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May 14, 2015
Cuomo’s three-year mayoral control extension gains steam with Assembly support
Assembly bill to extend mayoral control by three years signals uncertainty over city’s school governance could get settled soon.
January 28, 2014
A key ally of state teachers union criticizes its "no confidence" vote
The state teachers union took a hit from a key ally in Albany today when Assembly education committee chair Catherine Nolan criticized the union's denunciation of the state's top schools official.
March 13, 2013
Lighter NYC schools penalty could help budget talks progress
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan praised the news that New York City's state school budget penalty would be temporary. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was not satisfied with the surprising announcement that New York City's steep budget penalty would be temporary, but his education committee chair said she thinks the news could could ease budget negotiations in Albany. "To me that means we're halfway there," Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan said today during the legislature's joint hearing on the state's proposed education budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Assembly, and the State Senate have each proposed spending plans and they must come to a consensus before the end of the month. This year, because Passover and Easter fall at the end of March, legislators are shooting for a final budget by next week, which means they must strike a deal by the end of the weekend to meet timeline requirements.
January 29, 2013
Mulgrew faces legislators, as Walcott promises to revisit sunset
ALBANY — Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan kept her promise to question UFT President Michael Mulgrew with the same tenacity as when she interrogated Mayor Bloomberg on Monday. Nolan chastised Bloomberg for his role in New York City's failure to reach a teacher evaluation deal, which will likely cost the city $240 million in state school aid. Today, she told Mulgrew, "This is the fault of labor and management together." Nolan chairs the Assembly's education committee and usually sympathizes with the union on education issues. "It is unbelievable to me that this union, with its great history, could not negotiate this deal," Nolan added as she questioned Mulgrew, whose testimony before the legislature was supposed to be about the 2013-2014 state budget but focused instead on the failed evaluation deal and issues surrounding upcoming assessments aligned to new standards. Mulgrew and Chancellor Dennis Walcott, whose testimony earlier in the day generated less confrontation, both told the legislature that they are open to resuming negotiations. Walcott even conceded that a misunderstanding could have fueled one major issue preventing a deal.
January 28, 2013
State aid cuts would cost city 2,500 teachers, Bloomberg says
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mark Page, his budget director, testified in Albany today about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget, which would penalize the city again for not adopting new teacher evaluations. ALBANY — New York City would have to cut 2,500 teaching positions over the next two years under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget plans, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told lawmakers this morning. Appearing at a hearing about Cuomo's budget proposal, Bloomberg focused on the school aid that would be withheld because the city and teachers union have not agreed on new teacher evaluations. The city already lost out on $240 million in state aid this year as a consequence of missing a Jan. 17 deadline that was written into law and could lose another $224 million next year if Cuomo goes through with his plan to tie school aid to evaluations again. The cost of that penalty would be severe, Bloomberg told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, forcing cuts to city schools' spending on personnel and programming. Bloomberg blamed the UFT, again, for the city's shortfall and also criticized the State Education Department, which is threatening to penalize the city further by withholding some resources for high-need students. But during a fierce exchange with Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who chairs the education committee, the blame also landed briefly on Bloomberg himself. Nolan pointed out that Bloomberg had supported the law that paved the way for the union and the city to reach a deal on evaluations last February. She recited Bloomberg's comments at the time the law was passed (“This is a win-win-win for the kids and for the adults”). "Don't you feel some responsibility for this disaster?" she asked. "And it is a disaster."
July 6, 2012
Schooled in activism, Grover Cleveland grad aims for law school
Grover Cleveland High School student Diana Rodriguez spearheaded student protest against her school's closure. Less than two weeks after graduating from high school, Diana Rodriguez is staying busy. The Queens teenager is up at 6 a.m. to go for a morning run, work her two summer jobs, and take driving lessons a few months before she is set to start college. It’s a heavy workload — but it's not the biggest responsibility the 17-year-old has taken on. This spring, she led classmates at Grover Cleveland High School in a fight for the school's life. The school was one of 33 the city planned to close and reopen using an overhaul process, known as "turnaround," that included changing the school’s name and replacing half of the school staff. Rodriguez was enraged. Already the senior class president, she sprang into action galvanizing her classmates to protest the turnaround plans. “I wouldn't stand for it,” said Rodriguez. “You can’t mess with my education – education is a right.” That was Rodriguez's rallying cry as she joined other students in schools facing closure across the city in a group called Student Activists United. The group turned out students for public hearings, called Panel for Educational Policy members who would vote on the closures, and even held an early-morning rally outside Mayor Bloomberg's Upper East Side home.
