Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at Rally Urging Albany to Extend Mayoral Control of New York City Schools

June 19, 2017

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Ernie, I’ve got thank you for your powerful and passionate voice on behalf of our children. My friends, Ernie Logan has spent literally his entire life supporting our children, and he is retiring as president of CSA this summer. And he’s done an amazing job for his members and for all the children of this school system. But I want to tell you something that Ernie talks about all the time – how it was a teacher who turned his life around.

Ernie Logan’s an educator and a leader in this city. It might not have been that way, but a teacher turned his life around. And that is what we’re talking about today – whether we are going to continue to give our children that chance to be reached by great educators, to be put on a path where they fulfil their potential. That is what is hanging in the balance here – whether our schools are actually going to work for all our children or not. Because in the past they did not work for all our children, and we all saw with our own eyes the past in this city was not fair. It was not just. It was not right.

The rich got richer, the poor got poorer when it came to our school system. There was massive inequality. There were children left behind on a regular basis. There were schools that failed and nobody did anything about it. There was chaos and corruption. That’s what was all too true in too many of our districts. And there was nothing parents could do about it.

Unknown: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Amen.

And we, in this city, came to the realization that we had been on the wrong path. That too many schools were failing, and too many children were failing, and there was no accountability. Literally no accountability, and it could not go on. And finally almost 15 years ago a change happened – a change that had been overdue for decades finally happened.

And what we have seen in the last 15 years has been breathtaking. Fifteen years ago we barely graduated 1 out of every 2 students from our high school. That was what was normal in New York City – about a 50 percent graduation rate. It was normal that our children didn’t do well enough, and somehow it got accepted. That’s less than 15 years ago. Today, due to what mayoral control allows in terms of speed and action and accountability – the ability to choose a great chancellor and let her do her job.

[Applause]

The end of the last school year we graduated 72.5 percent of our children.

[Applause]

The graduation rate is one part of the puzzle. The dropout rate was the other piece of it. We used to talk about the dropout rate all the time in this city – in the 60s, in the 70s, in the 80s, in the 90s we talked about the dropout rate because 20 percent, 25 percent, 30 percent of our kids were dropping out. Never coming back.

We have more work to do. But at the end of the last school year only nine percent of our kids had dropped out – only nine percent, and we are on the right path. And year after year our students performed better. Year after year more of our students are going to college. But they’re not just students of one background. They’re students from every neighborhood, every zip code, every race, every ethnicity, every language because mayoral control also opened the doors for greater equity. The resources that we are putting into our schools for pre-K for all, for after school for all middle school kids, for the single shepherd initiative, for 3K coming up ahead – they will help to even up the score and give schools and districts that never got their fair share a chance to finally excel. That’s what this is about.

There’s only three days left. Three days left. Our children’s futures hang in the balance. Three days left – zero hour is coming in Albany for our children, and here’s the simple answer.

I say this to the Senate, the Assembly, and the Governor – get together and pass mayoral control now.

[Applause]

This is something that unites so many of us. And New Yorkers, we have strong opinions, and we often have different opinions from each other, but this is one where you find leaders of all stripes – elected officials, labor leaders, civic leaders, community leaders – in common cause because we do not want to go backwards. When we say chaos and corruption we mean it literally. For everyone who didn’t experience it, let me tell you. There were no guarantees that anything would be done for our children. There were too many places where things were broken, and there was nowhere to stop it.

There was corruption. It was rampant. It was obvious. There was patronage everywhere. Unqualified people got hired all the time. And nothing could stop it. And that hurt our children. That is why you see this outpouring. People who know and do not want to go back – a city that’s finally beginning to get it right on so many other fronts, and this would set us back years.

I want to thank everyone who’s here. Let me note first of all our colleagues from the City Council who have been so supportive.

[Applause]

Councilmember Ben Kallos, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, Councilmember Karen Koslowitz, Councilmember Corey Johnson, Councilmember Vanessa Gibson, Councilmember Peter Koo, Councilmember Alan Maisel, Councilmember Margaret Chin, and I see the chair of the education committee in the City Council and former public school teacher Danny Dromm. I want to thank community leaders and activists who are here – a special thank you to Jo-Ann Yoo, the executive director of the Asian American Federation, representing so many of our young people who are being served by our public schools. I want to thank our colleagues from labor who are here – Kuba Brown the business manager of Local 94 operating engineers; Scott Master the Communication Workers of America; and members of unions that have bene standing up for mayoral control of education, I want to thank them all – the Hotel Trades Council.

[Applause]

They are always loud. I admire that. 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, DC 37 AFSCME, PSC CUNY, Local 802, The Doctor’s Council, and CSEA. We thank you all.

