Thursday, July 2, 2009

Darkness at Noon: meet the new NYC Board of Education

It was an incredibly depressing event: the total Mayoral takeover of our schools, despite the ostensible legal sunset of Mayoral control.

The emergency meeting of the new Board of Education that was supposed to begin at noon yesterday started late but lasted less than ten minutes. Under heavy police presence, the Borough Presidents entered first, and sat down on one side at the front of the standing-room only crowd at Tweed, as Chancellor Klein and DOE attorney Michael Best sat down on a couch on the other side. Then the new board members marched in.

They include Deputy Mayor Walcott, appointed by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, in perhaps the most astonishing turn of events; Dr. Delores Fernandez, appointed by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.; Carlo Scissura, the chief of staff of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz; Jimmy Yan, the counsel to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; Deputy Borough President Ed Burke, appointed by Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro; and the two mayoral appointees: First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris and Deputy Mayor for Operations Ed Skyler.

The new appointees thus include not one but three deputy mayors and other BP political staff– with none of them, except the Bronx appointee, Dr. Fernandez, with any educational expertise or experience. According to the Queens Courier, Helen Marshall said Walcott, a Queens native, was a perfect choice for her….Under this new leadership, it might be temporary, but it’s darn sure going to be good.….”

The board voted first to elect Walcott as its new President. Several Board members claimed that they were only trying to prevent chaos and confusion in the system, and Walcott even said that parents had called the DOE, worried about the start of summer school. If there was any worry, of course, it was because of the frequent remarks by the Mayor himself, who predicted disaster at every turn in order to impose his absolute will. As the Daily news reported, summer school started without a hitch yesterday, of course; and there was absolutely no reason to imagine otherwise.

Most shocking to many of those watching was the way in a resolution introduced by Carlos Scissura, the Brooklyn representative, the new board voted not only to re-appoint Klein with no end date to the contract, (unless they held a new vote to remove him) , but also to sign away all their decision-making and oversight authority to him. They even gave the Chancellor the unlimited authority to unilaterally approve contracts of any amount, including no-bid contracts, with no oversight or no approval process required.

The full resolution in which they did this follows. This vote is not only contrary to the previous practice and regulations of the Board, in which the members of the Board had to approve all no-bid contracts and contracts over $100,000, but also the provisions of every current governance bill in the Senate, including the Silver/Padavan bill, which they also voted with one abstention to urge the Senate to adopt. So much for consistency!

Most importantly, this abdication of their fiduciary responsibilities flies in the face of the numerous recent audits and reports, including those from the State Comptroller and City Comptroller, revealing billions of dollars wasted by DOE because of the abuse of the contracting process. That the borough presidents would give a green light for these practices to continue unabated is especially troubling now, at a time of economic scarcity and hundreds of millions of dollars cut from our schools and classrooms.

This vote would be considered a dereliction of the board’s fiduciary duties if it occurred in the case of any other governmental agency, especially one so prone to abuse. As I said to the Wall St. Journal, "I don't know if they have the right to sign away...their fiduciary duties," said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group that is critical of mayoral control.

Yet somehow this lack of financial accountability is okay when it comes to our children’s education, because Michael Bloomberg is in absolute charge – and must remain so, into the indefinite future.

Other troubling issues from today’s meeting include:

1- There was less than two hours public notice before the meeting was called to order.

2- No agenda was provided in advance (as the NY Times blog pointed out).

3- Three deputy mayors were appointed to the board, including Walcott by the Queens Borough President, making the concept of any independence on the part of the Board absurd. All other members except the Bronx member were staffers from BP offices.

4- The continuation of the Chancellor’s contract with the Mayor dated Nov. 2002 was approved– with no end date, and without specifying what the terms of that contract might be.

5- The Board refused to allow any public comment before or after the proceedings, unprecedented in previous Board of Education meetings, in my experience and that of others who have attended decades of Board meetings in the past.

6- The Board voted to adjourn until Sept. 10, 2009 – which is more than sixty days in the future.

