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Mayoral Control of Schools

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"Mayoral Control of Schools"

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Pat Garofalo writes about the case for mayoral control of school systems. The basic idea here is that administration of a city’s schools should, like administration of a city’s police, be the responsibility of the city’s mayor. Obviously, that’s still working within the framework of state and federal law and subject to legislation enacted by a city council and so forth. But the point is that you won’t have a special additional elected body specifically dedicated to the schools.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg talks about this in a hot new interview with the Wonk Room:

I think this is part of a larger issue about getting democracy right in the United States. There was an assumption, at one time, that you could make government more democratic and accountable by, in essence, multiplying the number of elected officials.

In retrospect, I think this was based on flawed logic and faulty assumptions that forgot to account for the fact that people have a limited amount of time they’re realistically going to spend monitoring public officials. If you live in New York City you’re voting for the President of the United States, two United States Senators, one member of congress, the Governor, the state Attorney-General, the state Lieutenant Governor, the state Comptroller, a mayor, a District Attorney, a city Comptroller, a Borough President, and a city council member in addition to a variety of state and local judges. And that’s entirely typical for the United States. Add a school board member into the mix and the situation gets even more out of control.

The result of this sort of process is the absence of meaningful accountability rather than its presence. The result is that special interests—the people with strong self-interested motives to pay attention—wind up exerting wildly disproportionate influence.

Needless to say, special interests get a lot of influence one way or another. But when it comes to a President or a Governor or a Mayor it is realistic to expect the broad mass of people to form a meaningful opinion and register it at the polls. When you keep multiplying offices and diffusing responsibility, you play into the hands of folks looking to game the system and make it hard for voters to understand what’s happening. I think part of the answer is that states should probably adopt unicameral legislatures and consider cutting down on the number of independently elected statewide officials. But cutting down on the quantity and influence of hyper-local electeds and putting responsibility in the hands of visible figures like the mayor and city council is crucial.

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