Amid concerns about its swine flu precautions, the city added three more schools to its list of those shuttered by swine flu suspicions today. Four other private and charter schools also announced that they would close after experiencing higher-than-normal rates of students reporting flu-like symptoms. The schools included one public school on the Lower East Side and the Horace Mann School, a top-flight private school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Both Manhattan and the Bronx had not seen any swine flu-related school closures before today. The other schools that the Department of Education decided today to close are PS 130 in Manhattan, PS 35 in Queens, and Merrick Academy Charter School, located in Jamaica, Queens. Several non-DOE schools decided independently to close, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told reporters earlier today. Those schools were Horace Mann; St Joseph's School in Astoria, Queens; Holy Family School in Flushing, Queens; and three sites of South Bronx Charter School. Yesterday's Panel for Educational Policy meeting was unusually spirited as panel members questioned Klein about the department's swine flu policy.
Marcia Lyles, the city's top-ranking educator, has been offered the superintendency of a 17,000-student Delaware school district, according to a person who just left the meeting of the Christina Public Schools school board. The six-member board voted unanimously to offer Lyles the position at about 9 p.m., Harrie Ellen Minnehan, a teacher who was at the meeting, just told me. Lyles, since 2007 the city's deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, was not present for the vote, Minnehan said. Minnehan described the school board meeting as unusually subdued, considering the magnitude of the announcement. "Usually when they announce something like that people are very excited," she said. "Tonight, everyone just sat there stunned. You could literally hear a pin drop." She said some of the 50 people in the audience got up and walked out before the vote in protest. "I could not sit in there when they voted," Minnehan told me a principal friend said to her. A reason for the unenthusiastic response is that the local teachers and principals unions had endorsed Lyles' chief opponent, Freeman Williams, a longtime district educator.
The city Department of Education awarded outside vendors $342 million in contracts in the last three years without following competitive bidding procedures that are standard across other city agencies, an audit released today by the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, has found. School officials are allowed to offer no-bid contracts, but only if they follow certain guidelines, and the audit declares that Bloomberg administration officials often did not follow its own regulations. For instance, vendors often won the no-bid contracts without any proof that avoiding the regular process would save the city money. In some cases, school officials actually destroyed records about the contracting process, the audit found. School officials told auditors that the records were destroyed "mistakenly" and that the employee who destroyed them has been given training "to prevent future problems." Speaking to reporters today, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said the school system would compile better documentation in the future, but he pointed out that the audit found no cases of contracts that cost the city money or were of poor quality. He also said that a majority of the 291 no-bid contracts are with vendors that operate prekindergarten classes.
Elected parent leaders in Manhattan are asking the city to reverse multiple school decisions, including ones that the city has used to manage severe overcrowding in many neighborhood schools, because they say they should have been involved in making the decisions. The demand comes in a lawsuit filed yesterday, the second in three months against the Department of Education over its adherence to state law that requires parent groups to be consulted before some decisions are made. Members of the Community Education Council for District 2, which includes the Upper East Side and most of Manhattan below Central Park, say the city violated the law by not consulting them when it made decisions about opening and closing schools and how students were assigned to district schools. With the city teachers union, they filed a lawsuit yesterday over about a dozen cases in recent years where the DOE failed to consult the CEC about major zoning changes (one case dates back to 2001). The suit details the ways council members say the DOE brusquely informed them of its "unilateral" decisions after they had been made. Among them: The parent council learned about the closing of Bayard Rustin High School in Chelsea by looking at the DOE's Web site, parents allege. It learned of the opening of another school via an e-mail from DOE official John White: "Good morning. Please see new addition of Quest to Learn School."
Marcia Lyles, the deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, testifying at an Assembly hearing earlier this year. Marcia Lyles, the head of the city's teaching and learning department and one of only a handful of veteran educators who reports directly to Chancellor Joel Klein, could be on the brink of leaving the school system. The answer hinges on an announcement tonight by a school board in Delaware, where Lyles and one other candidate are vying for the job of superintendent. The board of the Christina School District, a semi-urban, 17,000-student district comprising parts of two of Delaware's three largest cities as well as some suburbs, has narrowed down a cast of contenders to two finalists: a longtime Delaware educator who is now serving as acting superintendent and Lyles, a Harlem native who has worked in the city's public school system since the 1970s. Lyles would not confirm that she has been offered the job, but a member of the Christina teachers union, Harrie Ellen Minnehan, told me that rumors are flying in Delaware that Lyles will be announced as the new superintendent tonight — against the desires of teachers and principals, many of whom favor the Delaware candidate.
