Sunday, April 05, 2009

Leonie Haimson on: That was the week that was!

It was a week full of incident. For those who missed all the newsworthy developments, here are some clips. Please forward to others who care......

March 26 -April 3, 2009

What People Are Saying…

About the ruling that allowed Chancellor Klein to raise private funds for the Education Equality Project, which he formed with Rev. Al Sharpton last spring:

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has used taxpayers' time to raise $1.5 million for a national nonprofit he co-founded last year -- with the blessing of the city's ethics board... In November, Klein and other top Department of Education staffers were quietly granted permission by the city's Conflict of Interest Board to raise funds "using both city time and city resources" for the Education Equality Project. .... Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernie Logan, who is himself a signatory of the Education Equality Project's platform, called the fund-raising arrangement "the most absurd thing I've ever heard." ---NY Post, March 30, 2009

About the questionable contributions from lobbyists to Sharpton immediately before he and Chancellor Klein joined forces:

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein stunned the education world last June when they joined forces to reform the nation's public schools.They called their ambitious venture the Education Equality Project ... What Klein and Sharpton never revealed is that the National Action Network, Sharpton's organization, immediately received a $500,000 donation for its involvement in the new effort. The huge infusion of cash - equal to more than a year's payroll for Sharpton's entire organization - was quietly provided by Plainfield Asset Management, a Connecticut-based hedge fund, where former Chancellor Harold Levy is a managing director.

The money came at a critical moment for the National Action Network. Sharpton was then settling a long-running IRS investigation of his organization. As part of that settlement, he agreed in July to pay $1 million in back taxes and penalties both he personally and his organization owed the government. … Levy funneled the cash to another nonprofit, Education Reform Now, which allowed his company to claim the donation as a charitable tax deduction. The money was then transferred in several payments to Sharpton's group, which does not have tax-deductible status because it is a lobbying organization....

At the time, Plainfield Asset Management, a major investor in gaming operations,was pressing city and state officials for approval of two deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Levy has been registered for the past two years as a lobbyist targeting City Hall to privatize the city's Off-Track Betting operations. Plainfield also provided more than $200 million in backing for Capital Play, one of three bidders on the state's proposed redevelopment of Aqueduct Racetrack. Neither deal has gone through.

.... The nonprofit that served as a pass-through for the money to Sharpton, Education Reform Now, is run by former Daily News reporter Joe Williams, who also directs Democrats for Education Reform, a leading national advocacy group for charter schools. Williams is also listed as president and treasurer of the Education Equality Project ....Williams said the EEP's board has not met in the 10 months since Klein and Sharpton announced its formation, and that city Education Department employees have so far made all day-to-day decisions. He referred any questions about the group's finances to Klein and Sharpton. -- Daily News, April 1,2009

About Mayoral Control

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and the Rev. Al Sharpton, co-sponsored a conference of the Education Equality Project.... After Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke enthusiastically about giving mayors of large cities control over their schools, saying that "we need the collective weight of the entire city behind us," many in the audience responded with skeptical boos...

Mr. Sharpton said in an interview on Thursday that he would not support the extension of mayoral control in its current form, suggesting that he agreed with criticism from some corners that the Bloomberg administration has marginalized parents in the last several years. "We feel there needs to be more of a role for parental involvement," Mr. Sharpton said. "We have to find a way to address that. We would not support the legislation as it is now." -- NY Times,April 2, 2009

Members of the Campaign for Better Schools, which is lobbying for significant changes to mayoral control,had deposited their organization's platform, printed on bright yellow paper, on each chair before the event began. Members of the Parent Commission on School Governance, also outspoken critics of Klein's, were also on hand to distribute fliers with their recommendations.-- Gotham Schools, April 2, 2009

As he's done in recent days,Duncan continued touting the benefits of mayoral control of urban school districts ... When he made the same pitch earlier in the day at the National Action Network's meeting in Midtown, it was met with an audible chorus of boos ... --NY Post, April 2, 2009

