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.”



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.



First Person

I covered Alberto Carvalho in Miami. Here’s why I’m not surprised he snubbed New York City.

PHOTO: NY1
Cavalho talks to Miami's school board chair during a break in the stunning meeting Thursday.

To kick off each school year, Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho gathers the district’s principals and his top education officials for a dramatic motivational show.

With slick visuals, live student performances, and moody stage lighting, Carvalho lays out his vision for the year ahead in an event that feels part TED Talk, part Broadway production. The yearly spectacle is an example of Carvalho in his element: In the spotlight, building excitement, and confidently selling his message — in multiple languages.

This week, Carvalho’s over-the-top flair was broadcast for all of New York City to experience. And after spending years reporting on Carvalho and the Miami-Dade County school system, I can’t say I was surprised by the marathon board meeting or his eventual snub of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

I was more shocked that he had seriously considered leaving in the first place.

Those outside of Florida don’t realize how good Carvalho has it in his adopted hometown, and how much he would be giving up if he left. After Carvalho finally made his big reveal, an education insider there told me: “Here in Miami, he is the king.”

Hyperbole, maybe. But that sentiment was certainly on display as students, business leaders, and the school board begged Carvalho — for hours, on live television — to stay.

In his almost three decades working in South Florida’s political ecosystem, and the country’s fourth-largest school district, Carvalho has masterfully cultivated political popularity and power. Carvalho reports to Miami’s elected school board, but he has deftly handled his relationship with its members for most of his tenure so that they almost always approve his agenda unanimously. When he was rumored to be a contender to lead Los Angeles schools — the second-largest district in the country — I watched the board prematurely open his contract and give him a raise.

That unity has eroded a bit after the last election, which ushered in some more independent members, and perhaps pushed Carvalho to flirt with decamping for New York City. Still, as the theatrics came to a climax on Thursday, his board hastily called for a symbolic vote of confidence in Carvalho. Every official present voted in favor.

On television, the vote looked strange. In Miami, it probably seemed normal.

In New York City, by contrast, the star superintendent would have had to start building that personal and political following from scratch — and play second fiddle to a mayor with his own national ambitions. Politico Florida pointed out on Friday that Carvalho would have to work with a chief of staff picked by the mayor. That was never going to sit well with Carvalho, who is used to being completely in command. “Mayoral control” is a very different thing.

In his brief introduction to New York City, Carvalho was already under a kind of scrutiny he rarely receives back home. As the theatrics unfolded, the media were quick to comment on Carvalho’s showmanship — and the criticism only grew sharper as the day continued.

“If Carvalho had taken the job he would have been chewed up by an NYC press corps that spits out pompous self promoters like phlegm,” one City Hall reporter tweeted.

In New York, the narrative he has built around the climb of Miami-Dade schools, and his own leadership, was likely to meet a far more skeptical audience. Already, there are cracks that could be easily pried open: his plan to eliminate out-of-school suspensions seems to have fallen short of his lofty promises, for example. And contrary to claims that achievement gaps closed substantially under Carvalho’s watch, wide disparities by students’ race and economic status persisted — in some cases shrinking, others growing, and still others holding steady.

In New York, when it finally became apparent he was breaking up with the city before even beginning his relationship here, jaws dropped and Carvalho’s future job prospects were declared dead. While it’s true that Thursday’s spectacle could be an albatross if Carvalho sets his sights elsewhere, it’s not clear to me that he’ll want to.

In Miami, Thursday’s decision branded him a hero who followed his heart and picked his longtime community over prestige. It’s easy to see how that would could play well in any bid for a higher position within the community that lobbied hard to keep him.

As a Florida native who has transplanted here, I know it’s hard for New Yorkers to accept that Carvalho could be truly happy to reign over the Sunshine State. But I’d like to make a shameless plug for my birthplace and all its wacky beauty.

It’s been years since Florida surpassed New York to become the third-most populous state in the country, and its national clout is real. And Miami itself is the kind of place that gets under your skin. Have you guys tried cafecito? (While we’re on it, where can I find some of that sugary, highly caffeinated Cuban coffee in Manhattan? I’m desperate!)

Maybe I’m just projecting here, but it feels sincere when Carvalho professes his love for the place, as he is wont to do on Twitter. After commuting in a nor’easter today, I can’t say I blame him.