As a winter storm bears down on New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has canceled school — which means the city’s oversight panel’s meeting slated for Wednesday is off, too.
The Panel for Educational Policy’s meeting hasn’t been rescheduled, but when its members do meet, they will have to decide whether to OK a new set of school mergers. It’s likely to be less contentious than last month’s meeting, when the Panel for Educational Policy voted down two of the education department’s school closure proposals and delayed a third in a rare rebuke.
This time around, there are no school closures on the agenda. But there may still be reverberations from last month’s meeting.
Soon after that meeting, T. Elzora Cleveland, a mayoral appointee to the panel and who cast a deciding vote to block two of the closures, resigned. And there are still open questions about how the panel will approach future education department proposals. Here’s what we’ll be watching for.
Who will serve on the oversight board going forward?
After casting a deciding vote blocking two of the education department’s closure proposals, Cleveland resigned from the board. Her resignation raised questions about whether City Hall had lost patience with her dissent and urged her to step down, but it also leaves the 13-person panel with one fewer member.
On Tuesday, City Hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said the mayor had not yet chosen a replacement. “We are actively working to appoint a new panel member,” she wrote in an email.
Lapeyrolerie declined to comment on when the mayor would make an appointment, which will give the administration a smaller margin of error until the seat is filled
Will the panel continue to push back against the administration’s proposals?
Since eight of the board’s 13 members are appointed by de Blasio, the panel has generally approved proposals submitted by the education department, which the mayor also controls. Last month was a notable exception. Though the panel approved 10 school closures at that meeting — the largest single wave since de Blasio took office — it blocked three others after more than eight hours of impassioned testimony from lawmakers and families.
With a smaller number of mayoral appointees currently seated on the board, it could be slightly easier to block the education department’s proposals. Without Cleveland, the panel currently has just 12 members— so just one dissenting mayoral appointee could block a proposal if the other five panel members vote as a bloc.
But now that the largest wave of closures this year has passed, it’s unlikely that the panel will face as many contentious votes before the mayor appoints a new member to the oversight panel.
Could the current slate of school mergers generate similar backlash?
The education department’s plans include five mergers, where one school’s teachers and students are absorbed into another. Two of the plans involve schools in the mayor’s controversial and expensive Renewal turnaround program for struggling schools. In many of those cases, city officials have argued mergers are needed where schools have become too small to sustain enough teachers and programming to provide students a rich experience, as funding is allocated partly based on enrollment.
Though less contentious than closures, mergers can still spark fierce resistance from school communities. And the education department’s plan to merge Longwood Preparatory Academy and Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research and add a Success Academy charter middle school to the building has already prompted outcry from some advocates, educators, and students.
“Hundreds of parents, students and teachers protested the new wave of school closings at the February 28 PEP meeting,” Bronx Power, an organization that has criticized school closures, wrote in a statement announcing a protest of the Longwood Prep merger. “Although most of the schools were closed as proposed, momentum is building to stop this new de Blasio policy.”
Whatever the outcome, the upcoming meeting won’t offer members of the public an opportunity to address schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who is expected to step down April 2. Before the meeting was canceled, Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson was set to attend in Fariña’s place.
You can find the full list of the education department’s proposals here.