election season

Lawmakers vote in new Regent in unusually contested election

New Regent Josephine Finn, speaking to Speaker Sheldon Silver, who helped get her elected.

ALBANY — An unusually tense legislative process to pick members for the state’s Board of Regents ended with a contested vote on Tuesday that some lawmakers said was a referendum on school reforms taking shape across the state.

In a joint session of the State Senate and Assembly, the legislature elected three incumbent Regents to new terms: Christine Cea of Staten Island; and James Cottrell and Wade Norwood, who do not represent specific parts of the state. A fourth incumbent seeking re-election, James Jackson, took himself out of the running on Monday evening as it became increasingly clear that he had lost the support of legislators representing his Regents district.

Jackson’s vacancy was filled by Monticello village judge Josephine Finn, a former community college professor, who beat out two other candidates by a margin of 121-20-10. Finn emerged as a new candidate to replace Finn on Monday during a last-minute interviewed convened by lawmakers.

All of the winners won handily over their challengers, but their margins were smaller than in previous elections. This year, the winners faced opposition from dozens of Democrats and Republicans who either supported challengers or abstained from voting altogether to protest the election process. Individual legislators’ votes were not immediately available.

The dissent reflected legislators’ efforts to respond to broad unpopularity among parents and teachers over the state’s implementation of Common Core learning standards and new teacher evaluations, both of which are approved and overseen by the Regents. After the vote, opposing legislators blamed the Regents for the rocky implementation and called for changes to who gets to make decisions about education policy.

“I think they all should have been tossed, fired, based upon the failed implementation of Common Core,” said Republican Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, who abstained. “We all want higher standards, but those four incumbents, they cause chaos within the whole education system.”

Skelos also used the opportunity to connect Democrats in the Assembly, who control the Regents voting process, to the controversial education policies overseen by Regents.

“All I know is that the Democrats today continue to vote for the status quo and are not listening to parents, are not listening to educators,” Skelos added.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver defended the process, saying that the votes from both houses of the legislature were needed to approve of the four Regents members.

“I think you saw it play out today,” Silver said. “The Assembly could not elect Regents on their own. Senators voted with members with the Assembly to provide the majority.”

Asked about Jackson’s resignation and Finn’s ascendance, Silver said it was a change driven by local Albany lawmakers.

“The regional representatives of that judicial district met [and] made a determination to do that,” Silver said.

One of those lawmakers, Patricia Fahy, praised Jackson on the floor of the Assembly. “We are very grateful for his work there and for his work on the Regents,” she said.

Cottrell, the reelected Regent, said Jackson’s departure was “a big loss to the board. He was such a wonderful contributor on education. He knew every issue. he’s been in the system for so long.”

Jackson was a teacher and principal for more than 40 years at Shaker High School.

Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who watched the voting process live and sat with the winning Regents, declined to comment on the process carried out by the legislature. But she defended the role of the Regents, saying they played a critical role in the way policy is set.

“I would say to anyone who thinks that this board rubber-stamps staff work at the education department, come to a board meeting and listen carefully,” Tisch said.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.