[Applause]

So we’ve got people here of so many different communities in this city who agree. And I go all over the city, I talk to parents, I talk to clergy, I talk to labor leaders, I talk to business leaders. I don’t know another issue where labor leaders and business leaders agree so much and so often as on mayoral control of education. It’s something that actually unites us in this city.

And one thing I hear all the time, come on over here, you too, come on. This is the issue. Here’s what I hear all the time, we don’t want our children treated as political pawns.

[Applause]

We want them given the education they deserve. And that can only happen one way. Because think about what is different with mayoral control. We never had pre-K for all our children; it was not possible when you had 32 local school boards and a central Board of Education appointed by a variety of people. Do you know what that led to? Paralysis. And there was no way to do something all over the city effectively.

So we didn’t pre-K for all our children. We didn’t have afterschool for all our middle school children. We didn’t have advance placement courses in every high school because every district made it up, and they had different priorities and some were run well and some were not. And sometimes they thought about the children, and sometimes they didn’t.

So look at the proof. We needed pre-K for all those years but it was impossible. And by the way, if you believe in pre-K then recognize the minute that mayoral control of education is gone, pre-K for all could be gone as well. And that’s not right is it?

So, we’re not going back to a broken system, and if our colleagues in Albany don’t pass mayoral control there’s also going to be another cost. The cost to the New York City taxpayers. It is projected that this will cost $1.6 billion dollars more over the next ten years because we will have to reconstitute local school boards and all the administrative staff, and all the redundancy, and all the paralysis costs money. $1.6 billion dollars and I say if Albany doesn’t give us back mayoral control than they should pay the $1.6 billion dollars that it will cost.

[Applause]

Three days left. Our colleagues in Albany should not leave the capital until they pass mayoral control. It’s as simple as that. Do not leave until you have fulfilled your responsibility to the children of New York City.

With that it is my honor to introduce someone who is really – we all need to thank because the progress I have delineated happened on her watch and with her leadership. Our Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña: Well, first of all, I would like to recommend that our Albany legislatures read Profiles in Courage. This is a very important book that says do what’s right, not what’s politically expedient. And for our children to be held hostage to a system that has by every [inaudible] possible shown success if you look at every single criteria of what you need to do in an education system.

We’ve improved the graduation rate, we’ve reduced the dropout rate, we have put more students in college that are college ready than ever before. We have trained more teachers, we have filled in more vacancies, we have 600 teachers going into the Bronx alone from our teaching fellows. We have insured that all superintendents are held to a higher standard, that all teachers have the materials in their classrooms that they need to be effective teachers. We have made sure that parents receive not only what they need in English but we have now opened workshops in every single language that is a predominant language in New York City. That’s our report card, and when you get a good report card you get promoted. [Inaudible]

[Applause]

And if you also look at the two things that are most accountable, we have insured that many parents now have a quality review where they’re allowed to give their impression of their respective schools. And don’t you think that I don’t read these quality reviews very deeply, and visit certain schools when I don’t thinks are going correctly.

We have also decided that there are some schools that need more help than others. Those are called renewal schools. But look at the other things besides accountability; if you’re going to run a business you need stability. Who is going to come and apply for a job when they don’t know who’s in charge? And in this system, the way it is right now, we’re in charge. And that makes for us to be accountable for the people who want to come and work; they know when they come to New York City what they’re going to come for.

Also, I don’t want to be too paranoid but I always have to ask myself is there a conspiracy theory here? Is what they say why they’re not voting for this, the reason they’re not voting for this. Is it about not having a New York City that works well for all kids?

I was a superintendent, I was a regional superintendent, I was a principal. I know what happens in a system where you can literally work on someone’s campaign and the next thing you knew you’d became a principal, an assistant principal.

By the way, all of you reporters, all you have to do is to your homework and that’s very, very evident. So is that what we want to go back to? Or do we want to make sure that everyone who’s a teacher in our school, an assistant principal, principal is the most qualitied to be there. And then also is held accountable by me and their superintendent.

We have a very clear hierarchy right now. There is a Mayor, there is a Chancellor, there is a superintendent, there are the principals, there are the teachers. It’s very clear. We don’t have all these other people coming in and trying to take a piece of this because of what’s in it for them.

So for me, I just hope that the people in Albany understand. Stand up, be courageous, and make believe that you’re voting as if your children and your grandchildren depended on it.

[Applause]

[…]

Mayor: Before I bring up the Chancellor for some Español, I just want to thank these students from the Bronx Academy of Letters. Thank you very much for joining us.

