Alberto Carvalho stuns New York City by turning down chancellor job after first accepting it

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools in 2012. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho shocked New York City, South Florida, and the entire education world on Thursday, reneging on his decision to move north and lead the country’s largest school system in an emotional, livestreamed school board meeting.

Only a day earlier, officials in the New York City’s mayor’s office made the move seem like a done deal, confirming that the high-profile education leader would make the move north. Carvalho himself confirmed at the meeting’s stunning conclusion that he had accepted the position.

But after an outpouring of support that included an unusual “vote of confidence” from school board members, Carvalho stunned everyone by appearing to change his mind in real time, seeming to refer to his repeated promise to stay in Miami until his contract is up in 2020.

“I just don’t know how to break a promise to a child, how to break a promise to a community. And that has weighed on me in the past 24 hours,” Carvalho said.

At 1:15 p.m., Carvalho requested a second break during the meeting, which began at 10 a.m. He implied that he needed to reach de Blasio to turn down the job.

“Give us a minute, folks. We’re also sorting through the weirdness,” Eric Phillips, the mayor’s spokesman, tweeted.

Shortly afterward, Carvalho returned to the meeting and delivered his final decision: He would stay in Miami.

“I underestimated the emotional tug, the level of commitment, the power that crying members of the community have had on me,” Carvalho said. “After speaking with the honorable Mayor Bill de Blasio … I shall remain in Miami-Dade as your superintendent.”

Cavalho talks to Miami’s school board chair during a break in the meeting Thursday.

In a press conference after the announcement, Carvalho said it was “not an easy conversation.”

Phillips sent a series of scathing tweets after Carvalho announced his decision and suggested there had been an agreement between Carvalho and the mayor for more than a week.

“He was a Yes for a week+, until he was a No 15 minutes ago. Bullet dodged,” Phillips said in one tweet. “Who would ever hire this guy again? Who would ever vote for him?”

It’s a humiliating setback for New York City, which has been searching for a new schools chief since Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced in December that she planned to retire.

In recent days, Fariña embarked on what seemed like a valedictory tour, and city officials said they were close to announcing a new hire. Now they will have to restart the search — with the added challenge of recruiting people who know they were not the first choice.

Carvalho’s shocking decision means that Miami will avoid a superintendent search that board members said they were unwilling to entertain.

“He’s not going to leave us. We will make sure of that,” board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall pledged during the meeting. “We will fight. We will fight. We will fight.”

inside the doe

Read the confidential memo New York City sent Alberto Carvalho (before he backed out of the chancellor job)

PHOTO: Monica Disare

Just before Alberto Carvalho was expected to take the helm of the country’s largest school system, New York City’s education department handed the Miami superintendent a 30-page crash course in local politics and the system’s hot button issues.

The “high level” transitional memo was obtained Friday by Chalkbeat through a public records request. It was sent two days before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he had picked Carvalho to become the next chancellor, and three days before Carvalho backed out on live television.

“Very good orientation doc,” Carvalho responded. “Ready for more.”

Most of the memo is straightforward background information. But it also includes questions city officials expected the new chancellor to get about things like the city’s Equity and Excellence programs, like, “It seems like a lot of this is just hiring more staff and/or scattered programs. How is that going to help students?” (A proposed talking point: “This is all focused on the classroom.”)

The memo also appears to acknowledge that only three of the city’s specialized high schools are required by state law to use the Specialized High School Admissions Test, referring to “3 famous screened schools that use a test as the only admissions criterion—per state law; 6 other schools also use the test.” The talking points that Carvalho is instructed to follow read, “State law requires these high schools have a single exam for admissions.”

This remains a key point of contention. De Blasio has suggested there could be legal challenges if he tries to unilaterally change the admissions requirements, though he recently said he was revisiting the idea.

The city wanted Carvalho to be ready to face questions about stark school segregation across the system, and provided talking points that reference locally developed integration plans in Manhattan’s District 1 and Brooklyn’s District 15. Just as de Blasio has carefully avoided using the terms “integration” or “segregation,” the talking points describe steps taken to address “diversity” issues.

The document bluntly summarizes the lack of racial diversity in most city schools: “Ongoing criticism by advocacy organizations and elected officials relating to a lack of diversity in NYC schools. Close to half of NYC schools are at least 90% black and Latino; white students make up 15% of the school population but a third of them attend majority-white schools.”

A suggested talking point: “A lot more work to do.”

