strike that reverse it

City renounces effort to use DOE employees to lobby on LIFO

An office inside the Department of Education improperly recruited its employees to lobby against the state’s seniority-based layoff system, city officials acknowledged today.

Staff at the city’s Office of Family Information and Action asked hundreds of parent coordinators to distribute a petition urging state lawmakers to abolish the current layoff system. In the e-mail, an OFIA staffer asked parent coordinators to gather signatures from parents and other members of their school communities and return them to the DOE. The e-mail message went out to nearly 400 of the 1,000 parent coordinators around the city.

The petition asks state lawmakers to “allow the City to keep it’s [sic] most effective teachers by ending the State’s ‘Last-In, First-Out’ policy, allowing teachers to be retained based on their performance, rather than just seniority.”

The message, which was first reported this morning by the teacher activist Norm Scott, echoes the position of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Cathie Black, who have made ending the seniority-based layoffs this year a chief political goal. The city teachers union strongly opposes ending the system and has argued that the city should instead focus its lobbying efforts on fighting budget cuts.

DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said that the petition had not been approved by top city officials.

“While we strongly encourage parents to speak out on issues concerning their children’s education, it was not appropriate for Department of Education staff to prescribe a specific solution for parent coordinators, or parents, to advocate,” Ravitz said in a statement. “Neither the Mayor, nor Chancellor Black, authorized this activity, and moving forward we will ensure that DOE staff understand their responsibilities and the appropriate standards to which we must adhere.”

Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew denounced the parent office’s push, pointing to a section of state civil service law that bans employees from using their “official authority or influences to coerce the political action of any person or body.” He also referred to a 2008 federal court ruling that upheld the city’s right to ban teachers from wearing buttons supporting political candidates while in the classroom.

“The same Department of Education, which on the pretext of sheltering students has forbidden teachers even from wearing buttons indicating support for candidates, has now embraced using students and parents in a clearly partisan legislative initiative,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a minimum these actions appear to violate state law.”

The petition was prepared in advance of next week’s “New York City Public School Lobby Week,” during which OFIA has been asking parents to visit state legislators and argue against school budget cuts. The office has planned several information sessions for parents this week to encourage them to participate in Lobby Week activities. The division’s official role is to facilitate better relationships between students’ families and their schools.

> From: Berryman Jaclyn
> Sent: Tue 3/15/2011 12:46 PM
> To: [redacted]
> Cc: Harris Melissa (OFIA); Pierre Louis Raymond; Melendez Jacqueline;
Portilla Nydia
> Subject: Final Petition: Lobby Week, March 21-25, 2011
>
>
>
> Hello again Queens Parent Coordinators,
>
> As a follow up to many of your recommendation for Lobby Week, attached
you will find the final petition to share with your school communities.
>
> These petitions serve as a way to include all school community members
who would like to make their voices heard but may be unable to
participate in the actual Senate and Assembly visits during Lobby Week,
March 21, 2011- March 25, 2011.
>
> Completed petitions will be submitted to elected officials by parents
and community members next week, during the Lobby Week visits.
>
> Please fax petitions back to: 212-374-0076 by the below listed dates.
If you have interested school community members that want to sign the
petition, but may not be able to submit by the end of the week, please
call me at 212-374-2989 and we can discuss this on a case-by-case basis.

>
> Thanks in advance for your support. Have a good afternoon
>
>
>
> Lobby Week Elected Official Visits:
>
> Borough:
>
> Submit Completed Petitions:
>
> Monday, March 21, 2011
>
> Bronx
>
> Friday, March 18,2011
>
> Tuesday , March 22, 2011
>
> Manhattan
>
> Monday, March 21, 2011
>
> Wednesday, March 23, 2011
>
> Queens & Brooklyn
>
> Tuesday, March 22, 2011
>
>
>
>
>
> Regards,
>
> Jaclyn Berryman
>
>
>
> New York City Department of Education
>
> Office for Family Information & Action
>
> 49 Chambers Street, Room 503
>
> New York, New York 10007

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.
Sincerely,

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.”