April 30, 2012
Cuomo names appointees to state education reform commission
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in January that he would convene a commission to set a course for reforming New York's schools, insiders said many members would likely come from out of state. That wasn't true when Cuomo revealed the composition of the commission in Albany today. All but a handful of the 20 commission members are based in New York, and about half are based in New York CIty. But the commission is still a far cry from the last panel Cuomo convened, a "think tank" of educators and advocates who advised the state in its bid to escape some federal accountability measures. Few of its members work in organizations that interact directly with children, even fewer are advocates, and there are no district representatives. There is also no parent advocate on the commission, even it is being asked to devise strategies to increase parent engagement. Instead, commission members are drawn from the highest levels of state government, the state and city university systems, and nonprofit organizations. They include State Education Commissioner John King, Assembly Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan, and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. "It's very blue-ribbon," said CUNY education professor David Bloomfield about the panel's composition. "The establishment nature of the commission makes it less likely that they will come up with anti-establishment recommendations." Working under the leadership of chair Richard Parsons, a former head of CitiGroup and Time Warner; and top Cuomo deputies, they will have seven months to make recommendations about how to boost student achievement and make education spending more efficient. Cuomo said today that he wanted the recommendations to form "an action plan" for his administration.
April 11, 2012
Walcott: Turnaround will happen even without federal funding
When members of the Panel for Educational Policy vote on more than two dozen school closure proposals later this month, they won't know whether the city will get federal dollars to fund the schools that replace them. Speaking to state lawmakers today, Education Commissioner John King said he does not plan to respond to the city's applications for federal School Improvement Grants until "early June" — well over a month after the PEP is scheduled to vote on closure plans for 26 schools. The panel has never rejected a city proposal. The closures are part of an overhaul process known as "turnaround" that the city devised in large part to win the funds. When Mayor Bloomberg announced the turnaround plans in his State of the City speech in January, he cited the availability of the federal funds — about $2 million per school each year — as a key motivator. But lately, the city's rhetoric has changed. When the Department of Education published details about its school closure plans last month, it explained that the turnarounds would happen with or without the federal dollars. Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg also told GothamSchools that new principals wouldn't have to replace half of their staffs when the schools reopened, a provision that could disqualify the schools from receiving SIG grants. Walcott told reporters at the hearing today that closure was the best move forward for the 26 low-rated schools with or without the supplemental grants. The schools are eligible for more than $150 million over a three-year period, but Walcott said the city's plans could be implemented without the extra funding. "If we have the money, that's great," he said. "But money should not drive policy. The policy should be, how do we benefit the students in the long run, and that's my overall goal."
April 3, 2012
At two schools not saved from turnaround, the hearings go on
Grover Cleveland High School students march around the Ridgewood, Queens school's perimeter before the closure hearing. When public hearings about the city's plans to "turn around" two large high schools began last night, few of their supporters had heard that other schools had been spared the aggressive reform process. Herbert H. Lehman High School and Grover Cleveland High School were not among seven top-rated schools that the city announced yesterday would not undergo turnaround after all. The controversial process requires schools to close and reopen with new names and many new teachers. A third school slated for a public hearing Monday night, Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, had its turnaround plans withdrawn. But at Lehman and Cleveland, the hearings went on without interruption — with students, teachers, and graduates at each offering more than three hours of testimony about their schools. Cleveland Diana Rodriguez, the senior class president at Cleveland, saw the surprising news about changes to the turnaround list on her phone during a pre-hearing rally organized by students. “Obviously Cleveland is not on the list. This is very disappointing for us but we will not give up,” she said. “Tonight we will show that we have a voice and will not give in.” That voice grew strained over the course of the afternoon and evening from loud chants and cheers. Before the closure hearing, Rodriguez led a band of students — including one dressed in a tiger costume — on a march around the neighborhood. As they passed the Q54 bus on Metropolitan Avenue, the driver honked repeatedly at the procession and other cars joined the chorus. More students joined when the group returned to the school's entrance on Himrod Street, until the rally swelled to nearly 50.
