on the scene

Live-blogging the reconstituted Board of Education meeting

I’m conveying live reports from Philissa and Anna, who are at Tweed Courthouse, where the reconstituted Board of Education is having its first meeting in seven years. UPDATE: As of 1:30 p.m. the show moved to City Hall, and we’re still updating from there.

2:15 p.m. Meeting adjourned.

2:11 p.m. Bloomberg: “This is so obviously right, that’s why there’s unanimity.” He also just declared that New York City offers a model for how government should work.

2:05 p.m. Ruben Diaz Jr., Bronx borough president, said he might want to convene the Board of Education before September 10. The Board earlier voted not to meet again until that date. “I’ve never had a problem with telling the chancellor what’s on my mind,” Diaz said.

That prompted Queens president Marshall to step in and announce she’s already convened a parent advisory panel. She said she dislikes Bloomberg’s third-grade retention policy. The last time school board members opposed that policy, Bloomberg voted them off the board as it was known under mayoral control, the Panel for Educational Policy.

2:03 p.m. “If we disagree with the mayor, there isn’t a borough president here who wouldn’t stand up and do something,” Scott Stringer, the borough president of Manhattan, said. Stringer’s appointee, Jimmy Yan, is a former attorney for Advocates for Children, the nonprofit that supports students with disabilities. He now serves as Stringer’s legal counsel.

2:01 p.m. Asked what he’ll do about community school boards, which are also supposed to resurrect under the pre-2002 law, Bloomberg punted. “How can we convene them?” he said. He said officials have not considered what to do about school boards yet.

1:59 p.m. “We’re trying to continue on as though mayoral control were approved,” Bloomberg said.

1:52 p.m. Bloomberg earlier thanked Helen Marshall of Queens for appointing Walcott. She smiled and laughed. Now the mayor is warning of a significant risk that the Senate will drag its feet, since the law has expired. He also declared that no chancellor ever lasted more than a year and a half under the old governance structure. That’s not true. Harold Levy, the previous chancellor, served two years; his predecessor, Rudy Crew, served for four.

1:47 p.m. Mayor Bloomberg is now flexing his foreign-language muscles, summarizing the situation en Espanol. Of his riot threats, he said, “It’s a euphemism.” Huh?

1:46 p.m. Randi Weingarten: “So I guess I should have resigned effective June 30.”

Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. offered the lone voice of (some) dissent at today's City Hall press conference.
Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. offered the lone voice of (some) dissent at today’s City Hall press conference.

1:42 p.m. Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz fumbled, referring to the Department of Education. He then paused and said “Board of Education.” Even the DOE legally was called the Board of Education.

Bronx borough president, speaking at City Hall, was the only person to foreshadow possible disagreements inside the new Board of Education. “It doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree,” he said.

Parent activist Jane Hirschmann of Time Out From Testing temporarily stole the mayor's podium, demanding more voice for parents.

1:40 p.m. Before the mayor spoke, parent activist Jane Hirschmann stole the podium. “We want the voice of the parents to be heard,” she said. She has since been escorted from the room by City Hall staff.

1:35 p.m. Mayor Bloomberg, at a press conference at City Hall, said of the revived Board of Education, “These are Band-aids, not solutions.” He said, “The temporary school board has attempted to sidestep the worst consequences” of mayoral control’s expiration.

1:14 p.m. All board members have waived their salaries, says Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz. The law outlines $15,000 a year for board members and $20,000 for the board president.

1:08 p.m. Why Walcott? “He’s from Queens, he knows a lot about education,” Queens borough president Helen Marshall, who appointed Walcott, told Anna. “He’s still obligated to me, and if he crosses that line…” The borough president gave Anna a meaningful look.

PHOTO: Maura Walz
Meet the new Board of Education president, Dennis Walcott. (Center)

1:06 p.m. The entire meeting lasted nine minutes, by Philissa’s count.

1:01 p.m. The Board of Education voted to endorse the Assembly’s mayoral control bill, passing a motion, 6 to 0, to support the Assembly’s version of the revised law. (Fernandez abstained.) Then it voted to adjourn until September 10.

12:58 p.m. Chancellor Joel Klein will remain in office, following a 7 to 0 vote of all Board members. Fernandez voting in favor this time.

12:57 p.m. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott was just voted president of the new Board of Education, and Department of Education counsel Michael Best was voted secretary. The Bronx appointee, Dolores Fernandez, abstained from voting both times.

12:52 p.m. Carlo Scissura, the Brooklyn borough president’s Board of Education appointee, served on a community school board in 1999. Then he “led the district in making the transition to mayoral control” as president of District 20’s Community Education Council in 2004, a press release stated.

12:48 p.m. Meanwhile, James Merriman, executive director of the city’s charter school advocacy center, is in the room.

12:47 p.m. A Community Education Council president, for District 1 in Manhattan, is among those unable to get inside the meeting. Lisa Donlan’s CEC passed a resolution this morning asking that it transform into a community school board. The CEC also requested that its superintendent be appointed the community district superintendent under the pre-2002 rules.

A crowd of people who aren't being let into the Board of Education meeting. Philissa reports that police shut the door as soon as she snapped this photo.
A crowd of people who aren’t being let in to the Board of Education meeting. Police shut the door to the meeting right after Philissa snapped this photo, she reports.

12:44 p.m. A crowd of parents and others are waiting outside the room, unable to get in. See the photo on the right. Police shut the door to the meeting just after Philissa snapped that picture, she reports.

12:36 p.m. The meeting is in the same Tweed Courthouse room as Panel for Educational Policy meetings were held. But this time the audience gets fancy plush chairs with wheels. Used to be folding chairs. Philissa says Department of Education staffers are dressed extra-nice.

12:30 p.m. Weingarten to reporters: “The ironic part here is there were a lot of checks and balances in the Assembly bill that would have gone into effect starting today.” The checks would have specifically given superintendents more power in their districts, she said.

12:19 p.m. I just got a call from two parent activists who aren’t being let in and wanted to see if I could help. I can’t.

Randi Weingarten, city teachers union president, arrived at the Board of Education meeting and was immediately thronged by reporters.

12:16 p.m. Famously tardy Randi Weingarten, who’s still president of the United Federation of Teachers for one more month, just walked in smiling. But no more people will be let in; staff say the room is full.

12:14 p.m. The meeting will start late. The Bronx borough president’s appointee, Delores Fernandez, is stuck in traffic. She’s the only appointee who’s indicated, via borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., that she’ll criticize mayoral control and Chancellor Joel Klein.

12:07 p.m. There will be no public comment at the board meeting. Haimson, with a laugh: “This is the real Soviet Union!”

12:02 p.m. Reporters and new Board of Education members have settled in their seats. Leonie Haimson just placed the book she and other mayoral control critics produced at every member’s seat. No one stopped her.

12:00 p.m. The room at Tweed is so packed that Department of Education employees have been asked to listen on loudspeakers outside.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the department's FY2019 budget. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.