rules of order

The man who saved the city from passing an illegal budget

The city budget for the next school year could have ended up invalidated as illegal, were it not for a few pointed questions from a Manhattan father.

Patrick Sullivan, who in addition to being a dad is the only member of the citywide school board who regularly votes against the Bloomberg administration’s proposals, approached a City Council member this Monday after reading newspaper accounts that the mayor and the council had reached a budget deal. Stories said a vote was planned for this week (in fact, it’s happening today).

“I was kind of surprised, because we hadn’t approved the budget yet,” Sullivan told me today.

Indeed, the 2002 state education law that is under the microscope in Albany right now requires that school board members approve the city schools budget before the City Council can vote on it. But as the Council readied to vote in a budget this week, the Panel for Educational Policy had not yet voted its own approval — and wasn’t scheduled to do so until next week. (The panel members had been offered three briefings on the budget by school officials.)

Sullivan said that the lawmaker he spoke to did not realize the PEP had to approve a budget before a Council vote. “But I don’t really think it’s the council’s business,” Sullivan said. “It’s the education department’s business.”

He added of the Department of Education, “I’m particularly astonished that they would do this right now, when Albany is being asked to consider measures to increase the autonomy of the panel. It’s pretty remarkable, if you think about it.”

In a rush to make sure they were complying with the law, school officials called a hastily arranged PEP meeting for 10:30 this morning. Lynn Cole, who coordinates the school board, let members know about the meeting via an e-mail message sent out at 6:06 last night:

If you have questions this evening, please email me or call Photo (REDACTED).  Please let me know your availability as soon as possible.

Javier Hernandez, who covered the meeting for the New York Times, reported that Chancellor Joel Klein said that he did not mean to go over the PEP’s head.

Mr. Klein said he never intended to hand over the budget without the panel’s signature. He had anticipated the Council would vote on it next week — after the panel had time to review it at its scheduled meeting on Tuesday, he said.

When the Council scheduled a vote this week, and legal questions about the panel’s role started to arise, the department decided to call the emergency meeting, Mr. Klein said.

“We wanted to make sure they had any action the panel would take,” Mr. Klein said.

Sullivan also made remarks at the meeting, before casting the sole ‘no’ vote to the budget, according to the Times:

“The folks and parents of Manhattan do not expect me to be a rubber stamp,” Mr. Sullivan, the lone dissenter, told the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who serves as the panel’s chairman. “The borough president didn’t send me here to be a potted plant.”

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”