..... at the [second day of the] Education Equality Project conference..... Mr. Sharpton turned the floor over to Councilman Charles Barron, a frequent critic of New York's education reform efforts. "The mayor is out of control," Mr. Barron bellowed to scattered cheers from the audience of about200. "No one should have that dictatorial, autocratic power." . .. . When the time came for questions, audience members directed their concerns at Mr. Klein and his leadership of the 1.1 million-student school system over the past seven years.They said he had eviscerated the power of local school boards and left parents without a voice in the decision-making process. Some booed the chancellor ... -- NYTimes, April 3. 2009

Barron also criticized Klein ... saying that the chancellor lacks any pedagogical expertise. ...Members of a group that pushes for revising the mayoral control law when it comes up for renewal this summer wore pins supporting their position and passed out fliers advertising their views. Several critics also challenged Klein's characterization of improvements made under his watch, saying that students are graduating without being prepared for college and that schools lack black history teaching.

A Harlem father, Vernon Ballard, said he lacks a voice in the school system — and leaders are not held accountable — when the mayor has total control. "There is accountability," Klein replied. "You have the chance to express your voice here." Many members of the audience broke into laughter. ---Gotham Schools, April 3, 2009

About the city's practice of ignoring parent input in violation of state law

The city's Department of Education, facing a lawsuit accusing it of violating state law, retreated on Thursday from a plan to shut down three traditional public schools to make way for charter schools....The suit, filed last week by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the United Federation of Teachers, said that amounted to an illegal redrawing of district lines and should have been approved by the neighborhood school boards....

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, applauded the decision, but said, "It shouldn't take a lawsuit to make the Department of Education follow the law." She added,"This is very significant for what it says about the D.O.E.'s way of doing business under mayoral control, which is to operate in the shadows, without respecting the niceties of the process that is set forth in the law." The lawsuit is still pending. The charter schools will share space with the old schools, as originally planned, running parallel classes, beginning with the younger grades and expanding. --- NY Times, April 2, 2009

Jennifer Freeman, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit ....said she is concerned that the schools could still share space with charter schools. "As far as we're concerned, that's still problematic," Freeman said, because the DOE did not involve the elected parent council in the decision to site the school there, she said. She said her purpose in joining the lawsuit was to push the DOE to follow state laws requiring community input in decisions about school siting and other matters. "To stop something that is clearly illegal feels good," Freeman said. "But as far as the overall direction of giving more voice to communities, it's just a little baby step." ---- Gotham Schools, April 2,2009

About mismanagement and wasteful spending on contracts

City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr.said on Wednesday that the Department of Education had vastly overspent on contracts for goods like photocopiers and cafeteria equipment, with one in five such contracts exceeding estimatedcosts by more than 25 percent. In blistering testimony before the City Council's Education Committee, Mr. Thompson, a candidate for mayor, said a review by his office had found that over the past two fiscal years, the sum of certain contracts had ballooned to $1 billion from initial estimates of $325 million. That includes one contract with Xerox Corporation that was initially projected at $1 million and came in at $68 million, he said.

"It is outrageous," Mr. Thompson said at a news conference that seemed aimed at chipping away at the educational accomplishments that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is making a cornerstone of his re-election campaign. "To see this lack of accountability on contracts is frightening." ...Members of the City Council also criticized the Department of Education for not subjecting itself to ethics and transparency rules that govern other city agencies. Under a quirk of the law, the department is not considered a state or city agency, so it is not required to hold public hearings on contracts or have each reviewed by a central office."There's too much discretion, too much latitude and too much flexibility and it creates room for abuse," Councilwoman Letitia James said at the hearing . -- NY Times Cityroom blog, April 1, 2009

Since taking control of the city schools, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein have sought private funds for schools and also used supposedly private non-profit groups to boost their education agenda. All this ... has created a tangled web and led to concerns about conflicts of interest and where the private roles stops and the public one begins. ...First there was yesterday's City Council hearing on education contracting, which inevitably turned to discussion of the $15.7 million contract awarded in 2006 to Alvarez & Marsal — without benefit of competitive bidding. (For more on other subjects discussed at the hearing see this account of alleged cost overruns from Gotham Schools, a report on how the department's contracting procedures allegedly hurt small local businesses and an account of the range of issues in question.) Questions of financial rectitude aside, council members blame A&M for suggesting changes that lead to the school bus botch of winter 2007. ...

