past deadline

State lawmakers end session without passing mayoral control. Where does that leave us?

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Speaker Carl Heastie on the Assembly floor.

The final day of New York state’s scheduled legislative session has come and gone — but there’s no final deal on mayoral control of city schools.

Lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session late Wednesday, though they could return to address mayoral control of New York City schools at a later date. The provision expires at the end of June, but blowing the session’s deadline takes state officials one step closer to letting the mayor’s governance of the nation’s largest school system lapse.

“This evening, the state legislature will adjourn its 2017 legislative session,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a statement. “We would have preferred to have tied everything up with a nice neat bow and returned to our districts with nothing at all left on our plate, but under the circumstances, that just wasn’t possible.”

He also suggested that he supports mayoral control of city schools, as long as it comes with help for charter schools. “I support the renewal of mayoral control, as do my Senate Republican colleagues,” Flanagan said.

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie admitted this outcome wasn’t perfect. “Sometimes in politics you don’t always get what you want,” he said on Wednesday night. He also reportedly said he had “no intention of coming back.”

For the past two years, Mayor Bill de Blasio has secured only one-year extensions of the policy, thanks largely to his fraught relationships with Senate Republicans and Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg received a seven-, then a six-year extension.)

Without mayoral control, New York City schools would revert back to a system with 32 community school boards — something even Mayor Bill de Blasio’s opponents do not support. Yet lawmakers are stuck in a deadlock over whether the extension should come with concessions, such as eliminating New York City’s charter school cap.

Mayoral control has lapsed before, providing a blueprint for what it might look like if it happened again. In July 2009, under Bloomberg, its expiration caused a brief reconstitution of the city’s Board of Education. But it took only a month before lawmakers returned to Albany and passed a multi-year extension.

The relatively small disruption caused by the lapse in 2009 leads some observers to conclude that letting the law expire will bring little harm to schools, teachers or students. That’s a far cry from the “chaos, gridlock, and corruption” predicted by New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

But the first scenario assumes the law will be reinstated as quickly as it was in 2009, said Tim Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. Every year is different, and this one is marked by “deep-seated” policy and personality conflicts between the mayor and Albany lawmakers, Kremer said. Also, notably, the Senate was in the midst of a leadership crisis when lawmakers failed to renew mayoral control in 2009.

“I think people are taking false comfort in saying ‘Listen, we blew through the deadline last time and nothing happened; we can do that again,’” Kremer said. “They really are playing a little bit with fire.”

So what exactly would it look like if mayoral control lapsed? Chalkbeat spelled that out in a step-by-step guide back in 2009, informed in part by a memo sent by Bloomberg’s staff outlining how they saw the transition at the time.

First, city officials would have to reconvene a citywide Board of Education with five appointments made by borough presidents and two by the mayor. That board would have the power to select a chancellor. The city followed that script in 2009, which resulted in a unanimous vote to retain Joel Klein as chancellor.

Some observers, like David Bloomfield, a professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, feel confident the same would happen this time around.

“I fully expect that to go without any problem and that they will proceed to appoint Carmen [Fariña],” Bloomfield said.

To test his theory, Chalkbeat reached out to all five borough presidents earlier on Wednesday. Officials from three offices responded. The Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s director of communications said she is committed to keeping Carmen Fariña as chancellor. Officials from Borough President Eric Adams’s office said he was focused on renewing mayoral control. Officials from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s office did not commit to keeping the chancellor.

“The only commitment Borough President Katz will make at this time is to appoint a representative to the reconstituted Board of Education,” officials wrote in an email.

If mayoral control lapsed for more than a month, New York City would head into uncharted territory. At some point, the city is required to revive the community school boards, but those elections wouldn’t be held until spring 2018.

That leaves months of limbo. In 2009, there was some discussion of whether the chancellor could appoint trustees to community school boards in the interim. But a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said he interprets the law to mean there would be no community school boards until the following May. That means no community input, no ability to appoint a permanent superintendent, and likely no rezoning votes, she said.

Even though there’s only a slim chance this fight will last until May, de Blasio said he doesn’t want to take any chances.

“When you open up Pandora’s box,” the mayor said at a press conference Wednesday, “you don’t know what happens next.”

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.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.