Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mark Page, his budget director, testified in Albany today about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget, which would penalize the city again for not adopting new teacher evaluations.
ALBANY — New York City would have to cut 2,500 teaching positions over the next two years under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget plans, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told lawmakers this morning.
Appearing at a hearing about Cuomo's budget proposal, Bloomberg focused on the school aid that would be withheld because the city and teachers union have not agreed on new teacher evaluations. The city already lost out on $240 million in state aid this year as a consequence of missing a Jan. 17 deadline that was written into law and could lose another $224 million next year if Cuomo goes through with his plan to tie school aid to evaluations again.
The cost of that penalty would be severe, Bloomberg told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, forcing cuts to city schools' spending on personnel and programming.
Bloomberg blamed the UFT, again, for the city's shortfall and also criticized the State Education Department, which is threatening to penalize the city further by withholding some resources for high-need students.
But during a fierce exchange with Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who chairs the education committee, the blame also landed briefly on Bloomberg himself.
Nolan pointed out that Bloomberg had supported the law that paved the way for the union and the city to reach a deal on evaluations last February. She recited Bloomberg's comments at the time the law was passed (“This is a win-win-win for the kids and for the adults”).
"Don't you feel some responsibility for this disaster?" she asked. "And it is a disaster."
All eyes might have been on the teacher evaluation shield bill this week, but that wasn't the only education issue lawmakers tackled this spring. A host of other education bills traveled through both houses of the legislature in recent months, with varying success. Here's a brief rundown of those bills and how they fared:
Senate, Assembly pave way for universal kindergarten in New York City
In New York City, more than 3,000 children — or 4 percent — of all five-year-olds are not enrolled in kindergarten. Expanding that service has become a pet issue for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other council members, but it first required a change to state law that would allow the city to revise age regulations. Currently, the city requires only that six-year-olds attend school.
The bill passed easily through the Assembly earlier this month, 141-1, and passed in the Senate Thursday just after 9 p.m. The passage doesn't automatically enact universal kindergarten, however. To do that, city officials will have to agree to new age regulations. Mayor Bloomberg initially raised questions about the expansion's cost — he estimated the additional enrollment could run $30 million a year — but the city Department of Education has since come out in support of the legislation.
The bill still needs a final signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in order to become a law. "We are reviewing the legislation," said a Cuomo spokesman.
The charter sector is ramping up its efforts to serve high-needs students with a state legislative proposal that would help charter schools pool their resources.
One obstacle to serving students with disabilities and English language learners, charter operators have said, is that the schools are islands: Every school operates independently, so it is costly for any charter school to serve small populations of students with diverse needs.
Critics have accused charter operators with using this explanation as an excuse for not serving more students with disabilities and ELLs. But in fact some charter school lobbyists have pushed for years to be able to work together to pool resources.
In 2010, when legislators added special education enrollment targets to the state's charter school law, revised in order to qualify the state for the federal Race to the Top competition, charter advocates asked for a legal change. But it was one of several proposals that didn't cross the finish line in the frenzy to pass the law, according to officials from the New York State Charter Association, which is currying support for the bill.
Now, legislators are trying again. The Charter School Students With Special Needs Act would allow charter schools across the state to create consortia to serve students with disabilities. State Sen. John Flanagan, chair of the education committee, proposed the bill last month and moved it through his committee yesterday. In the Assembly, Karim Camara, a city representative, has introduced an identical bill.
State senator Stephen Saland (right) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg look on as Chancellor Dennis Walcott describes the reasoning behind a bill that would give the city decision-making power when teachers are accused of sexual misconduct.
A legal change that Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced he wanted in March now has a legislator standing behind it.
State Sen. Stephen Saland is sponsoring a bill that would give school district chiefs the right to fire teachers who have been found to have engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with a student.
Under the current disciplinary process, once the city files charges against a teacher accused of misconduct, an independent arbitrators determines whether teachers have behaved inappropriately, and determine the punishment, no matter the offense.
This bill would create a new disciplinary process for the small number of teachers accused of sexual misconduct. The special process would send the arbitrator's ruling back to school district officials, who could overrule it. The district would have the power to fire any teacher found to have engaged in sexual misconduct. Termination would be the default consequence, although the district could opt for a lesser punishment.
