getting to know you

Five things you may not know about the next schools chancellor

What do we know about Cathie Black?

Most of the profiles of her published so far focus on her management style, her similarities to her new boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and her lack of substantive experience in education.

But other details are beginning to surface. Here are some things we’ve learned so far:

This is not the first time she has walked into a management situation as an almost complete outsider.

Seven pages into her memoir-like business advice book, newly-appointed city schools chancellor Cathie Black recounts an episode that suggests yesterday’s events may have felt like deja-vu.

In the book, Black describes the first time she walked into the offices of USA Today to meet the staff. She had just been named president following the newspaper’s tumultuous first year:

I was also a female, non-newspaper person and an absolute unknown quantity to these people — many of whom had just learned about my hiring moments beforehand. As I looked around the room, I could feel the questions in the air: Was I a savior, a marketing genius who could turn the paper around? Or would I be a flop?

Twenty-seven years later, Black is in a similar situation: an outsider entering a school system whose members have as many questions about her as she does about them. Even her predecessor, current Chancellor Joel Klein, only found out that she would take the position on Monday, he told reporters today.

She’s checked in with the teachers union head, but hasn’t set a date to meet them yet.

Black called teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew yesterday, a union spokesman said. No word yet on when the new chancellor will sit down with the union heads to talk shop, however. As Bloomberg pointed out yesterday, Mulgrew and Black have met once before — but only in passing.

There is a growing movement lobbying State Education Commissioner David Steiner not to grant her the waiver she needs to become chancellor.

Because Black lacks the minimum of three years’ education experience required under state law to become chancellor, she will need a waiver from State Education Commissioner David Steiner. Before Steiner can grant the waiver, he must appoint a panel to review the mayor’s reasons Black should have this job.

Critics of the mayor’s decision to appoint a businesswoman who lacks education experience are now rallying around the waiver process, urging Steiner not to grant it. As of around 7:30 this evening, more than 950 people had signed an online petition posted yesterday calling for the state education department to deny the waiver.

Black’s appointment has also drawn criticism from a number of state legislators, including Senators Bill Perkins and Carl Kruger and incoming Senator Tony Avella. State Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo also sent Steiner a letter today opposing Black’s appointment and saying that he is considering legislation that could block waivers for non-educators in the future.

Steiner answers to the State Board of Regents, who are appointed by the Assembly.  So if political opposition to Black’s appointment grows — particularly in the State Assembly and especially in the office of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — there’s a possibility it could doom her chances.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch yesterday seemed cautiously supportive of the mayor’s appointment.  “At the heart of mayoral control, I truly believe in allowing the mayor to make his choices,” Tisch told City Hall News.

If layoffs come, she will have a strategy.

One of the biggest questions of next year will be whether the city can avoid massive teacher layoffs. For this school year, the city skirted layoffs by spending the money it had set aside for future teacher raises to plug its budget gap. But next year marks the end of the federal stimulus money it has been relying on to balance state budget cuts, and city officials have warned that it’s unclear how they might make up the difference. Klein told reporters today that he believes layoffs are a real threat.

Black is coming from the publishing industry, which has seen its fair share of financial woes, and she has personal experience as the manager who breaks the bad news. In a video called “Layoff Lessons” that Forbes posted today, Black explains how she approached layoffs in publishing:

Well, for the person having to do the dirty deed, it’s very hard. I mean, I think you want to have thought through it very carefully, you want to have worked with your human resources department. You want to have a package already prepared for each individual. You want to get your message out. You don’t have to have an hour’s conversation. Because about the first five words that come out of your mouth, as in, “a department is not going to exist any longer,” they have mentally checked out. They are listening to one more word that you are saying, so it’s like, make it short and sweet.

But you have to be empathetic. It’s a very hard time there today. So I think you want to be fair. You know, walking around a little bit is not a bad thing to do. I think in tough times you want to be seen walking the floors.

Black’s political donations span the ideological spectrum.

Over the past five years, Black has given money to both Democrats and Republicans from all over the country, the Village Voice reports. Her biggest political donations have been not to candidates, however, but to the Magazine Publishers of America, the industry’s political action committee. In the most recent election cycle, the PAC gave more to Democrats than to Republicans

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.”


Newark schools would get $37.5 million boost under Gov. Murphy’s budget plan

PHOTO: OIT/Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy gave his first budget address on Tuesday.

Newark just got some good news: Gov. Phil Murphy wants to give its schools their biggest budget increase since 2011.

State funding for the district would grow by 5 percent — or $37.5 million — next school year under Murphy’s budget plan, according to state figures released Thursday. Overall, state aid for K-12 education in Newark would rise to $787.6 million for the 2018-19 school year.

The funding boost could ease financial strain on the district, which has faced large deficits in recent years as more students enroll in charter schools — taking a growing chunk of district money with them. At the same time, the district faced years of flat funding from the state, which provides Newark with most of its education money.

“This increase begins to restore the deep cuts made to teaching and support staff and essential programs for students in district schools over the last seven years,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, who noted that a portion of the increase would go to Newark charter schools.

Newark’s boost is part of a nearly $284 million increase that Murphy is proposing for the state’s school-aid formula, which has not been properly funded since 2009. In the budget outline he released Tuesday, Murphy said the increase was the first installment in a four-year plan to fully fund the formula, which calls for about $1 billion more than the state currently spends on education.

Even with Murphy’s proposed boost, Newark’s state aid would still be about 14 percent less than what it’s entitled to under the formula, according to state projections.

Murphy, a Democrat, is counting on a series of tax hikes and other revenue sources — including legalized marijuana — to pay for his budget, which increases state spending by 4.2 percent over this fiscal year. He’ll need the support of his fellow Democrats who control the state legislature to pass those measures, but some have expressed concerns about parts of Murphy’s plan — in particular, his proposal to raise taxes on millionaires. They have until June 30 to agree on a budget.

In the meantime, Newark and other school districts will use the figures from Murphy’s plan to create preliminary budgets by the end of this month. They can revise their budgets later if the state’s final budget differs from Murphy’s outline.

At a school board meeting Tuesday before districts received their state-aid estimates, Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory said he had traveled to Trenton in December to tell members of Murphy’s team that the district was “running out of things to do” to close its budget gap. He said the district wasn’t expecting to immediately receive the full $140 million that it’s owed under the state formula. But Murphy’s plan suggested the governor would eventually send Newark the full amount.

“The governor’s address offers a promising sign,” Gregory said.