Friday, January 19, 2007

Send Charter Commission back to drawing board, broaden mandate to include consolidation

Mayor Tom Potter laid out ambitious new plans yesterday to overhaul the Portland school system by giving principals more power and autonomy, requiring teachers to undergo rigorous review in order to gain tenure and revising the school financing system that has allowed more experienced teacher to cluster in affluent schools.

If only.

Substitute “Mayor Michael Bloomberg” for “Mayor Tom Potter” and “New York City” for “Portland” and you have the lede to a New York Times story earlier this week.

Using his authority to run the schools, Bloomberg announced sweeping school changes in his annual address to New York City Council on Wednesday.

In Portland on Thursday, the Portland City Council, which includes Potter as a "first among equals," reviewed Charter Revision Commission recommendations that said not one word about consolidating city and school governance in Portland.

Obviously the destinies of the schools and the city are intertwined, but in Portland the school district and the City are on entirely different pages in terms of governance and policy.

And the pages aren’t even in the same book. Portland Public Schools and City Officials rarely talk to each other. They aren’t required to. Very frequently they don't want to because of friction over turf and money.

But why should Portland look to New York for guidances? For starters, The Big Apple obviously has some similar problems. Do Bloomberg’s concerns about low school funding and school inequity sound familiar? (I'll leave it to others to comment on how rigorous the review of tenured teachers is.)

The Charter Review Commission clearly needs to expand its mandate to include possible city/schools consolidation. The commissioners could start by talking to officials in cities where city and school governance is one and speaks with one voice, as it did Wednesday in New York City.

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