Dora Taylor, parent activist in Seattle, describes that city’s battle to prevent the mayor from taking control of the public schools. She notes that the reason for mayoral control is to avoid the messy business of democracy, where parents and ordinary citizens get the opportunity to influence decisions about their schools and their children. Mayoral control and the establishment of state or local “emergency managers” are flimsy but powerful means of eliminating democracy and allowing politicians and elites to exert total control of decisions. Mayoral control and emergency managers clear the way for school closings and privatization. Parents don’t like school closings, but under mayoral control, schools are easily closed and replaced by charter schools.
Philadelphia, under the autocratic School Reform Commission, is constantly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and collapse, as the SRC closes schools, fires teachers, cuts costs, and opens charters. Its attempt to void the union contract was recently tossed out by the state supreme court. Philadelphia’s public schools have been stripped bare, while its charters are thriving (except the ones led by people who have been indicted).
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made history in an invidious way by closing 50 public schools in one day, claiming they were under enrolled, at the same time that he continued to open new charter schools.
One of the worst examples of the autocratic seizure of control occurred in Michigan under Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm. She led the way to the establishment of an emergency financial manager for Detroit, under whose watch the district’s deficit tripled and charter schools proliferated. Detroit is now a worst case scenario, where there is plenty of choice, but none of them are good choices. The recent New York Times article about Detroit schools was titled, “A Sea of Charter Schools in Detroit Leaves Students Adrift.”
Dora Taylor writes in The Progressive:
The most egregious example of a politician’s undemocratic control of public schools can be seen in the state of Michigan with the decision by former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to hire Emergency Financial Managers. The emergency managers have the power to take control of a city’s government, reduce pay, outsource work, reorganize departments and modify employee contracts. Emergency managers can also deem school districts “failing,” close public schools and convert them into charter schools.
The first appointed emergency manager, Robert Bobb, took over the Detroit Public School system in 2009. The County Circuit Court in 2011 found this takeover illegal but soon after, emergency managers were appointed in mostly minority communities around the state, including the city of Flint. In several of these towns, such as Highland Park, Michigan the public schools were closed and taken over by charter operators.
Darnell Earley, the unelected manager of Flint, presided over the devastating decision to switch the city’s water supply to the Detroit River resulting in lead poisoning of residents throughout the city. After the water disaster, Mr. Earley was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to become the CEO of Detroit Public Schools.
Now the Emergency Managers are being named CEOs, as in Chicago, and given tremendous powers. These CEOs can:
Assume the financial and academic authority over multiple schools;
Assume the role of the locally elected school board for those schools they have been assigned;
Control school funds without the consent of the locally elected board;
Permanently close a school without the consent of the locally elected board;
Sell closed school buildings without the consent of the locally elected board; and
Convert schools into charter schools without the consent of the locally elected board.
The people have no voice or control over how their children are educated or by whom. The same holds true for mayoral control. That’s why, in Seattle, people are fighting back.
This is the kind of nondemocratic governance that organizations like ALEC love. Governor Rick Snyder loved it too, since it gave him control of so many districts. The emergency manager gambit blew up in his face when his own appointee, Darnell Early, was responsible for the decision to switch the water in Flint from a safe source to one that was not safe.
All of this matters because the fight for democracy is being waged in state after state. Georgia, for example, will decide in November, whether to allow a state commission to open charter schools against the wishes of the local community.
Let’s hope that former Governor Granholm recognizes that her decision to allow the appointment of emergency financial managers was a disaster. She is a member of Hillary Clinton’s transition team.