Another bonus is that the memo offers the most concise explanation we’ve seen of New York’s testing troubles over the last several years.

“New York State was part of PARCC but never actually used PARCC tests,” it starts. “The state developed its own transitional tests using Pearson; these tests were widely criticized; the opt out movement ignited (mostly in the suburbs); the state backed away from Pearson-based tests and chose a new vendor (all in the context of a deeply unpopular teacher evaluation law). (More on this later.) The test results described below are based on tests that are basically Common Core-aligned but are arguably lower in quality than the Smarter Balanced Assessment.”

You can read more about Carvalho’s negotiation with the city before rejecting the chancellor job here. Read the full transition memo below.

the carvalho texts

Carvalho texts show last-minute concerns about pay, mayoral control, but no plans to back out

Students from Miami's iPrep, where Superintendent Alberto Carvalho also serves as principal, asked him to stay in Miami at a March 1st board meeting.

In the days before Alberto Carvalho rejected the New York City chancellor job on live television, he expressed concerns about salary, mayoral control, and media leaks, according to text messages obtained Friday by Chalkbeat.

Dozens of messages between Carvalho’s and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s team, obtained through a public records request, include quotidian details of vetting and scheduling. But they also offer a window into Carvalho’s questions about the New York City job — and indicate that just before the pick was set to be announced, the Miami schools chief was voicing concerns about basic aspects of the role.

They also indicate that he had accepted the job, despite his later claims that he never had.

Read more: The confidential memo New York City sent Alberto Carvalho (before he backed out of the chancellor job)

Carvalho’s emergency school board meeting in Miami, where he announced he’d be staying put, happened on March 1. In the days before, he had been coordinating with de Blasio’s office about an announcement in earnest. On February 23, for instance, de Blasio aide Rachel Lauter told Carvalho that she wanted to create a video to introduce him to New York City. “Would be great if you could send me old photos of you as a kid, as a young adult, your family, and as a teacher/administrator,” she texted.

Carvalho replied, “Of course. Down memory lane.” Later he responded, “I am excited and honored.”

That same day, Carvalho texted Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan referring to a “separation agreement” being drawn up with the Miami school board.

But soon after, Carvalho began voicing concerns about his compensation package and asking if he would be allowed to accept honoraria for speaking engagements.

On February 27, Carvalho told Fuleihan he was “concerned” about part of his retirement savings plan, a tax-deferred annuity. “This is important,” he wrote.

Fuleihan responded, “we cannot provide the contribution.”

Carvalho replied, “This one has caught totally off guard,” and then in a separate text, “I must’ve grossly misunderstood the previous conversation.”

The next day, Carvalho was asking questions about mayoral control. “A colleague who had a conversation with the mayor about the position conveyed to me that during her conversation the issue of mayoral control of schools was up in a year after a two-year renewal. Possible implications?” he wrote.

Fuleihan responded, “Mayoral control has been renewed 4 times since 2002 and effectively no one wants to go back to earlier system. Mayoral control will continue.”

Just hours before the city announced that Carvalho would be headed to New York City, the superintendent appeared annoyed that news of his appointment was beginning to swirl in Miami.

“Unhappy with the fact that NY media is calling my board members prior to me being able to speak with them,” he texted.

The mayor’s office at first tried to assure him that they hadn’t gotten any media requests yet, then said the apparent leaks were a good reason to move forward with the announcement.

Despite these concerns, text messages through February 28 don’t show any indication that Carvalho planned to back out of the job. That evening he texted Fuleihan saying he was “perfectly poised for tomorrow’s meeting,” presumably with the Miami board. Fuleihan replied: “We still need you in the City after the Board meeting for a press conference first thing Friday.”

Carvalho responded: “Of course.”

But it didn’t happen. The next day, on March 1, after sitting through a bevy of requests from speakers and board members to stay in Miami, Carvalho announced he was staying.

In the time since, Carvalho has only hinted at his reasons for turning down the job. Politico reported that the superintendent balked after realizing the mayor would pick the chancellor’s chief of staff and head of human resources, which Carvalho seemed to confirm in a public appearance after the debacle, according to the Miami Herald.

On Friday, Miami schools spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego offered few new details. Carvalho’s decision, made “after tentatively accepting the Mayor’s offer, came as a result of the School Board and community’s overwhelming support and insistence that he remain Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools,” she said. “Additionally, there were perceived limitations associated with the position in New York. Discussions regarding compensation were limited to minutes at most, never a priority, and readily settled.”