mayoral control clash

De Blasio skips Senate hearing, angering lawmakers with mayoral control on the line

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference to call for an extension of mayoral control.

In the ongoing tussle over school governance in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a compromise Wednesday — and said he was resting his case.

The mayor reduced his request from seven years of continued control to three, the amount the Democrat-controlled state Assembly voted in favor of this week. But he also announced on Wednesday that he would not attend the second scheduled mayoral control hearing on Thursday, backing out of a long-scheduled event and drawing the ire of Senate Republicans who will vote on any extension.

In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, de Blasio defended his education record alongside prominent New York City business leaders who urged state lawmakers to renew the mayoral control law. De Blasio also pointed out that he already sat for one lengthy Senate hearing on mayoral control earlier this month.

“I think to go to Albany and spend four hours answering any and all questions, literally every single question that was offered, I think that was a great show of respect and we covered the subject matter well,” he said.

Still, his decision to skip the second hearing immediately drew criticism from Senate Republicans, who stand in the way of a long-term extension and others who are wary of de Blasio’s education agenda.

The most powerful member of the state Senate, Majority Leader John Flanagan, sent out a swift response saying he is “extremely disappointed” by de Blasio’s decision. Flanagan, a Republican who formerly headed the Senate education committee, also criticized de Blasio when he did testify at a state hearing on the issue two weeks ago, calling his knowledge of city schools “disturbing.”

The current chair or the Senate education committee, Republican Carl Marcellino, was also “disappointed” that the mayor will not attend the second hearing, according to a statement from his office.

Several advocacy groups opposed to de Blasio’s education policies joined the fray Wednesday, and planned to rally outside Thursday’s hearing.

“Mayoral control was put in place to bring accountability to public education, not to allow City Hall to escape scrutiny,” said Jenny Sedlis, the executive director of StudentsFirstNY, a pro-charter school group that has frequently battled with de Blasio. “The mayor wants the authority without taking responsibility for his failed education record.”

Even de Blasio’s allies questioned his decision to miss the hearing.

Assembly Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan said she thinks is it “outrageous” that the Senate would expect him to testify again. Still, she said:“If I were the mayor, I would have went.”

De Blasio’s move ensures a bumpy ride over the next few weeks as the state legislature decides whether to extend mayoral control and, if so, for how long. The back-and-forth between de Blasio and state lawmakers has been underway since last year, when the mayor asked for a permanent extension of mayoral control and got one year instead.

People on both sides of the debate tend to agree that mayoral control is an improvement over the previous system of many local school boards, and that de Blasio is likely to get an extension. De Blasio often argues that mayoral control has allowed him to tackle big projects, like universal prekindergarten, and that it makes him accountable for progress in city schools.

However, his adversaries in Albany also realize signing off on a long-term extension would mean sacrificing a political bargaining chip.

The Assembly passed a bill on Tuesday extending mayoral control for three years. Over 100 business executives also signed a letter to lawmakers asking for a long-term extension, and many of those appeared with de Blasio at City Hall today.

“There is no justification for exposing more than a million students to the turmoil that would result from the expiration of a system that has served the city well,” the letter reads.

Leadership

New principal hired for Denver’s storied Manual High School

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar/Chalkbeat
Denver's Manual High School

Manual High School, a storied school in northeast Denver that has struggled academically, finally will have a new principal: Joe Glover, who currently serves as an assistant principal at nearby East High.

Glover will start his new job on Jan. 1, according to a letter from district administrators to Manual students, families, and community members. Glover will take over for an interim principal who is leading the school this fall. The last permanent principal abruptly resigned in March.

This was the second time this year that Denver Public Schools had tried to hire a principal for Manual. Its first attempt ended when the top prospect turned down the job.

Glover was one of two finalists for the position. The other finalist, Douglas Clinkscales, has worked at Manual since 2007 and is currently the assistant principal and athletic director.

Manual serves about 300 students, nearly all of whom are black and Latino and come from low-income families. Though the school’s enrollment is small, its significance is big.

