Construction Conundrum

In capital plan fight, a reluctance to challenge the city's proposal

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is pushing back against opposition to the city’s proposed school construction plan, saying there is no way for the council legally to vote it down.

Quinn met today with about 30 parents who lambaste the plan as too conservative and an ineffective remedy to overcrowding. The parents are urging council members to vote against the plan when it comes up for a vote, probably on Friday.

But Quinn said the city’s chief lawyer has advised her that the state law governing the city public schools does not contain provisions for what to do if the council votes the plan down.

“We have been informed by the Corporation Counsel of the City that if we were to vote no, the [Department of Education] would effectively be left with no long-term capital budget,” Quinn wrote in a letter to the parents yesterday. In that situation, school construction could grind to a standstill, she said.

The law she was referring to, Section 4 of Education Law Section 2590-p, says, “Following approval by the city board of a five-year educational facilities capital plan, the chancellor shall submit such plan to the mayor and the council of the city of New York for their approval.”

Patrick Sullivan, a parent leader who sits on a task force to tackle overcrowding in Manhattan and who is also a member of the city school board, the Panel for Educational Policy, said he thought the city could revise the plan and resubmit it to the council quickly, before the council’s June 30 deadline to set the city’s budget. “This could take place in a matter of days without much downside,” he said.

But Quinn said the revision process could drag on indefinitely in that situation. Maintenance projects that are slated to take place during the summer might not happen, and other construction projects that are in development could be shelved entirely, she said. “It’s the unknown and that to me is very, very worrisome,” she said.

Instead of voting down the plan, Quinn said the council would push for a state law to require the city to measure classroom space using the state’s class size targets. Right now, the city sometimes says schools are under capacity even when class sizes are above official state targets. The law would be on top of the one the council already said it would seek so that it can negotiate annual amendments to the school construction plan.

Quinn also said she and other council members are negotiating behind the scenes with the city for improvements to the proposed plan before it comes before the council for a vote. One improvement that she said she is pushing for would force the city to reallocate funds pegged for jails to school construction.

Leonie Haimson, an advocate for school construction who is part of the schools-not-jails push, said she thought Quinn’s reluctance to see council members vote against the plan would work against her in the back-room negotiations that are currently ongoing.

“Christine Quinn has put herself in what appears to be a weak negotiating position, but I’m hopeful that she is pressing her point as hard as she can,” Haimson said.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”