[Applause]

And everyone here is here to support your education and continue to make your education better. We are proud of you and we look forward to your bright futures. But I’ve also been impressed by your patience while all of us were talking. So, I’d like to give you the opportunity now to go and do something more interesting than stand at this press conference.

So, thank you for being here to all the young people.

[Applause]

Chancellor Carmen Farina –

[Chancellor Farina speaks in Spanish]

[Applause]

Mayor: Okay, we’re going to welcome your questions on this effort to renew mayoral control, and then we’ll take some other questions as well. Questions on this – Marcia.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I’ll say a couple things. First of all, the message you’re hearing today – you’re hearing it from business leaders, labor leaders, educators, elected officials. It is – mayoral control is the only system that works and it should be continued so we can keep helping our children, no strings attached.

By the way, the New York City Partnership – you saw the other day Kathy Wilde was here, Steve Schwarzman was here – they said they believe in having a charter school but they don’t believe that should be part of the discussion over mayoral control.

So, let’s be clear. It doesn’t matter what you feel about charter schools, you have to have a governance system that actually could work.

And Marcia, you personally saw – when I say chaos and corruption under the old school boards, I know you reported on a lot of that. You saw it with your own eyes. We cannot go back to that.

So, the charter school issue, I’d say this – some facts would be really helpful. It is a fact that the charter schools that have applied for space since I came into office, about a quarter of them have gotten exactly what they asked for, about 50 percent asked for something we did not feel we could physically achieve. They went for an appeal process which we did not contest, and in exchange they got money to lease their own space.

And in the last quarter of going through the process right now and the same outcomes will occur. They will either get the space they want or they will get lease money. That’s how the system works. And when you think about the efforts of this administration that you’ve heard about here – pre-K, we did that with charter schools; after school for all our middle school kids, we did that with charter schools; we’re going to do 3-K with charter schools.

By the way, we work with religious schools too, with Catholic schools, with Jewish schools, Yeshivas, with Islamic schools. We want all these schools to succeed. And this is the thing, the political debate undercuts the human reality.

I want to see each child and each family succeed at whatever school they choose, and we’re working with every type of school to help them succeed.

So, my message is this, to anyone in the State Senate who wants to have a constructive dialogue about how we can work with charter schools and with parents who are in charter schools, I would sit down anytime, anywhere, and have that conversation. We’ll work together. I would prove to them all of the things we’ve already done to make that real.

But don’t hold mayoral control hostage. Don’t hold the future of our kids hostage. Give us mayoral control of education. We can work together on so many other things to improve the lives of our kids.

Questions on mayoral control –

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Grace, first, it’s very, very important to understand, you know, there’s four men in a room in Albany. You know there’s three branches of government, here, we’re talking about. They have to make the decision. I don’t have the pretense that I get to make the decision. If I got to make the decision, it would have been made already.

I’m not a part of their negotiations. What I’m saying is what they should care about in my opinion, all of them – have we produced results? Yes. Is this the best system of governance? Yes? Should the charter issue be dealt with separately? Yes. And we will deal with it with a whole heart happily. And I said we got a lot to prove, a lot to show that we have worked together on these issues.

But I think it’s so important to not be in a situation where this important issue gets held hostage. That’s what I’m saying. That’s – my job is to show them the results and show them that we have a vision of Equity and Excellence for the future which has continually, since we’ve had it over the last few years under this great Chancellor, continually shown higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates, higher test scores.

I don’t know what they’re looking for if that are not the kind of things they want to see in terms of accountability and progress.

And so look, I don’t care what combination of teachers go into their deliberations. They have to continue mayoral control. But anyone who wants to talk about how we can continue together to work on our schools, I’ve talked to all of them. Let me be clear.

I have had conversations with Leader Flanagan, multiple conversations with Speaker Heastie, multiple conversations with IDC Leader Jeff Klein. I have had multiple conversations with the Governor. I sat down with the Governor last Wednesday at length and discussed this matter.

I’ve made the point to all of them – we will work with you on any substantive concerns but do not let this lapse because then you literally, on July 1st, the new world begins and it’s a not a good new world. It’s a bad new world.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Look, again you’ll ask the UFT for their position. They, historically, to the best of my knowledge, have not taken a formal position since this administration came in. But they do understand – you can ask Michael Mulgrew directly – they do understand the costs involved in every sense of the lapse of mayoral control, and they have been, like the CSA, partners in getting so much done.

