Saturday, March 29, 2014

Yes, the Mayor Got His A$$ Kicked. No It's Not the End Of the World

It's budget season in  New York State. That period of time from February 1 to April 1 is very a exciting time to follow politics. Lately, it has become a very exciting to follow education issues as well. The calculus of democratic politics don't seem to be just right during budget season. It can be a time where down seems up and up left seems right; a time where the voice of the few -those who can afford TV ads and can afford to drag thousands up to Albany- seem to outnumber the many. It is a time where politicians find themselves in all sorts of contorted positions with the hope of making as many constituents as possible happy with the how they voted.

This year's budget season is no different. Yet it should be remembered for two great things: First, this year's season has marked the return of the #edwars here in New York. It has seen charter school leaders backed by funders worth tens of millions, successfully fight their way out of a corner they found themselves in after last year's election. Second, it has marked a rare loss for State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Shelly, as he's called upstate, did something he doesn't normally do during budget season; he publicly stated a few positions. That's rare because he usually likes to be the last voice in the room that is heard. After that, he did something he hardly even does; he changed those positions in the name of compromise. 

That's a significant shift. New York State budget negotiations has often been referred to as 'three men in a room', the governor, the leader of the Senate and the leader of the Assembly, hammering out a deal. Shelly doesn't like to change his positions very often (that's why he hardly ever shared them with the press during negotiations). 

This year's budget season is also significant for another reason; the 'fourth man' in the room -the mayor of New York City (and the one person who holds sway over the most amount of legislative votes (of both houses) up in the Albany, had his a__ royally kicked this season, then made a speech that reached out to the charter groups and finally fell completely silent during the last, intense week of negotiations, letting the 'new' powers that be hammer out the details. That's a first and is indicative of just how bad he got whooped. 

To hear Diane Ravitch tell it over on the New York Review of Books, the man simply caved to the powerful funding of charters. Ravitch writes that, at some point during this budget season:
De Blasio decided he could not win this war. The other side had too much money and proved it could drive down his poll numbers.

And to hear Norm Scott tell the story over on Ednotes, BDB is, at best ineffectual and, at worse, a man who wasted our vote. "Enjoy the victory", Scott writes to all of his readers who voted for BDB back in November. "--he is folding faster than a cheap suit--".  Then there's this:

I hate to tell you I told you so, but I told you so. That Eva would never pay a dime in rent...Not only that but now de Blasio will have to pay her rent....can I predict right now -- one term.

So the guy who wanted to stand up to the powers that be had his head handed to him. Instead of thinking of ideas like organizing a press conference to  accusing charters of getting some of the school aide that he had wanted for pre-k (he had wanted $342 million. He got $300 million, with more than $42 million in new dollars going to charters), he caved. Instead of getting creative, perhaps using his bully pulpit powers to visit NYC students who are forced to attend class in trailers (then, perhaps accusing the governor of not caring about those students), he remained silent.  In short, instead of fighting, he turned tail and ran. Gave up.  Here are afew ways you could describe it.

He had his head handed to him.
He got hit straight into next Tuesday.
They beat him so bad his stars saw stars.
He got his butt kicked so hard, mine hurt just watching it.
He was a tomato.

He definitely some missteps. He probably shouldn't have announced the end of co-locations during budget season -when the fog of war hangs over New York politics like a, well, like a fog. And he probably should have taken the gloves off with Eva before she grew as big as she is now (I personally felt she should have been investigated by OSI for calling off school for all those children for a day to head up to Albany. Charters, you may recall, are still required to follow the rules of education in New York State). But what's past is past and it's time to sum up and measure exactly how much was lost.

  • Instead of an end to the standardized test regime, we got an affirmation of it. The suburban backlash amounted to less than what many of us had hoped for. Instead of a moratorium on testing, we got a reminder that our jobs are about test results and a warning about teaching to the test. 
  • Instead of a $342 million tax on the rich, we a $300 million handout and a slap in the face to the principal of home rule. New York City is now the only district in NYS that cannot create a new funding source to teach it's four year olds. The governor did that to us.
  • Instead the end of co-location, we lost a small part of mayoral control and three co-locations must now continue. The topic that the governor actually dismantled part of mayoral control when he didn't exercise the type of control that the moneyed interests like to see is a topic for another blog post. But it happened.
But before you go thinking it's the end of the world, consider two things. First, consider what we gained this budget season:
  • A ton of new cash from the state for city schools. Yes, not as much as it should be, but BDB was able to get $6.3 billion from the state in addition to a guaranteed funding source for Pre-k. At no point were we talking about a funding cut.
  • An affirmation that co-locations may now end.  If you're crying about co-locations, understand that Silver held off the really bad stuff. The mayor did not lose the control of creating new co-located schools. Unless Fariña decides to co-locate at some future PEP, they are now over. I mean OVER. That's a win in any language.
  • No new city dollars going to help charters.   Charters are getting a whole lot of new money, but it's from the state. What does this mean? Well the trend of siphoning off money from the public district to pay for the charters is now reversed. Yes, the state is picking up the tab. But, given the nearly $7B that NYC schools are getting this year (which is a huge increase), that new money (coming from the state) is not coming from the city (at least, this is what I have taken away from the news stories). It's coming from the state. That's a win that Diane Ravitch and Norm Scott should be happy about. 
  • [This is an UpdateThe rent is offset Now some may think that, since the city must now pay for the Eva's rent, that the outcome is terrible. But the fact is that those funds (up to $40 million per year) are being offset (and then some) by the monies that the state is providing. I just wanted to be clear: Mario Cuomo's son is paying the rent for charter schools. He's doing so with money from upstate and long island and all of the suburbs in between. The taxpayers of New York are not paying for that rent. 
Second, consider this; BDB wasn't the only one to get his a$$ kicked this season. As I noted earlier, this season saw a rare loss for Sheldon Silver as well. That is a rarity and it should be factored into anyone's analysis of exactly wth it was that happened up there in Albany this year.


So is deB a one term mayor? Maybe. The way I see it, he's two choices; he could switch teams, like state Senator Tony Avella, has apparently done, or he could find his inner Bill Clinton and figure out how to fight back against all of this. Which way his survival instincts take him is anyone's guess at this point. If he brilliant politician anywhere in him, now would be a good time to let it out.

But I would like to give you a brief history lesson before you go writing off this, or any Italian from Brooklyn. This city's last populist mayor; Theorello H. La Guardia, was elected on the promise of putting everyone back to work. Yet during his first year, he laid off thousands of city employees, because the NYC government was heavily in debt. . It wasn't until after that year until he found his groove and became the mayor we all remember him for. And how he is remembered? Well, among other things, for finding ways of getting the city new money from Washington DC) and for putting people back to work during the Great Depression. 

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