Walcott and Mayor Bloomberg announced the proposed legislation today at Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence on the Upper East Side. Flanked by Saland, the superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools and several other representatives of state district superintendents, Walcott and Bloomberg said those who might oppose the legislation would be choosing to protect teachers over students.
"If city government can't take care of them, I don't know who is going to," Bloomberg said about city students. "We are calling on the United Federation of Teachers to join us."
Albany lawmakers voted in three new members of the Board of Regents today and re-elected two others amid complaints from some legislators who called for more local power over state education policy.
In a joint session of the State Senate and Assembly, legislators voted to approve three new Regents: Kathleen Cashin, James Cottrell, and James Jackson. Cashin, whose nomination to the Brooklyn seat I wrote about last week, is a prominent former Department of Education official and a quiet critic of some of Mayor Bloomberg's education policies. Cottrell, an at-large member of the Regents, is an anesthesiologist and a professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. Jackson, who will represent Albany and other towns in the third judicial district, is a former high school principal.
The legislature also voted to re-elected Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Regent Anthony Bottar, both of whom have been on the board since 1996.
Most lawmakers signed off on the new and returning Regents members, but some criticized the selection process through which a committee of legislators vet applicants before the entire body votes.
Soon-to-be Chancellor Cathie Black is not visiting schools today — not even privately — but she is making phone calls to elected officials.
Black put in a call to Assemblywoman Joan Millman, a former New York City teacher who urged State Education Commissioner David Steiner to deny Black the waiver she needed to become the next schools chancellor.
"Cathie introduced herself and the assemblywoman said, "It's not personal, no offense, but as a former educator I'd like for there to have been a public search and I think the chancellor should have an education background,'" said Millman's Chief of Staff Paul Nelson.
"It was a very brief conversation, less than five minutes," he said.
Millman's staff is in the process of drafting a bill that would prevent someone like Black, who has years of experience in the publishing business, but none in the education world, from becoming chancellor. It would take away the commissioner's ability to give a candidates a waiver if they don't have the education credentials required in state law.
After negotiating late into the night, the Assembly, Senate, Mayor Bloomberg, and city teachers union are closer than ever to a deal on how to make New York more competitive for Race to the Top. But even the seemingly final bill introduced today may not be the last version. An Albany source said there are already plans to amend the bill.
The full text of the bill in the most updated form we know of is here. Background on Race to the Top is here.
This bill would raise the cap on charter schools to 460 from 200, but change the way schools are opened. Prospective charter school operators would have to respond to Request for Proposal documents, like contractors, rather than applying on their own. Exactly how this process would work is unclear, but one effect could be slowing the pace of charter school growth. The bill puts a cap on the number of newly approved charter schools that could open by September 2011 — 32.
The deal also aims to ease the tensions (and sometimes all-out wars) that have happened when charter schools are placed inside traditional public school buildings. Now, before schools are placed together, the city's Department of Education would have to write up a new document called a "building usage plan" outlining exactly which rooms would be used by which schools, and proposing how the schools can share common spaces like cafeterias, libraries, playgrounds, and auditoriums.
ALBANY, NY — Legislators in the Assembly have roughly 24 hours to amend Silver's mayoral control bill before it's voted on, but at this stage, change is practically impossible.
Assemblyman Alan Maisel, one of five education committee members to vote against the bill, said those who oppose Silver's plan were making no efforts to convert its supporters. "I'm not recruiting anybody," Maisel said, adding that the bill would surely pass the Assembly tomorrow.
Half of the 10 lawmakers from New York City who sit on the Assembly education committee voted against Silver's bill.
Joan Millman, who sponsored a bill that would enact the Commission on School Governance's recommendations, said she voted voted no for three reasons. "The sunset is too long. I would have liked it to be a shorter period of time, so if we need to fix it, it's easier to correct," she said, adding that she "would have wanted the chancellor to be an educator," and the Panel for Educational Policy members to have fixed terms.
After infuriating activists pushing for checks to the mayor's control of the public schools, teachers union president Randi Weingarten today stood next to them at a press conference in Albany, joining a declaration that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's proposed bill does not give enough voice to parents.