So, I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth. I would urge you to have – talk to UFT directly but I know the kind of partnership we’ve had with the UFT, the kind of partnership we’ve had with the CSA was not happening in the past. It is happening now and it’s happening because mayoral control allows for that kind of respectful dialogue and ability to work together.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I don’t want to get into the partisan politics. I’ve simply said to everyone, the whole world is watching. Right. To borrow a phrase from the 1960s [inaudible] the whole world is watching.

It’s – everyone will be held accountable. Everyone up there will be held accountable. And it’s not like there are a huge number of other urgent competing issues, right? It’s staring them in the face. It’s not like we haven’t provided all the information in the world to prove that there has been consistent progress.

I think there’s tremendous respect for Chancellor Farina from both sides of the aisle in Albany. Look, I’m saying this with whole heart, and that’s why I talked to all the leaders, and I will have a dialogue with them anytime, anywhere but no one has said to me, “I don’t believe your graduation rate is better.” No one said to me, “I don’t believe your test scores are better.” No one said to me, “I don’t believe your dropout rates are not as low as you say.”

None of them are challenging the facts. None of them are challenging the quality of our Chancellor, right. None of them are saying, “I have a better system I’d like to institute.”

Look, I respect Leader Flanagan. I’ve had a cordial, respectful relationship with him from the beginning. We met at the beginning of the session. We’ve talked since. He does care about education, I don’t doubt that.

But he said out loud, even in the last week, that he understands mayoral control is the only system that works, and he put forward three bills that would extend mayoral control.

So, if that’s – that presents very clearly a consensus. I have not seen very many other things – more things than this where there’s that much consensus. So, let’s do it.

Let’s defend mayoral control. We’ll work on all those other issues but first we got to extend mayoral control.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I don’t think – first of all, this is not a time for politics and personalities to begin with. And that’s part of what we have to get across to all New Yorkers. This is your children’s lives and futures are hanging in the balance here.

In fact, again, there’s been a series of conversations with all of them and they have not been [inaudible]. As I said, I think Leader Flanagan has made clear that he understands what’s good about mayoral control. I look forward to speaking to him more.

I think this is partly about the way that Albany is, and I think that’s something we should all be concerned about because it should not come down to this.

But this is a moment of decision. I, you know, the last two times I didn’t think it was right that there be a one-year extension but there was an extension. It did not come with strings attached.

At least we were able to keep moving, and we didn’t skip a beat.

But we’re three days away and no one’s ever seen anything like this. And David, this is the part that really is a little eerie. A lot of folks who’ve been around a while – we’ve never seen anything like this. Three days to go, one central issue and I don’t even think there’s been a leader’s meeting from what I’m hearing.

I don’t understand how that’s possible. So, everyone in Albany just needs to understand this is all happening out in the open. And clearly the people are watching.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I’ll say a couple – that’s a very, very important question. So, first of all, is that the right thing to do? No. Let me start that way. So you’re asking is it acceptable. Let me start with what I really believe to be the truth. Mayor Bloomberg got seven years and then got renewed for six years. This is not even close. This is apples-and-oranges if ever I’ve seen them.

But the progress in schools continued all throughout the time we’ve been here. So, that would have suggested multiple years by any measure. And I think Speaker Heastie has a very important point he’s making about fairness for every part of the state whether it is a tax extender or the system of governance, everyone should be treated the same. And I have spent a lot of time all over the state and I have a real appreciation for our colleagues all over the state.

And we just want equality. We just want fairness. We want everyone to be treated the same way. So, I think Speaker Heastie is right. If the legislatures want multiple-year tax extenders, give multiple year mayoral control and deal with the other issues separately, and we will deal with them with a whole heart.

But to your core question, look, have we managed with one year before? Yes we have managed. Is it optimal? No.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: A really bad clock – countdown clock begins. On the morning of July 1st, we would have to reconstitute the old Board of Education that would have seven members, no one appointing the majority.

And then there would have to be a decision on who the Chancellor would be. And then we would start the process for the elections of the local school boards which would happen in the following spring but those elections would begin quite soon thereafter.

And I want to caution everyone, they would not be like the School Board elections we knew in the past because as a result of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, now there can be limitless spending on what would have once seemed like innocuous local elections but each of the 32 school districts is as large as some of the biggest school systems in America.

That’s what we got to get through our head. Do the math. A school district is about 250,000 people population. There’s a lot of big cities in America, notable cities, that have that population of a quarter million people.

So, money will pour in from all sides. We saw this in Los Angeles just weeks ago. This is the great unknown. It’s not good. It’s going to be a highly, highly politicized.

And the one thing you know for sure – you’ll have 32 different school boards with 32 different leaderships, with 32 different sets of priorities, and literally you can have school boards that say we don’t want to do pre-K we don’t think it’s the right use of space. We don’t want to do Advanced Placement classes for all our high school students. Go down the list.

