mayoral control

State reaches deal on mayoral control, giving Mayor Bill de Blasio a two-year extension

PHOTO: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office.

Lawmakers in the state Assembly and Senate have finally passed a deal on mayoral control of New York City’s public schools, giving Mayor Bill de Blasio a two-year extension — his first multi-year deal since taking office in 2014.

The Senate passed the bill Thursday afternoon, just one day before mayoral control was set to expire on June 30 at midnight. It was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo shortly after 3 p.m.

Included in the so-called “big ugly” are also measures renewing a slate of local taxes and renaming the Tappan Zee Bridge for the late Governor Mario Cuomo. The bill language does not include any provisions benefiting the charter school sector, which Senate Republicans had initially hoped to get in exchange for mayoral control.

Perhaps most notably, the bill gives de Blasio two years of mayoral control. Though former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had mayoral control deals for six and seven years, de Blasio had until now failed to secure more than a one-year extension — despite his repeated requests for multi-year deals.

“Providing a two-year extension gives the system an important measure of stability that’s key to initiatives that have produced record achievement,” the mayor said in a statement. “Our state government’s action allows us to refocus our attention away from the political process and back to our classrooms, where it belongs.”

After a long day of closed-door meetings between the governor and leaders of both parties, the agreement was hashed out by Assembly lawmakers in the early hours of Thursday morning during a special legislative session called by Cuomo. The regular legislative session had already ended last Wednesday with lawmakers failing to come to an agreement on mayoral control.

It remained unclear Thursday morning if Senate Republicans would go along with the Assembly bill. At around 1 p.m., Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins released a statement, calling Thursday “another day and another example of dysfunction in the Senate,” and asking Republicans to wrap up their discussion and bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Just after 2 p.m., Senate Republicans did just that and the bill passed the Senate with a 48–2 vote, with Republicans Terrence Murphy and James Tedisco voting against it.

“We came to a responsible agreement that extends mayoral control of the New York City schools for two years while ensuring that charter schools continue to play an important role in the education of schoolchildren there,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a statement shortly after the bill passed.

Flanagan tried unsuccessfully to link mayoral control to charter school expansion. The state Senate passed a series of bills earlier this year with different options for tying the extension of mayoral control to school choice, including lifting the cap on charters in New York City.

But trading mayoral control for charter school concessions was a “non-starter” for Assembly Leader Carl Heastie, leading to last week’s impasse.

If a deal had not been reached by the June 30 deadline, New York City schools would have reverted back to a disjointed system with 32 community school boards — an outcome many were eager to avoid.

Monica Disare contributed reporting.

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.