S. Justice Department, however, must approve any changes to the boards, which will likely be replaced by another entity to ensure parent participation.