So, that all begins on the morning of July 1st.

Question: [Inaudible] the Governor has basically said there’s not much important that still needs to be done. He’s basically been MIA from the capitol. What did you ask him to do and what was his response to you?

Mayor: I won’t characterize his response. I asked him to lead. I asked him to lead. I said we need you to step up and be the one that brings everyone together. We understand there’s differences between the Assembly and the Senate. We understand they’re held by different parties. That’s why we have a Governor.

Question: [Inaudible] went onto NY-1 and said, “I don’t think mayoral control is getting extended.” Did you hear of those remarks the day after you met with him?

Mayor: Again, I’m not going to characterize what was a very lengthy conversation. There have been a number of phone calls since as well. I will be very straightforward. There was no agreed upon script for public comment after that meeting, That was certainly not what I was thinking. But, again look the Governor, when he puts his mind to something he can be very, very effective and it’s a chance now to break through this gridlock and get it done.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I think you’re leading the witness, Willy. I don’t think of myself that way but that’s not why I’m here instead of there. I have, first of all, people’s business to do here. But second, I’ve been in touch with all four leaders throughout. And if at any point we believe that going to Albany is a more effective strategy, I’ll go in a minute.

But the telephone has been working. There’s been a constant dialogue. And again, I think this is not about personality or politics. I think there’s many other things going on that some of the commentaries in the last 24 hours have gotten to about the underlying interests of different leaders. But my job is to explain to the people of this city and explain to everyone making the decision in Albany what this is actually going to mean for human beings. Rich?

Question: [Inaudible] –

Mayor: I think that was the last two times, Rich. I really do. I think it was the last two times. I think, you know, everyone knows I was not involved in the last general election. Everyone knows that. So, I – are we still replaying the 2014 election that they ended up winning anyway?

I don’t think – I honestly don’t think that’s what it is. I think is – again, I’m not going to get into the weeds of what their motivations are or what their constituencies are or any of that kind of stuff. But I honestly don’t think it’s that. And I think it’s also – it’s time to blow by that and say we’ve got to put that behind us because the last two times there was a dialogue going on. Scott understands the inside Albany madness somewhat. He rebelled and left, but – you can, and feel free to jump in. This is not normal that they used to be having this conversation a lot sooner and they were getting somewhere. It’s Monday morning and they haven’t even met.

Would you like to educate?

[…]

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Yes, one at the beginning of the session and one recently.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I want to say Thursday or Friday.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: We have – I’ve made very clear on my willingness to and my desire to have follow up conversations. I reached out to him again this morning. My staff has reached out again to try and set up an additional call. The heart is willing.

Let me do two more. Go ahead.

Question: Leading up to that, do you feel like there is anything you could have done to [inaudible] made the dynamic different up to this point right now? Or do you kind of regret not doing?

Mayor: No. I’ll tell you, you guys like to ask those kinds of questions. I want to be real with you. I think my job was to, with the Chancellor, run the schools well. That’s what it was supposed to be about. There’s always been questions from Albany about quality education, how we use our money, etcetera. My job is to answer those questions by showing constant progress, and accountability and transparency. We’ve done that over and over again. So, I understand the Albany culture is a thing onto itself. I don’t pretend to be able to sway the people in Albany singlehandedly. But I’ve been in a regular dialogue with them. I provided all the facts, all the evidence. And I think you guys know me, my choice when somethings not moving is to start organizing people. And thank you councilmembers Lander and Levine for joining us. To start organizing people to make their voices heard. So were doing that now. This is what I hope will help get the message across to Albany.

Last question, go ahead.

Question:  [inaudible]

Mayor: Mayoral control of education. I think it’s about as big of a priority as we got. Look, again, considering that for fifteen years it has been renewed. There’s that one little blip in ’09 but that was also related to a crisis within the Senate leadership and the leadership changing hands. But basically speaking, for fifteen years it has been renewed consistently and it has allowed us to make all these changes. I did not expect it to get to this. It’s as simple as that. It’s Monday morning, they’re leaving Wednesday night. I’ve never seen anything like it.

So we are – since we’re dealing with something we’ve never seen before, we’re going to address it very, very aggressively. We all know that they can keep going as late into June as they want, and they have in the past. They’ve stayed until the end of June in the past, they’ve gone and come back, there’s all sorts of options. But they got to get it done. But I had hoped this would be consistent with the last fifteen years of history. Now we see something different. There’s no bigger priority than getting this done.

Thanks, everyone. 

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