Teachers and principals have unions, but parents do not, Weingarten said, according to someone who attended the press conference. That's why she said she is calling on lawmakers to write additional voice for parents into a revised mayoral control law.
In making the statement, Weingarten stood beside representatives of the Campaign for Better Schools and the Parent Commission on School Governance, two groups that have called for stronger checks to the mayor's power than the union ultimately demanded. Members of the Parent Commission on School Governance have criticized Weingarten for giving in to the wishes of Mayor Bloomberg, who has endorsed Silver's bill.
It was not clear exactly how much of those groups' positions Weingarten endorsed. At least five Democratic Assembly members also joined the press conference.
UPDATE: A spokesman for Weingarten, Ron Davis, just called to say she is concerned about this story. The spokesman said that Weingarten had "nothing but praise" for Silver's bill at the press conference, though she did say that she thinks it should be revised to "ensure a greater parental role."
After months of discussion, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver finally introduced a bill to extend mayoral control last night. The full text of the bill is below.
The bill, which was discussed last Wednesday but was only printed last night, calls for minimal changes and has already met with Mayor Bloomberg's approval. Amendments include having the schools chancellor become a non-voting, ex-officio member of citywide school board, mandating that two of the mayor's appointees be parents of children in the public school system, and authorizing the Panel for Educational Policy to approve no-bid contracts and any that exceed $1 million.
While the bill proposes that the Independent Budget Office and Comptroller's office audit the DOE, it does not establish the department as a city agency, subject to all of the restrictions and oversight that other agencies are.
According to the Times, assembly members expect to pass the bill by this Wednesday. (Explaining the importance of the discussions, the Times story cites our story from last week, reporting on the personal role U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is playing in the debate.)
The bill's sponsors include Catherine Nolan, Herman Farrell, Jr., Darryl Towns, Vito Lopez, Audrey Pheffer, Michael Benedetto, Janele Hyer-Spencer, Jonathan Bing, Michael Benjamin, Ann Margaret Carrozza, Barbara Clark, Vivian Cook, Steven Cymbrowitz, Adriano Espaillat, Michael Giaranis, Micah Kellner, Rory Lancman, Margaret Markey, Nettie Mayersohn, Grace Meng, Felix Ortiz, Jose Peralta, Peter Rivera.
The bill is after the jump.
The state Senate ground to a standstill on the question of who should control the city's public schools this week, but a consensus among members of the Assembly looks like it will be easier to come by — and it could come soon.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told New York City members this week that he will hold the Assembly Democrats' first conference on the issue next week, according to a member who was there, Mark Weprin of Queens. The conference will kick off formal talks within the Democratic conference about whether to reauthorize, revise, or scrap the 2002 law that granted control of the city's public schools to the mayor.
Several Assembly members are already putting together legislation on the subject, much of it influenced by the constellation of advocacy groups that are bombarding Albany this week. A slew of Assembly members are standing behind recommendations put out by the Campaign for Better Schools, while bills in line with the recommendations of Betsy Gotbaum's commission on school governance and the Parent Commission on School Governance are said to be on the way. Assemblyman Alan Maisel of Brooklyn today introduced a bill, backed by the city principals' union, that would beef up the power of superintendents.
But the conference would be the first chance for Democrats to try to work out a consensus on the issue. The bills currently in circulation clash with each other on several points. More importantly, they also clash with the position of the powerful speaker, Silver, who supports giving the mayor a majority of appointees on the citywide school board.
Assemblywoman Inez Barron of Brooklyn. (Courtesy of Barron)
Among those who will decide whether to scrap, renew, or revise the law granting the mayor control over the city's public schools is an impeccably dressed former principal with an aggressively anti-Bloomberg position.
Inez Barron, of Brooklyn, is the wife of Charles Barron, the City Council member who recently called for Joel Klein's resignation and urged that mayoral control be abolished. She also happens to be a member of the state Assembly, the body that, along with the Senate and Governor Paterson, will decide what to do about mayoral control before June 30 (next month!).
Her election in November brought her into a group of state lawmakers who have also voiced a slew of concerns about mayoral control. But Barron, who worked for the city schools for many years, including as the principal of PS 81 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, appears to have one of the more radical criticisms.