Principals will receive school budgets tomorrow that include a new 5 percent cut, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced today. The cuts are so deep that the department is temporarily abandoning its plan to finish adopting a new funding formula that it said would make school budgets more equitable. The cuts, totaling $405 million across the city schools, could threaten non-teacher staff positions, after school programs, and training for teachers. But roughly 60 percent of schools will not actually experience cuts of the maximum size, Klein told reporters at a briefing today. That's because slightly more than half of all principals chose not to allocate every dollar in their budgets for this year, instead "rolling over" a total of $95 million. The rainy day funds are being wiped out by the new cuts but are also softening the blow of next year's cuts for many schools. In addition, about 80 schools receiving the largest amounts of federal anti-poverty funds will actually see a slight increase in the size of their budgets, Klein said. The remaining 40 percent of schools will see their budgets drop the maximum 4.9 percent, he said. Today's cuts are on top of a total average 3 percent cut made to school budgets over the last year and a half. Because of the cuts, the DOE is suspending its plan to start charging schools the real salaries that teachers make, a change that had been the cornerstone of the department's Fair Student Funding formula.
Protesters derailed the monthly city school board meeting last night, filing out during the middle of the meeting with chants of "Hey hey, ho ho, one-man-rule has got to go!" The protesters are part of the Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups that is pushing the state legislature to add checks to the mayor's control of public schools. They argue that the school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy, is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the mayor's school policies. Panel members have almost always voted with the administration since Mayor Bloomberg fired three members who signaled they would oppose a third-grade promotion policy in 2005. The group began the meeting, at Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, with a rally outside the school, then filed quietly into the meeting room, nearly filling the lower level of an auditorium as they listened to a presentation about swine flu. But as Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who chairs the PEP, tried to shift the topic of conversation to test scores, the Campaign for Better Schools protesters stood up, and one member launched into a speech encouraging panel members to "think for yourselves." "In the meantime, for those of you who cannot, we have brought you something that we hope you can use moving forward," the speaker said, referring to actual rubber stamps the campaign had made that read "PEP approved." As the protesters left the auditorium, one of them, William Hargraves, launched into an impassioned speech of his own, which starts at the beginning of the second minute of the video above. "Yo, chancellor," he said. "What did you prove? Ninety percent of your audience left. ... You'd rather be in front of nobody so that you can say what you've got to say, than to hear what the majority got to say?"
The city principals' union just passed along these details for the funeral of Mitchell Weiner, the assistant principal at IS 238 who died yesterday from complications of the H1N1 or swine flu. Wednesday, May 20th at 2 p.m. Sinai Chapels 162-05 Horace Harding Expressway Fresh Meadows, NY 11365 Phone: 1-800-446-0406 • 718-445-0300 Fax: 718-321-0896 MAP & DIRECTIONS Here's an excerpt from a Daily News story on Wiener that ran a few days before he died: When a teenage neighbor in need of math tutoring knocked on the door of his Queens apartment 28 years ago, Mitchell Wiener immediately dropped everything he was doing. The young math teacher spent hours coaching Melissa Lipsky that day in 1981. Over the next several weeks, Wiener met with Melissa numerous times, guiding her through her eighth-grade arithmetic lessons. ...
In the debate over the future of mayoral control, one sticking point has been the proper role of the city school board, currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy. Today, a coalition pushing for significant changes to mayoral control is taking its PEP recommendations to the panel's front steps, at the same that state lawmakers are powwowing in Albany about the panel's future. Advocates for checks on the mayor's power say that the system needs an independent school board whose members can freely vote against mayoral proposals when appropriate. But Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have said that changing the composition of the PEP would introduce policy gridlock and undermine the mayor's accountability on education matters. The Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups, is calling on state legislators to change the panel's composition so that the mayor no longer controls a majority of seats. Campaign members are planning to rally in support of that position at 5:30 p.m. today outside Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, where the PEP is holding its monthly meeting at 6 p.m. "We want to highlight the fact that the PEP is simply just a rubber stamp for the policies of the mayor," said Shomwa Shamapande, a campaign spokesman. About 200 campaign members are expected to protest before the meeting, then enter Stuyvesant's auditorium for the meeting itself, he said. By tonight, it's possible that a deal will have been struck about the future of the PEP.