STANDING ON THE STEPS of the Jeremiah Burke High School in 1996, Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino said, “If I fail to bring about these specific reforms by the year 2001, then judge me harshly” (Anand 1996). He urged voters to trust him, by voting to keep a mayor-appointed school committee. His speech may well be repeated by urban mayors across the country as they seek greater control of their city's school systems. Policy analysts have suggested that mayoral control of schools may align city resources and leadership with district efforts to reform urban education (Portz 1997). At the 1998 U.S. Conference of Mayors, both Menino and Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago, were featured as “revolutionary heroes” who were transforming education (Rakowsky 1998). Polls have placed educational reform at the top of the domestic agenda and mayors have declared that educational reform is their highest priority.
Mayors have become increasingly involved in the governance and even operation of their city school systems, either directly or indirectly, at the same time that state and federal government agencies have increased their involvement in school funding, curriculum and instruction reform, and goal and standards setting (Hunter 1997). Until 1997, Baltimore schools operated like a city department; in Oakland and Boston, mayors now appoint all or some school board members; and in Los Angeles and Sacramento, mayors have actively campaigned for slates of board members.
Schools matter for cities, and city support matters for schools. Good school systems attract families, provide steady jobs for local residents and contracts for local businesses, and increase property values. They are a