At a panel I moderated last weekend, Barron said she favors letting the current law sunset altogether and writing an entirely new version, rather than simply "tweaking" the current system as some have advocated.
Technology constraints prohibited me from live-blogging Friday's Assembly hearing on mayoral control of the city schools, which (for those not following along) is the policy that in 2002 handed near-total education authority over to the mayor — and which is up for renewal this June.
The strong thrust of Friday's hearing, the last of five that have taken Assembly members on a tour through the boroughs, was that lawmakers are not happy with the system they created. Some have become even less happy during the hearings in every borough over the last few months.
A few flubbed exchanges with lawmakers have not helped the Bloomberg administration's case. One such embarrassing moment happened one Friday, when officials failed to produce the graduation rate for black males.
Here are some of the highlights from Friday:
Thirteen Assembly members attended the hearing, one of the largest showings so far, and I didn't hear any of them speak positively about mayoral control. Two members made their dissatisfaction most clear. "I can assure you that my opinion has changed a lot in these hearings," Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell of Manhattan declared, after angrily chastising Department of Education officials during a question-and-answer session. "Talking to my legislative colleagues over the last three months, the question in my mind is no longer if we're going to make any changes to the law. It's going to be what changes are we going to make," declared Mark Weprin of Queens.
The state Assembly is having its penultimate hearing on mayoral control today, this time in the Bronx. Philissa is at the hearing, and I'm going to post some live updates as she e-mails them to me.
4:27: Cathy Nolan, the education committee chair, and other Assembly members are trying to figure out what the requirements are to get into a middle school gifted and talented program, Philissa reports.
4:26: Parents and teachers are finally testifying, Philissa writes. On the same panel, a teacher and parent from two Bronx schools that are slated to close are testifying against mayoral control, while a parent and principal from a big middle school are saying mayoral control helped their school.
The pro-mayoral control parent, Teresa Jordan, went slightly off message to say that district parent councils should have more power. (Many have complained that the councils have been deprived of power under the mayor.)
If the opposing sides created any tension, it's defused by the fact that only a handful of seats in the audience remain filled. Several Assembly members have also left. But there could be an after-work-hours revival: April Humphrey from the Campaign for Better Schools says over 100 parents plan to arrive at around 5:30, and the chair, Cathy Nolan, says Lehman College will be keeping the auditorium open long after its normal 6 pm closing time.
After a long wait, a commission of parents led by outspoken critics of the Department of Education is unveiling its own proposal for how to change mayoral control. In testimony delivered to the Bronx Assembly hearing on mayoral control this morning, parents painted an ideal picture in which parent voices would gain power while the mayor would lose it.
Their proposal is topped off by a radical answer to the question of how to change the Panel for Educational Policy — the effective citywide school board — that would both strengthen the powers of the board and reshape who sits on it. The board would include just three mayoral appointees compared to six parent representatives, plus a City Council appointee, an appointee of the public advocate,and four expert members selected jointly by the board.
The commission is also proposing a stronger role for the CEC elected parent councils in each district. A key complaint about Mayor Bloomberg's leadership has been that parents are not included in decision-making about the schools. Some have criticized the DOE for not consulting those councils when choosing to open and close schools, as is required by law.
Lisa Donlan, a commission member from Manhattan and the president of a CEC, testified that the state should create an "ombudsperson" role who would have the legal authority to advocate for parents when they aren't comfortable advocating for themselves. This role addresses the DOE's Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, which Freeman called "a way of distracting [parents], but not a way of helping them."
Chancellor Joel Klein conducted at least one of his meetings with lawmakers in his office at Tweed Courthouse.
After suffering a beating from legislators who accused him of being rudely unresponsive to their concerns since taking office in 2003, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is taking the hint and reaching out.
In the last few weeks, Klein has walked Mark Weprin, a Queens lawmaker who is one of his sharpest critics on the Assembly's education committee, through his Tweed Courthouse headquarters; sat down with a handful of other lawmakers; and made appointments with more, including the committee's chairwoman, Catherine Nolan. He has also begun, through his staff, to send out prompt replies to lawmakers' requests.
