Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Investigation into DOE's Yeshiva inquiry reveals that the release of an interim report was delayed in return for the extension of mayoral control in 2017

Update: News clips re de Blasio trading delay of release of Yeshiva report for extension of mayoral control includes an explanation of the institutional context from Gothamist: 
In a letter to the City Council last year, former DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said he encountered interference and "visible anger" from the de Blasio administration when it came to investigating the yeshivas. Peters was fired by de Blasio after a report showed he had misled the City Council and overstepped his authority by allegedly trying to take over the SCI, which helped produce today's investigation. Peters argued that his ousting came at a convenient time for the mayor. De Blasio appointed Margaret Garnett to replace Peters, and the City Council confirmed her appointment.

Daily News has a debatable quote from new DOI head Garnett:
Margaret Garnett, the commissioner of the city Department of Investigations, said investigators concluded that since City Hall delayed the report in pursuit of a policy goal — to retain Mayor de Blasio’s control over city schools — rather than personal gain, the maneuver didn’t violate rules about obstruction of an investigation.
And yet see this from the NY1 story:
The mayor's office dismissed the DOI's findings, saying, “There’s no ‘there’ there, as evidenced by the finding of no wrongdoing." "Those are not the words I would use," Garnett said of the mayor’s office’s response.
More via THE CITY
, Wall Street Journal, NY1, New York Post,  and New York Times .

The City’s Commissioner of Investigation and  Special commissioner of Investigation for schools issued a joint statement today on the results of their investigations into the DOE's inquiry into the subpar education received by students in ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas, an inquiry  that began in 2015 after the organization Yaffed and 52 Yeshiva graduates and parents, alleging that at least 39 yeshivas in New York City were failing to meet the state standards requiring a "substantially equivalent" secular education. 

Much controversy has surrounded this issue, based on a suspicion that the political influence of the ultra-Orthodox on the Mayor has prevented a resolution of this issue. In their brief statement, only a few pages long, DOI and SCI reveal that political that a deal was indeed struck in 2017 in Albany between the mayor's representatives and an unnamed State Senator (most likely Simcha Felder) that the DOE would delay issuing any interim report on their investigations in return for extending Mayoral control over the public schools, and that “Following that agreement, the interim report was in fact delayed by approximately one year.”
At the same time, the DOI and Special Investigator conclude that “our investigation found that the agreement had little to no substantive effect on the progress of the Inquiry” which was hampered by other factors, including the unwillingness of the Yeshivas to cooperate.
They also conclude that there is “no evidence of any violations of relevant laws or regulations and did not identify any criminal conduct in connection with the release of DOE’s interim report”.
Most bizarrely, they add, “the evidence did not permit a conclusion as to whether the Mayor had personally authorized the offer to delay issuance of the interim report” which to my mind is so unlikely that it  puts the rest of their conclusions at doubt.
The key passage in the joint statement is here:
In June 2017, a special session of the New York State Legislature was called to vote on extension of mayoral control of New York City schools, among other things. DOI and SCI found that shortly before the vote in that special session, representatives of the Mayor’s Office agreed to delay the release of an interim report summarizing the status of the DOE’s Inquiry. This agreement was apparently made as part of a multi-pronged effort to bolster legislative support for continued mayoral control over the DOE, which was a significant legislative priority for the Mayor’s Office.
The evidence did not permit a conclusion as to whether the Mayor had personally authorized the offer to delay issuance of the interim report. However, the totality of the evidence indicates that the Mayor was aware that the offer to delay had been made, prior to the final push to secure the votes for mayoral control. After being informed of the commitment to delay the interim report, the Mayor personally participated in conversations with at least one state senator and Orthodox community leaders about their broader concerns regarding oversight of yeshivas and how those concerns related to the extension of mayoral control. One witness told DOI and SCI that the City was asked to delay the issuance of the report – then scheduled for summer 2017 – until April 2018. However, DOI and SCI were unable to confirm that any City official agreed to a specific release date or specific period of delay.
The agreement to delay the release of an interim report appears to have had minimal substantive impact on the Inquiry itself. Multiple witnesses told DOI and SCI that, as of June 2017, DOE’s Inquiry was still in its early stages and that any interim report issued at that time would have contained only limited information.
It is hard to know which is more toxic - the system of autocratic mayoral control which I and others critiqued at Assembly hearings this week;  or the damaging political deals the Mayor has made to keep it - which include not just a delay in issuing a report on the Yeshivas in 2017,  but also that same year, his agreement to an increase in the number of NYC charter schools. 
 Before that, as part of the deal to extend mayoral control in 2014 , de Blasio agreed to either co-locate charter schools in public school buildings or help pay for rent in private buildings – a legal obligation which no other district in the state or the nation has been saddled with, and that the DOE is now spending more than $100M per year on.
A question which the DOE/SCI statement does not answer is why the DOE inquiry into the Yeshivas was still in its early stages in June 2017 – given that the initial complaint was made in the July 2015.  See Yaffed’s timeline here.
Another question is what is now holding up the release of the DOE's final report, given that that the DOE visits to Yeshivas concluded last spring and that  Although the DOE has now visited all 28 yeshivas [originally named in the complaint that are still open], more than four years after the initial complaints, the DOE’s Inquiry continues.”
If the visits ended last spring, why does the DOE Inquiry continue and why has no report has yet been issued?  No explanation is provided.
All this makes one suspect that the political influence of the ultra-Orthodox community with the Mayor and City Hall continues to hamper DOE’s actions and reporting on this issue.
The original concept of having a separate elected school board that appoints a district Superintendent or in NYC’s case, a Chancellor, was based on the notion that education decision-making should be insulated as much as possible from these sorts of political back-room deals.  

Readers, please feel free to leave your thoughts below.


Anonymous said...

Corruption is so ingrained that lies and personal gain are a sad matter of course in NYC politics. Thanks for being an educational watchdog, Leonie.

Anonymous said...

DeBlasio is as corrupt a politician one city can have the misfortune to have in office. Illiterate graduates are now the norm. I hope they start during the DOE.