full court press

In court, UFT and NAACP ask for immediate halt to closure plans

UFT President Michael Mulgrew speaks at an NAACP rally Friday morning. The organizations are the primary plaintiffs on a lawsuit against the Department of Education.

Seeking to force an immediately halt to the city’s plans to close 22 schools and co-locate another 19 charter schools, the teachers union and the NAACP asked for a temporary restraining order against the Department of Education on Thursday.

The court request would force the plans to end whether or not a judge rules in favor of the original lawsuit challenging the city’s plans. That lawsuit, filed by the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP last month, argues that the closures and co-locations create an unequal allocation of resources.

City school officials immediately criticized the attempted restraining order, describing a colliding impact that they said would target thousands of high school students.

Last year, when another lawsuit by the teachers union and the NAACP forced the city to reverse its plans to close struggling schools, the city delayed matching students to high schools until the outcome of the suit was clear. This year, the city has already matched students to high schools. It’s not obvious what would happen to re-match students to closing high schools, but school officials said the process would be chaotic.

“It would throw the high school admissions process into disarray,” a Department of Education official said, speaking on background.

Speaking to reporters at Tweed Courthouse today, Walcott said that he was concerned about the late timing of the request. “This changes the whole thing,” he said. “We can’t phase out the schools. We can’t co-locate new schools or new buildings into the schools themselves. We have people who are just on hold. People have selected high schools and have been matched to high schools.”

Teachers union officials said that the injunction simply asks the DOE to allow kids to return to the school they originally attended.

Hours earlier, the NAACP rallied uptown outside of the headquarters of Harlem Success Academy, the charter school network that Eva Moskowitz operates. Last week, Moskowitz was one of the charter school leaders who organized a 2,500-person rally targeting the NAACP in the courtyard in front of the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, also in Harlem.

The NAACP’s gathering was significantly smaller — police estimated it at around 100 — but included fiery testimony from elected officials, parents, and union leaders who characterized the resources provided to charter school students as modern-day segregation.

Hazel Dukes, head of the New York NAACP, pledged to continue the fight for equality. “We’re going all the way to the promise land,” said Dukes. “This is just the beginning of our journey.”

Not everyone at the rally agreed. Behind the cameras, Daryl Winslow, a black father whose daughter attends one of Moskowitz Success charter schools, Bronx Success, shook his head and said that his daughter already read at a second grade level thanks to the school.

The NAACP rally, he said, was counterproductive. “It’s creating more separation, and it always involves more of our people to start it,” said Winslow. “I don’t care if you’re Jewish, Chinese, or Portuguese. As long as you get it right in the classroom.”

At Tweed Courthouse, Walcott reiterated his displeasure with the plaintiffs who filed the suit. “It’s ironic that these two groups, especially the NAACP, are deferring the dreams of our children,” he said. “There are choices that people want to make and as a result of this, that will not happen.”

Here’s the UFT’s request for a temporary restraining order:

UFT Memo in Support of TRO and Preliminary Injunction 6-2-11//

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 FACE@schools.nyc.gov.

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.”