he said/he said

Council members say DOE gave them no chance to stop layoffs

Finance Committee Chair Domenic Recchia, Jr. was among Dennis Walcott's (left) vocal questioner today.

On the first day back to work since 672 school aides were laid off, City Council members unloaded criticism on Chancellor Dennis Walcott for what they said was an intentional failure to notify them about the layoffs.

In several tense exchanges with Walcott, Finance Committee Chair Domenic Recchia, Jr. repeatedly claimed that council members were kept in the dark about the layoffs. If they’d known the layoffs were possible, Recchia said the Council would have acted to stop them, just as it did for teachers this summer.

At one point, Recchia ordered a staff member to hand deliver a budget document to Walcott, seated 30 feet away at the testimonial desk, and asked him to read it.

“Nowhere in the executive budget did you say you were going to lay off school aides,” Recchia said. “We would have done something about it and you didn’t tell us.”

But in his testimony and in subsequent exchanges, Walcott pointed out that Recchia and his colleagues in the Council actually signed off on a budget agreement that “made clear” that an additional 1,000 non-uniform and non-pedagogical employees could lose their jobs.

Echoing previous statements, the Chancellor said the layoffs did not show up specifically in the executive budget because they were cuts made by principals in July to reduce individual school budgets by an average of 2.4 percent.

He said that while the agreement didn’t explicitly name school aides, it did not exclude them either and Deputy Chancellor Dave Weiner, who also testified, said he frequently warned Local 372 President Santos Crespo that principals historically excess school aides first when faced with budget cuts.

Crespo refuted that he was ever warned about his workers’ job security. He also said that several of the meetings with the DOE that Weiner cited were entirely unrelated to the discussion of layoffs.

“These layoffs represented a portion of the larger $178 million in savings that schools needed to identify,” Walcott said.

The DOE estimated that the layoffs saved $35 million but the city is expected to pay at least $7 million for projected unemployment benefits for people who are now out of a job. Recchia said he estimated that total could rise to $11 million because many of the unemployed qualify for food stamps.

Other members used their five minutes of questioning to bring up broader issues about the layoffs. Several members, including Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson, suggested that politics played a role in the layoffs because the union that represented the workers also happened to be the most vocally opposed to a labor concession deal proposed by the city earlier in the year.

Letitia James called the layoffs “unconscionable” and pointed to the fact that a disproportionate amount of the layoffs affected minority women who were among the lowest paid public workers in New York City. Dave Weiner confirmed that 60 percent of the laid off workers were women and 80 percent were minorities.

The City Council members’ anger is not likely to gain traction. Last week, Mayor Bloomberg announced a citywide job freeze on top of additional cuts of $567 million facing the DOE in next year’s budget. If anything, Walcott said, the reductions “would require continued sacrificed from all of us.”

For the second time in a week, however, Walcott said he wanted to concentrate all future cuts on the central office and avoid additional cuts to schools.

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.”