education mayor

Would a UFT endorsement for Thompson make a difference?

On the night of his primary election victory, city comptroller candidate John Liu stood in the city’s teacher union headquarters and thanked the United Federation of Teachers for delivering his win. In the mayoral race, by contrast, the UFT chose to sit on the sidelines and not endorse the Democratic candidate, as it has historically done.

How much of a difference has the UFT’s decision to sit out the race made for comptroller Bill Thompson’s campaign? The answer likely rests on the continuum between not much and not at all, election observers said today.

Those who argue that a UFT endorsement would have helped Thompson, if only modestly, point to the UFT’s powerful voter turnout machine. In an election predicted to see few voters, the ability to mobilize teachers and parents could be a deciding factor in who wins tomorrow.

A spokesman for the union, Dick Riley, estimated that union volunteers had made about 200,000 calls and distributed 50,000 pieces of campaign literature this year on behalf of endorsed candidates in citywide, borough and city council elections. The union also sends out robocalls urging its members to vote for candidates and its president, Michael Mulgrew, made appearances with candidates at press conferences.

To the Thompson campaign, which was been criticized for lacking discipline, an army of UFT volunteers with supplies on hand would have been a welcome sight. But Thompson may need more help than that, observers said.

“If they had endorsed Thompson it would have been a big plus, but it wouldn’t have been enough” said James Vlasto, a former communications director for public advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

Vlasto, who has worked on 30 campaigns in New York City, said the UFT’s support would not have raised Thompson’s poll numbers significantly, as the campaign’s flaws were too pronounced to be solved with one endorsement.

The Thompson campaign “had some unions, they had vehicles that could spread the word for him, [but] they missed out,” Vlasto said. “They spent all their time and money saying eight years is enough, and that’s a fine slogan, but there are other issues.”

Other observers said no amount of phone-banking or literature-distributing by the UFT would have made a difference for the Thompson campaign, as it was already mid-October when a chapter leader at a delegate assembly meeting offered a resolution to endorse Thompson. The motion was postponed and the union never returned to it.

“Without significant efforts by a union following a late endorsement in a race, the impact of the endorsement can be negligible,” said Benjamin Kallos, the director of policy and research for Mark Green’s campaign for public advocate.

This is not the first time the UFT has decided wait out a mayoral election, especially during contract negotiations. Following the end of contract negotiations in 2005, the UFT chose not to endorse Bloomberg or his Democratic challenger Fernando Ferrer. The UFT was also neutral in 1993 and 1997.

“It’s not uncommon that unions will not take a position when they’re sitting at the bargaining table,” said District Council 37 Local 372 president Veronica Montgomery-Costa. DC 37 endorsed Thompson over the summer and Montgomery-Costa spoke from the campaign’s headquarters where union volunteers were working.

“If they don’t pick the right candidate it could have a devastating impact on negotiations,” she said.

Vlasto said the UFT’s decision to keep the last two mayoral campaigns at arm’s length had caused it to cede political power to the the Working Families Party, an idea Riley disputed. “As to our clout, both De Blasio and Liu made it a point to address our delegate assembly after their endorsements,” Riley wrote in an email. ”

“One presumes that Liu had some reason for having his victory party after the runoff here at the UFT and Cy Vance (endorsed by the UFT but not the WFP) singled Mulgrew out at his primary night celebration to thank him for the UFT’s contribution to his victory.”

A spokesman for the Thompson campaign did not return requests for comment.

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”