our reporter in albany (updated)

Silver's bill clears its last hurdle before tomorrow's Assembly vote

ALBANY, NY — One branch of the state government is functioning today. Lawmakers in the Assembly pushed Silver’s mayoral control bill through the ways and means committee this afternoon, readying the bill for a final vote tomorrow.

The bill immediately passed with no discussion. At least three Assembly members voted against Silver’s plan, including Mark Weprin and Jeff Aubry of Queens and Deborah Glick of Manhattan.

Aubry said he was concerned that the bill did not place fixed terms on members of the citywide school board and that it gives the mayor a majority of the appointees to the Panel for Educational Policy. Both he and Glick are supporters of the “Better Schools Act.”

Tomorrow, the Assembly will vote on the bill, and even its most vocal critics agree that its passage is guaranteed.

UPDATE 2 (from Elizabeth): Billy Easton of the Campaign for Better Schools points out that nothing is final, even if the Assembly bill passes. “Tomorrow is an Assembly vote on their initial proposal,” he said. “That does not mean that that’s the final vote that they will take on this matter. We have to see what unfolds.” Easton added that lobbyists for the campaign are meeting with members from both the Assembly and the Senate.

Exactly how negotiations between the two houses will unfold, however, is almost impossible to figure out. Anna reports from Albany that she only persuaded one senator to talk to her about mayoral control today — and his response was to say, “It can’t stay the way it is,” and walk away laughing.

UPDATE (from Elizabeth in New York): Critics of the bill are fighting it vigorously. Ann Kjellberg is sending around to members of the Parent Commission on School Governance is sending out an urgent e-mail asking supporters to call elected officials immediately. The main asks: fixed terms for school board members, a two-year rather than six-year sunset, and a provision that would force the Department of Education to be subject to both city and state law.

The full e-mail:

Just back from Albany, where the situation is dismal.

Our politicians, even as they nod seriously when we describe the DOE’s failures of management and process, are about to vote on laws that preserve the mayor’s absolute control and completely marginalize parents, educators, and the public.

The City Council, though they have told us they will negotiate on behalf of constituent demands, is on the brink of voting for an education capital plan without appearing to have won a single concession from the DOE.

TODAY IS THE DAY.  PLEASE CALL YOUR CITY COUNCIL MEMBER, YOUR STATE SENATOR, AND YOUR ASSEMBLYMEMBER WITH THE FOLLOWING DEMANDS:

1) City Council: Parents demand a capital plan that addresses the city’s real overcrowding needs, present and future, instead of simply covering them up and waiting for the next crisis.  We will cast votes on this issue. You have shown a lack of leadership.

For Council phone numbers click here <http://council.nyc.gov/html/members/members.shtml> .

2) Assembly and Senate: Parents demand a governance law with real checks and balances.  We demand the following (customize if you like):

– fixed terms for School Board (PEP) members;

– a minority of mayoral appointees on the School Board (PEP);

– a DOE subject to city and state law;

– enforcement of legal powers of local school boards (CECs) and districts, including CEC powers over zoning, school placement, and school closure;

– a sunset of two years.

You might also like to endorse the Parent Commission proposals recommended here <http://www.parentcommission.org/> .

For Assembly phone numbers click here <http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/> .  For Senate phone numbers click here <http://www.nysenate.gov/senators> .

The time is NOW!  Our politicians are selling away our school system!

Please spread the word!

For info on how to send an email or a fax from your computer see pspac.wetpaint.com or write to me.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”