When the Mayors Don’t Want to Take Over
Education bureaucracy can be a real mess. This is well understood by anyone who's paid a little bit of attention to how a school system – especially a large urban one – works.
It's hard to find sympathy or defenders for the layers of federal, state, and local paperwork that pile on top of each other at the school and district level. Combine this with the relatively low visibility of most school boards and it's not uncommon to find people suggesting that what we really need is someone with the bureaucratic equivalent of a fire ax to hack through the red tape.
This “someone” is often the mayor of the city in question. Mayoral control of schools has been a favored tool of some when targeting the achievement gap and broader dysfunction in the school system. The real track record of mayoral control in places like New York City, Chicago, and D.C., however, suggests that (as usual) reality is more complicated.
Beth Hawkins at MinnPost interviewed the mayors of Minneapolis and Saint Paul about the possibility of mayoral control in either or both of the Twin Cities. Considering the policy's less than impressive track record, I was gratified to see that neither one is a fire-breathing advocate for taking over his respective school district. While Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak had some thoughts on how he could play a more active role in district governance, both he and Saint Paul's Chris Coleman were pretty clear about not wanting full-on mayoral control.
The problems of bureaucratic bog downs in big districts can and should be addressed through other routes. While I understand the frustration with them and the desire to hack them to pieces, I also know that most of the various regulations and restrictions were created with good intentions. The real questions that need to be publicly asked and answered are whether those intentions are still valid and whether a better mechanism exists for realizing them.
This isn't as romantic or satisfying as a crusading mayor (or their chosen superintendent like Michelle Rhee in D.C.) slicing and dicing. Instead, it's a healthier way to address the real challenges in our school systems. We need to stand up for sound policy even when it's not politically “sexy,” and I'm glad to see the Twin Cities have mayors that are realistic about this.