As Mayoral Control of Schools Lapses, Will Arts Education Be Affected?

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Alliance for the Arts II

Let’s get something straight from the start: the members of the New York State Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, should resign immediately en masse. They are a disgrace to their constituents, to the history of New York State, to each of their families and unquestionably to their nation. They aren’t fit to participate in a democracy in a banana republic run by monkeys. Well, maybe that’s going too far.

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These cowards, these idiots, these blustering, power-besotted fools have allowed their petty bickering and jealousies to bring the important, vital, critical, essential work of the State Legislature to a halt. Gov. Patterson, of whom I have dwindling respect, was nevertheless quite right last week when he suggested that each Senator’s per diems be curbed at once. These three graphs are from a piece critical of the governor in the Wall Street Journal:

Yet, many of the political tools Gov. Paterson has wielded — including a pronouncement last Thursday that he would ask the state treasurer not to pay the senators’ per diem expenses while in Albany — were inconsequential.

Mr. Paterson’s office sought to ramp up the pressure, on Friday saying he would halt disbursement of nearly $19 million in members’ earmarks for pet projects in the senators’ home districts.

Some observers suggested Mr. Paterson should go even further, perhaps threatening to strip senate budgets and deny them campaign money.

Now, one of the ramifications of the Senators’ outrageous refusal to get back to work is being felt: mayoral control of the New York City school system has expired. Per this piece in the New York Daily News, it is anyone’s guess what may happen now; speculation in the News’ story that schools Chancellor Joel Klein may be counting down his final days in that job isn’t exactly what I’d call helpful reportage or commentary. WCBSTV.com’s coverage, featuring a considerable swath of Mayor Bloomberg’s statement on the matter, was more fact-based and balanced.

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My principal concern, pardon the pun, is arts education in the schools. Full disclosure: I do not know enough about how arts education curricula is funded or structured as a direct result of mayoral control to raise the alarm now that the expiration date has passed. However, I do know one organization that decided to step into the fray: Alliance for the Arts. Late on Monday, I received an email blast from the group, which read as follows:

Alliance for the Arts Supports Extension of Mayoral Control of Public Schools

Given the challenge of reforming public education in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Joel Klein deserve huge credit for their commitment and early success in this all-important effort.

The Alliance for the Arts, which is committed to keeping the arts and sciences in the public schools, urges the Legislature to extend mayoral control today, before it expires.

Please help us spread the word by forwarding this message and encouraging people to donate to the Alliance and subscribe to our newsletter.

Access the Newsletter Archive. Past issues of the Alliance’s e-newsletter are available online at www.allianceforarts.org.

Please understand that I would never decry any organization’s effort to support arts education in the school system. At the same time, why did it seem to me that the Alliance’s email, so short in its content, had a whiff of something to it, like it was a sop to the mayor, a way to kiss his behind? Shouldn’t it be incumbent upon Alliance for the Arts to outline specifically, and in immediate, understandable detail, why it would choose that moment — the day before mayoral control of the schools would end — to leap into the political fray?

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It turns out that an explanation, at least one that can be inferred, can be found literally by looking at the organization’s website. On its About page, the Alliance alludes to one reason it might be invested in perpetuating mayoral control:

The Alliance published the first guide to New York museums in 1978. We continue this work through NYC ARTS and NYCkidsARTS, in print and online and our new online cultural guide for the state, NYStateARTS.org. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and tourists use our guides to cultural programs every year. New York City public school teachers use NYCkidsARTS, which is also used by thousands of parents to help young people discover the joy and value of the arts. Click here to learn more about our publications.

Harmless? Of course. Still, drill down in its website further, to its most recent annual report, and read this:

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Using $1.5 million in City capital funds, the Department of Cultural Affairs contracted, on the Alliance’s behalf, with the multimedia-design firm Funny Garbage to design and build the first phase of the NYC ARTS (formerly known as the Citywide Cultural Database). This Web-based information system, which launched in beta in November, includes the NYC ARTS Web sites and a comprehensive analytic system for research–transforming our core audience-building and access programs and strengthening the foundation of advocacy. With support from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Empire State Development Corporation and the New York State Council on the Arts, the Alliance will extend this system to the state.

So obviously mayoral control of the school system works to the Alliance’s benefit, at least to the tune of $1.5 million. Now, again, I’m not criticizing the Alliance for making sure it supports the hand that feeds it. That’s our system; that’s what I would expect such an organization to be doing. However, I’m suggesting that to send out an email like the one I received on Monday, with a too-concise argument for mayoral control of schools reading like a statement of pure arts advocacy, is a disingenuous move. Would it not have been more sincere and forthright to do full disclosure — to say, “This is just one example of what mayoral control of schools means to the Alliance”? I bet the organization would get a lot more people making phone calls and writing blog posts.

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It’s already horrid enough that we have a State Senate so dysfunctional and so unprofessioonal that they wouldn’t be able to define the term “veracity” if it were branded on their keisters. I expect organizations such as the Alliance to be better than yet, especially if they’re going to stake out admirable positions and then make of use email and other forms of communication to appear to promote it.

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