"We’re getting letters answered, we’re getting information that we’ve asked for," a spokeswoman for Nolan, Kathleen Whynot, said. "We have a really good working relationship right now with some of the DOE staff, which has been a nice addition."
Assembly members said the outreach began after they launched a series of five hearings on the subject of mayoral control — the governance structure that Klein strongly supports, but which several lawmakers have criticized as authoritarian. The state legislature handed the mayor control in 2002, but the law they wrote sunsets this year, and so many in Albany are rolling up their sleeves and hoping to revise it.
The hearings were a chance for citizens to give their thoughts on how they'd like the law changed (or not). They also became opportunities for the lawmakers to air their concerns. Several of the complaints had to do specifically with Klein and his staff, who lawmakers said frequently failed to respond even to basic questions and concerns. The complaints accelerated at a hearing held in Manhattan where Klein himself testified, sitting before a row of lawmakers who took turns rebuking him.
Hazel Dukes, president of the New York NAACP, urged Assembly members to make changes to mayoral control
By now you know a bunch of the highlights from the big mayoral control hearing Friday. Diane Ravitch argued for taking power away from the mayor, the administration argued for keeping it, and some students summed the whole thing up pretty nicely.
But there were other highlights, too, that I didn't go over Friday. Here's a rundown:
New York NAACP President Hazel Dukes charged the Bloomberg administration with over-stating its civil rights accomplishments. "Despite repeated claims, the achievement gap has not diminished in any grades or subjects since this administration came to office," she said.
Dukes also advised Assembly members to carve into the mayor's control of the schools by adding checks and balances to the power of the mayor and chancellor. "You got to put the teeth in now, and when they don't do it, just like that groundhog did the other day, you're going to have to bite," she said. "We need to make sure that no man, not any man in this city or woman can just have all the power about our children."
Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, whose sister is the famous TV personality Rosie O'Donnell, criticized the Bloomberg administration for having too few educators control education policy. He described a meeting with a senior education policy aide to the mayor. When O'Donnell asked about her background, the adviser said she went to school, became a lawyer, and has siblings who are educators.
"My sister used to have a very famous talk show, but that doesn't make me qualified to be an executive at NBC," O'Donnell said.
Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, leading a press conference. (Photo courtesy of Haimson)
She is privately (and sometimes not-so-privately) loathed by allies of the Bloomberg administration, dismissed as a rabble-rouser whose loud protests represent just a tiny segment of parents. Yet Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, who targets the administration on the issue of class size and on other subjects, has powerful allies.
Take just one case: At the State of the State address this year in Albany, Haimson sat in a seat many rows ahead of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Did she steal the chair from an unsuspecting innocent? No, it was the gift of Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, the chair of the education committee, who selected Haimson as her single guest.
"I just love her," Nolan said. "I feel she’s a real honest advocate and a fellow parent."
Only one of these four state lawmakers had praise for Joel Klein today during his testimony on budget cuts: The woman on the bottom right, Assemblywoman Barbara Clark of Queens.
How much do lawmakers in Albany dislike Joel Klein? The chancellor fielded a flurry of criticisms today after his testimony before a joint session of the legislature. And only some of the criticisms had anything to do with the subject of the day, budget cuts. The rest politely slammed Klein on the one Albany fight where he'll really need their help: mayoral control of the public schools.
Klein desperately wants to preserve control as it is, but many lawmakers said they aren't happy with the law or with how he's led as chancellor. The criticism was so persistent that, at one point, Klein plead with lawmakers to keep their opinion of him out of their thoughts on mayoral control. "Whatever you think about me personally," he said, "you need the stability of that kind of leadership to transform education."
Assemblyman Herman Farrell of Manhattan dedicated all of his questions for Klein to the mayoral control subject. "We've had what I call a silencing of the lambs," he said. "I don't know who speaks for the parents, who speaks on behalf of the parents." Farrell then proposed a way to bring debate back to the running of the schools: He wants to create a second position called "sub-chancellor" or "uber-chancellor" — someone to take on the regular chancellor.
Assemblyman William Colton, who represents southern Brooklyn, made a similar complaint: “There seems to be a feeling among parents that they don’t have the input or the ability to be listened to," he said.
Other lawmakers criticized Klein's policies.