Bryant points to Boston as a school system that successfully balanced mayoral involvement with parent, teacher and community voices. Since 1993, Mayor Thomas Menino has taken an active role in Boston Public Schools by appointing the district's school committee and working closely with the school superintendent and school committee chairperson on education issues.
Menino is credited with adding stability to Boston's school system. The average tenure for school superintendents in 53 of the largest urban public school systems in 2008 was 3.5 years, according to a survey of the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization representing the nation's largest urban public school systems. Menino's first school superintendent, Thomas Payzant, served 11 years before retiring in 2006.
In Boston, a group of community stakeholders provides the mayor with a slate of three candidates to choose from for each open position on the school committee, Bryant said. The nominating process allows the mayor to play a primary role in the school district without alienating the community, she said.
The Boston School District won the $1 million Broad Prize in 2006 for demonstrating the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps among poor and minority students. The Broad Prize is the largest education award in the country given to school districts.
"The best model in these big cities is when the mayor takes his role seriously as a resource and partner to the school district," Bryant said.
"Now if Mayor Menino goes away and another mayor comes in with a different agenda, it might not be so good," she said.
Mayoral control in Detroit was a different story.
In 1999, Michigan's legislature empowered Mayor Dennis Archer to take over Detroit Public Schools without opening the decision to the public. Mayoral control in Detroit was riddled by community disillusionment, political conflict and unclear goals for the future, Wong said. In 2004, Detroit voters rejected mayoral control and restored the district's elected school board structure.
"Mayors have to be committed," Wong said. "In Detroit, the mayor didn't want to spend the political capital. The state placed the system on the school district and it alienated the city."
Current Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has said he would be willing to assume control over the school district, but only if the community agreed to it. Advocates for mayoral control in Detroit argue that turning around the city starts with its schools -- and holding the mayor accountable for student achievement and learning.
But Ruby Newbold, president of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees, said that because of the 1999 mayoral takeover, she has doubts about whether mayoral control could work in Detroit.
"One person in charge with no oversight, we've been through that already," she said. "The mayor has enough on his plate. His priorities should be fixing the city and making sure the jobs come back into the city."