Manual is often held up as one of the most traumatic examples of the district’s strategy of closing low-performing schools and reopening them with a new program in hopes of better outcomes. Manual was closed in 2006 and reopened in 2007. While the school has seen some successes since then, its students have continued to struggle on state tests.

Read Glover’s resume below.

Super Search

Critics see Susana Cordova’s husband’s job as a conflict of interest. Here’s what you need to know.

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar/Chalkbeat
Susana Cordova visits College View Elementary School in 2016.

Since Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova was named the sole finalist for the Denver school district’s top job last week, critics have zeroed in on one fact in particular: Cordova’s husband is a banker who does business with charter schools.

Charter schools are controversial. They are funded with public money but independently run by nonprofit boards of directors. In Colorado, the majority of charters are authorized by school districts — and Denver Public Schools has the most in the state: 60 of its 213 schools are charters.

Charter schools have played a key role in Denver’s approach to school improvement and have sometimes replaced low-performing district-run schools. Cordova worked in and supervised district-run schools during her time with Denver Public Schools, but community members who don’t like charters have raised concerns about her family connection to charter schools.

Cordova’s husband, Eric Duran, is an investment banker for a nationwide financial company called D.A. Davidson, which has an office in Denver. The company describes Duran as “one of the leading investment bankers in the charter school movement,” and says he’s done deals in Pennsylvania, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.

The deals Duran has done include one in Denver with a charter school called Monarch Montessori, which serves students in kindergarten through fifth grade in the far northeast part of the city. In 2015, Monarch Montessori issued $8.8 million in bonds to pay for the construction of five new classrooms, space for a gymnasium and assemblies, and an expanded cafeteria.

An offering document on file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission notes that D.A. Davidson was paid an underwriter’s fee of $132,225 as part of the Monarch Montessori deal.

At the time, Cordova held the position of chief schools officer for Denver Public Schools and was responsible for overseeing 165 district-run schools. She did not oversee charter schools or play a role in approving charter schools.

If Cordova is hired as superintendent, D.A. Davidson has said it will not do any business with Denver Public Schools or with any charter schools in Denver during her tenure.

The Monarch Montessori deal was between D.A. Davidson and the charter school’s board of directors; the offering document was signed by one of the school’s founders, who also served as president of its board, and a special education teacher who was on the board.

Denver Public Schools was not involved in the deal. In a statement, the district said it “does not have any financial obligations with the bonds issued by charters,” and district leaders “do not influence the financing decisions by independent charter schools.”

But parents and community members who don’t like charter schools see Duran’s work as evidence that Cordova has personally profited from charter schools, which they argue is a conflict of interest and makes her unfit to be superintendent of the school system. They have raised the issue repeatedly on social media.

Duran’s job was also the subject of a submitted question at a forum Wednesday night related to Cordova’s selection as the sole finalist.

In response, Cordova emphasized that no Denver Public Schools employee — including herself — had anything to do with the 2015 Monarch Montessori deal or with two other deals that other D.A. Davidson bankers have done with Denver charter schools in the past 10 years.

She also said she’s proud of her husband, who grew up poor in Denver, sleeping on the floor of the 800-square-foot apartment he shared with his extended family. After graduating from North High School, she said he got a scholarship to college and went onto a career in finance.

“He’s spent the vast majority of his career working on things like affordable housing, public school finance, hospitals — things that I believe we all believe are important for our communities to be thriving,” said Cordova, who is also a graduate of Denver Public Schools and has worked for the district since 1989. “So I’m incredibly proud of the work he has done.”

Charter school bond deals are actually relatively rare in Denver. The only reason a charter school would issue a bond is if it wanted to build, expand, or repair its own building. But most charter schools in Denver don’t own their own buildings. That’s because the district has been more amenable than most in the entire country to sharing space in its existing buildings with charter schools for a fee, a practice known as co-location.

The Denver school board named Cordova the sole finalist for the superintendent job last week. The board — which governs the entire school district and is separate from charter school boards — is expected to vote Dec. 17 on whether to appoint Cordova to the top job.