As Mayoral Accountability Battle Rages in Albany, StudentsFirstNY Releases Landmark Report on Board of Education’s Sordid Legacy in New York City

For Immediate Release

March 27, 2024

Contact: Mitch Schwartz, (914) 330-1026

As Mayoral Accountability Battle Rages in Albany, StudentsFirstNY Releases Landmark Report on Board of Education’s Sordid Legacy in New York City

NEW YORK–StudentsFirstNY today released Dysfunction Junction: A History of NYC Schools Before Mayoral Accountability,” a landmark report outlining the history of New York City’s failed experiment with decentralized leadership of its schools. That experiment - which began in 1969 and ended in 2002 - saw corruption and incompetence flourish under the Board of Education’s leadership. It delivered a system where no single person could be held accountable for failures in public schools.

Decentralized leadership created a slide in student performance that was arrested when mayoral accountability, also known as mayoral control, was restored under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The end of this experiment created bottom-line accountability in New York City’s public schools, and allowed mayors and chancellors to take direct responsibility for improving performance - instead of 32 separate, uncoordinated entities. 

The report comes as the State Legislature debates a four-year extension of mayoral accountability of City schools. The expiration of mayoral accountability could trigger a return to a Board of Education-style governance for New York City’s public school students.

Click here to read the full report.

“The School Board era in New York City was a massive policy failure, and families in our city cannot afford to go back,” said Crystal McQueen-Taylor, Executive Director of StudentsFirstNY. “As students and parents recover from the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, they deserve more resources and better governance - not a return to a style of leadership that failed generations before them. I urge Albany not to forget the lessons of the past. Extend mayoral accountability now and give every student access to the great public education they deserve.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • By the 1980s, corruption and self-dealing were so rampant that a new oversight system was created. The Joint Commission on the Integrity of Public Schools, also known as the Gill Commission, released its final report in 1989. That final report, which likened the Board of Education to a “new Tammany Hall,” found “serious corruption or impropriety almost wherever we looked.”
  • Dangerous hiring and employment practices led to addicts, gang leaders. and child molestors being hired to work in City schools. At best, children failed to thrive under those conditions. At worst, their safety was put at risk.
  • Lax oversight of contracting led to countless stories of officials receiving kickbacks, mismanagement of funds, unqualified vendors, and outright fraud. 
  • Millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted in fraudulent leasing deals.
  • Extremely low-turnout elections for school board seats led to voter fraud, administrative mismanagement, and a litany of irregularities that let unqualified candidates assume positions of power.
  • Poor educational outcomes among the students who rely the most on a functional, fair, efficiently-managed public school system.

“As a former Board of Education member, an interim trustee for a suspended community school board, a Chancellor, a parent, and a grandparent, I’ve seen our public schools from every angle. I know what New York City students are capable of - and I know that mayoral accountability puts them in the best position to succeed,” said former Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “The facts speak for themselves: direct-line accountability is the best system for our children’s future.”

"As a native New Yorker who attended public schools here, the son of a public-school teacher and a former Deputy Mayor who worked closely with the public school system, I know first-hand how important it is to have a school system that is responsive and accountable to students, parents, and taxpayers. Continuing mayoral management of the City's schools ensures that innovations and performance-enhancing initiatives, like NYC Reads and Next Generation Community Schools, continue to change the learning trajectories of students across all districts," said Richard R. Buery, Jr., CEO of Robin Hood.  "I had the opportunity to lead PreK For All, which now offers free PreK to all four-year-olds, under Mayor de Blasio.  Launching PreK required clear leadership from the Mayor and extensive coordination between the public schools and dozens of city agencies. I can assure you that none of that would have been possible without clear and direct mayoral management of the school system. We have too much work to do to turn back.  Mayoral accountability is essential to the success of New York City’s schools, and I urge the Legislature and Governor to preserve it.”


StudentsFirstNY is a grassroots education advocacy organization dedicated to improving public school options throughout New York State.

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