A very bleak sign of things to come, and yet another manifestation of the Mayor's unaccountable use of raw, political power and his complete subjugation of the Borough Presidents – with the exception of the new Bronx BP, whose representative abstained on the Board’s vote to urge the Senate to approve the Silver/Padavan bill.

When one unnamed Borough appointee was asked by a reporter after the meeting why he voted to let the chancellor continue to have complete power over signing of all contracts, with no oversight, he told the reporter to refer this question to the Mayor's office. When the reporter pointed out that he was a borough appointee, not a Mayoral appointee, he said, "Well, no comment then."

There seems to be no shame and embarrassment about their collective refusal to acknowledge the need for any independent vetting of spending and policy decisions, and to insulate our children, our schools, and the taxpayers from destructive and wasteful policies.

The ten minute session, reminiscent of a perfunctory government meeting after a coup, was so awful that it actually made one nostalgic for the days of the PEP, when at least Patrick Sullivan was there to speak the truth, and some minimal public comment was allowed at the end of the session.

All in all, this was a day that will live in infamy of NYC history. As I said to reporters, the mayor was right about one thing -- the failure of the Senate to vote on school governance did indeed bring back the days of the Soviet Union.

Below are the names, phone nos. and emails of the BPs. Call or email them now.

Calls are more effective, but if you can't phone, please email.

Make it clear that allowing the Mayor to continue to have unlimited authority over our schools, including the power to sign any contracts with no oversight, is an abdication of their fiduciary responsibility to their constituents, and to the need to protect our children from fraud, waste and abuse.

Not to mention, the need to protect them from the flawed and wasteful policies of a heedless administration which remains contemptuous of public school parents and their priorities. One has to ask, whose interests are they representing, NYC parents and taxpayers, or our billionaire Mayor?

Here are some other newsclips, if you have the stomach to read them; the only one to mention the lack of oversight for contracting is, ironically, the NY Post:

Senate Impasse Forces City to Revive Old School Board, in Name (NY Times)

Meet the new Board of Education (Crains NY)

NYC education board votes to reappoint chancellor (AP)


Board of Ed endorses Klein, mayoral control, and is gone till Sept (Gotham Schools)

There is also video of nearly the entire depressing meeting on Gotham Schools here:

BOE on tape: The most productive 4 minutes you’ll ever see

The only bright spot was that I managed to put copies of our new book -- NYC schools under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers and Policymakers Need to Know -- on the table in front of every Board member’s seat, and all of them carried away copies upon leaving the room except for Deputy Mayor Harris.

Probably they thought it had been produced by DOE’s PR department – but perhaps they'll mistakenly take a look and learn something about the lousy policies of this administration and feel bad about the irresponsible votes they took today.

But remember to make those calls or emails now!

Manhattan BP Stringer: (212) 669-8300;

Brooklyn BP Markowitz: (718) 802-3700;

Queens BP Marshall: (718) 286-3000;

Bronx BP Diaz Jr: (718) 590-3500; (remember to thank him for appointing an independent educator to the position – and for her abstention on the vote to support the Silver/Padavan bill – but she did approve the Chancellor's appointment and the abdication of all the Bd’s authority and decision-making powers, including those related to contracts to the Chancellor. )

Staten Island BP Molinaro: 718-816-2000;


Anonymous said...


I've said this before and I'll say it again: Until we get the State legislature to change the fundamental structure of NYC government, the mayor --- any mayor --- will have enough power to "convince" borough presidents and Council members to support his key policies.

Mayoral control of the schools can't really be achieved until our State legislators force the mayor to actually share governance of NYC with others.


Anonymous said...

I just read the comments by a Ms Demarco on ed notes. Is there a legal challenge to what transpired yesterday? If so, could the New York State Senate challenge the mayors appointments? The NY Post reports that Senator Sampson may have a conflict of interest with regards to his serving as an attorney for a school employee who is suing Chancellor Klein and the DOE. Isn't the appointment of deputy mayors to the new board a conflict? Do all the appointees reside within New York City? I see this as the mayor as in the term limits fiasco again stinking his tongue out at the voters and citizens of New York. The BIG question, will voters remember come November?