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Mayoral Control of Schools Circa 1983

In case you haven’t heard, New York City is in the midst of a sea of strum and drang related to a June 30th deadline to renew the law that grants the Mayor of the City of New York near absolute control of the New York City public schools.
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An obituary appeared in the New York Times yesterday for Dr. Thomas Minter. Minter was part of a great battle of a sorts around the ability of then Mayor Ed Koch to dictate the hiring of the schools chancellor. It was a battle that in many ways foretold what was to come twenty years later.

In essence, you had Minter, then deputy chancellor with an doctorate in education  from Harvard, emerge as a leading candidate for the chancellor of schools in 1983, backed by  supporters including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, a broad range of political support, and more.

Back then, the school board was not controlled by the Mayor. Nevertheless, Mayor Koch wanted his deputy mayor and close friend Robert Wagner, Jr., to become chancellor and found a way to sway the school board into backing Wagner.

In the end, the State Department of Education refused to waive Wagner’s required education credentials, Minter fell by the wayside, and Anthony Alvarado was appointed chancellor. A few years later Wagner ended up running the NYC school board–The Board of Education, performing ably in that position.

I guess what’s most interesting in all of this is that control of school boards can be had by a mayor whether or not it is dictated by the laws governing schools. You could also say that Ed Koch was way ahead of his time in wanting to appoint a non-educator as the school district leader. I would imagine that this was practically unheard of back then. Of course, today, it’s quite fashionable to go the non-educator route for a school superintendent.

In 1983, the New York State Education Department exercised its authority, stepped in and refused to approve such a position without bona fides in education. That speaks volumes too.

What about Minter? A stellar career in education, including having a resume featuring first assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the USDOE, superintendent of schools in Wilmington, Delaware, extensive teaching experience, and even a deputy chancellor position in New York City public schools, found that politics trumped achievement.

Finally, it must be noted that Minter was African American, and had an early career in music, with a Master’s Degree in Sacred Music.

I have met a lot of school superintendents, but have never, I am sorry to say, ever met one who had a credentialed background in the arts.

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