[DOE] contracting chief David Ross said there was no need to put the contract out for bid because A&M had already had a contract with the Fund for Public Schools, a foundation created by the administration. As a supposedly private organization, the fund does not have to go public with its contracts the way the city does. Its officials do not have to file financial disclosure forms. But what if it serves as a kind of farm team for contractors, allowing them to escape the usual scrutiny? Or as Councilmember John Liu said yesterday, "allows them to get a $16 or $17 million contract without competitive bidding"? --- Gotham Gazette, April 2, 2009

Department of Education contracts for goods and services have exceeded their cost estimates by nearly$700 million over the past two years, City Comptroller Bill Thompson charged yesterday. ... a software deal jumped from$135,000 to $5.5 million by the time it was done ..."It's reprehensible that the Department of Education plays by its own rules and goes on some insane spending spree," said Thompson, one of many officials at a City Council hearing who ripped what he called the department's lack of transparency. " DOE's failure to accurately determine its expenditures prevents it from negotiating the best prices for goods and services, and is contrary to sound business practices," he wrote in a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. . . -- NY Post, April 1, 2009

.... neither the Comptroller's list, nor the Department of Education's—nor the Public Advocate's, for that matter—accurately depicts how many no-bid contracts have been awarded and how much in taxpayer money has been spent on them over these past six years, leaving one to ask: why does the mayoral controlled Department of Education have different purchasing guidelines than every other city agency?-- Public Eyes on Public Schools, March 29, 2009

About the ongoing budget cuts to the classroom and the DOE's misplaced priorities

The Department of Education's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in July is down 10 percent in the last year, and classroom instruction has taken the brunt of the cuts, according to a report released today by the city's Independent Budget Office. The report, analyzing Mayor Bloomberg's preliminary budget for 2010, includes a concise summary of the dizzying sequence of school budget cuts since January 2008, when Mayor Bloomberg first announced that he was planning to cut the DOE's budget. -- Gotham Schools, March 30, 2009

The 2010 preliminary budget for the DOE is $17.3 billion—$290 million less than the current budget for 2009, and $1.9 billion less than was planned for 2010 16months ago .... Although the restoration of $125 million to classroom budgets for 2009 by the City Council last spring avoided even greater impacts,classrooms are feeling the effects of subsequent cutbacks, and under the Mayor's Preliminary Budget, there will be more in 2010. -- Independent Budget Office,March 30, 2009

"With the lower amount [of the federal stimulus funds], Klein said, the department would lay off about 25 percent of its non-teaching school staff and perhaps a couple of thousand teachers, although the exact amount would depend on how many teachers resign or retire before the start of next school year.With the higher number, the schools would still have a shortfall of $500 million, resulting in the loss of about 2,500 non-teaching jobs.....

Councilmember Oliver Koppell questioned whether the department should still be launching new, small schools in such tight times .... Councilmember Bill de Blasio raised questions about the administration's spending on student assessments and its public relations efforts. Klein defended the assessments — saying they had been praised by the Obama administration — but did not address the spending on media relations,which may indicate his public relations advisers have served him well. -- Gotham Gazette, March 26, 2009

About swelling class sizes and rampant overcrowding:

Late last month, the Department of Education said that several popular schools — Public Schools 6, 59 and 290 on the Upper East Side, and P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side — were putting children from their own zones on waiting lists because of a surfeit of applications. ... -- NY Times, April 3, 2009

Millennium High School's principal plans to go overcapacity by nearly 100 students next year to save his academic programs from cuts. Robert Rhodes said he is overcrowding the seven-year-old school on Broad St. because he has little choice. Principal Rhodes has lost more than $200,000 from his budget over the past two years, while the average teacher salary jumped by $5,000. As his budget tightens, he has to pack his classes as full as possible or he risks losing still more funding. ... . He expects all classes to have at least an extra student or two next fall, though he still hopes to keep ninth-grade classes below 30 students. .... When Rhodes bumps classes up from an ideal 26students to the union limit of 34, the fail rate doubles, he said. Whenever classes top 30 students, "We're accepting a certain amount of failure," Rhodes said. "We can't meet the need." -- Downtown Express, April 3, 2009

