DOE: A Gap in the City Charter

Adrienne Kivelson

Arguably, the speaker who got the closest attention from the staff of the New York City Charter Revision Commission at Monday night’s public hearing in Queens was Adrienne Kivelson, City Affairs Chair of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York.

Ms. Kivelson identified a glaring gap in the City Charter: the document’s failure to recognize the Department of Education as a mayoral agency, despite the control over DOE the state legislature granted to the mayor in 2002, and renewed in 2009. Proposing that the commission “codify the Department of Education in the City Charter,” Ms. Kivelson called for the agency “to be subject to the same oversight and accountability imposed on every other Mayoral agency.

In a partial move towards that oversight, the State Senate’s 2009 extension of mayoral control came with the proviso that the city’s Independent Budget Office would have the authority to scrutinize DOE spending.

Ms. Kivelson said DOE’s full identification as a mayoral agency in the charter could carry with it a requirement that future DOE contracts adhere to guidelines established by the Procurement Policy Board, which currently regulates contracting practices at other mayoral agencies.

But it was Ms. Kivelson’s argument for oversight by the City Council, and for audit of DOE’s operations by the Comptroller, that may resonate most strongly in the corridors of City Hall. While the Council’s Education Committee, chaired by Robert Jackson, already holds regular hearings on DOE issues, DOE’s inclusion as a mayoral agency in the charter, Ms. Kivelson suggested, could strengthen the Council’s oversight and the Comptroller’s audit powers.

If the commission embraces Ms. Kivelson’s proposal, it will have to tailor any proposed charter language to deal with the scheduled expiration of mayoral control in 2015.

Matthew Bishop

Most of the 33 other speakers at the LaGuardia Community College hearing touched on themes that already were familiar to charter commission members, especially support for the city’s community boards.

But the suggestion likely to get the most traction was made by Matthew Bishop, a youthful resident of Astoria. Bishop’s simple, but insightful proposal: Make all pronouns in the charter gender-neutral. He drew loud and appreciative applause.

We’ll try to give you a more complete run-down in a subsequent post. We’ll be testifying for Brooklyn Community Board 14 at Tuesday’s 4:00 PM hearing at St. Francis College.

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