Upper East Side families zoned for the long-shuttered elementary school PS 151 do not have a zoned school for their children ... the Department of Education plans to open a new school for the 151 zone in September. Where the school will open,however, remains uncertain. .. The area under discussion for the new kindergarten at Wagner [Middle School] includes three basement classrooms and one unisex bathroom (with two stalls) on the basement floor. The rooms are adjacent to the middle school's music and band room, and their ceiling-height windows are level with the schoolyard. ...Upper East Side schools have grown increasingly overcrowded in recent years. Parent leaders cite a "long history of frustration at inaction and unfulfilled promises of the DOE…urging parents to wait…and then taking no action, again and again and again." The new school, if it opens at Wagner, would have room for 75 kindergarten students — far less than the 200+children in the zone seeking placements. One parent expressed her frustration:"My four-year-old daughter is being used as a pawn in this political game." --- Inside Schools, March 30, 2009

The District 2 Community Education Council last week was angry and worried that not enough room would be available for incoming kindergarten students in the district in September, especially at P.S. 3 on Hudson St. and P.S. 41 on W. 11th St. John White, Department of Education chief of operations for portfolio programs,acknowledged at the March 25 C.E.C. meeting that the two Village schools were "three sections" over the agreed capacity for the schools. He said that sometime this week, the department would conduct a lottery for positions on awaiting list and send letters to parents telling them their options.

The three sections represent three kindergarten classes — about 75 students —according to Michael Markowitz, District 2 C.E.C. vice president and father ofa P.S. 41 student. "This is an intolerable situation," Markowitz said, noting that the department had not yet told parents where their children might go to kindergarten. "The message has been the same for two straight meetings,"he said, referring to the previous C.E.C. meeting on Feb. 25. "We still do not have a precise report on how many kids there are for how many seats," Markowitz said, adding, "Overcrowding has been on the table at least since January 2008." -- The Villager, April 1, 2009

Councilman David Yassky cited internal city e-mails and memos showing the School Construction Authority was less than truthful when it insisted as late as last June that there is no need for a new school in the tony DUMBO-Brooklyn Heights area. Instead, internal memos and e-mails show the agency had already decided weeks earlier to let father-son developers David and Jed Walentas include a middle school in their planned 18-story apartment tower rather than consider alternate sites for a school proposed by neighborhood groups and Yassky. ... -- NY Post April 1, 2009

On the lack of good high school options:

Thousands of Manhattan parents are up in arms after being told last week that their kids won't get to go to the high schools of their choice. The students were told that despite their good grades and extracurricular activities, they were not admitted into one of their top five picks.

A total of 7,500 students are now looking for alternate schools. ..While the Department of Education says a majority of students throughout the city were matched with their top picks,parents say the system is failing their kids. "As of now, our children are in limbo. It's ridiculous. This should not be happening. The chancellor has to do a better job than this,"said one parent. -- NY1, April 1, 2009

Parents who responded to our high-school choice poll have strong opinions on the matter: More than half say there aren't enough good schools for students and families to choose from...About 20 percent of responders say the system only works well for kids who are lucky enough to have strong adult guidance. Over 15 percent would welcome a return to zoned schools (and less choice). Less than 10 percent of parents say the system works just fine as it's now constructed — a sharp counterpoint to the Department of Education's claim of 86 percent satisfied customers. -- Inside Schools, April 3, 2009

Also worth Reading on the NYC parent blog (warning! some of these may be parody):

* Klein Out, Brawley Named NY City Schools Chancellor...
* Tweed's favorite principal
* Al Sharpton's stay out of jail card
* Sources: Madoff Hid $ in DOE Budget
* The Two-Faced Daily News -- Hypocrisy as a Business model ...
* What People Are Saying…
* Paul Hovitz on the incompetence of Tweed
* State and city laws routinely flouted by this adm inistration

* Demystifying Mayoral control: Diane Ravitch on mayoral autocracy ...

* Announcing the new Mayoral control troll in town!
* Public School Students to be "Furloughed" in Budget crisis ...

Bridging Differences

* Seeing 'Reform' as More Than a Horse Race or Marketplace
* President Obama's Manufactured Crisis Speech
* Is Some Rethinking About 'Accountability' Past Due?
* Will Public Education Survive the Embrace of Big Money?
* The Power of Big Money & Big State Over Knowledge

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