April 2, 2012
Marshaled by Marshall, Queens officials join in turnaround fight
Dozens of Queens elected officials and their policy advisers rallied today in Kew Gardens to denounce the city's plans to turnaround 33 schools, including several from Queens. Standing beside a dozen elected officials this morning, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall recalled the anxiety in the voices of the many Queens students, teachers and school leaders who have implored her to help them fight city plans to close their schools this year. "When they came to us, I heard children cry, 'What am I going to do?'" Marshall said at a press conference denouncing the city's plans to "turn around" 33 schools, including eight Queens schools. "They love their schools, they want to stay in their schools. They love learning in their schools. I stand hand in hand here with the children. They do not want this." Marshall convened the press conference just hours before Queens' first public hearing about turnaround, the controversial process the city has proposed for 33 struggling schools. But the event was far from Marshall's first public statement on the plans, which would require the schools to close and reopen with a new name and many new teachers. She also held a hearing at Queens Borough Hall about the proposals in February, where she unveiled an uncharacteristically aggressive stance against the Department of Education. The shift makes sense: For the previous decade, Queens has seen relatively few of its schools shuttered for poor performance, and of the 23 schools whose closures or truncations were approved in February, only one was in the borough. But the borough is home to a full quarter of the schools proposed for turnaround.
August 3, 2009
Commission on test scores and tenure may never materialize
As the lure of federal stimulus money puts new pressure on states to use test scores in tenure decisions, a New York commission that was supposed to study that very issue is making its absence felt. Last spring, in return for passing legislation that put a two-year hold on allowing principals to use students' test scores in teacher evaluations, state, city, and teachers union officials agreed to establish a commission to study the matter. Though the state Senate passed a bill to create the commission, no Assembly member ever introduced the bill, allowing it to die just as the 2008 session came to a close. In the wake of the bill's demise, state and union officials have pointed to each other when asked whom to blame for the Assembly's inaction. With the law distancing student data from tenure evaluations set to expire on July 1, 2010, some believe the legislature will let the law sunset without creating the commission. Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said he has been lobbying lawmakers to study how to integrate student test scores into tenure decisions. "The teachers unions are very close with the Assembly, and they did not want this [the commission] to happen," Kremer said, adding that he did not believe the legislature would create the commission before the law expires. "We just have not been able to get any traction on this," he said.
May 12, 2009
Board of Regents could grab more charter control from SUNY
A bill introduced in Albany last week could limit The State University of New York’s (SUNY) power to certify charter schools, empowering the Board of Regents to veto the university’s recommendations for which schools should be allowed to open. New Board of Regents head Merryl Tisch is leading the charge for the change, and United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told GothamSchools today she supports the bill. "SUNY as an entity is not sensitive to issues in the communities here," Tisch told the Daily News. (A call to Tisch's office has not yet been returned). Currently, the state's Board of Regents, which is one of three boards that can authorize city charter schools, reviews SUNY’s authorizations but cannot prevent the SUNY-approved schools from opening. The Board has disagreed with SUNY's charters two thirds of the time since 2007. While the Regents can't block those schools from opening, they do have the power to revoke the charters of SUNY schools that drop below their standards. The bill was introduced by Assembly Education Chair Catherine Nolan last week and is described as a way to standardize and streamline the chartering process. Critics of the bill argue that SUNY's charter schools outperform other charters and that consolidating the power to authorize charters would mean fewer charter schools in the city. It's unclear how much of a chance the bill has to pass, though charter advocates say they plan to work vigilantly to prevent it from becoming law. United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten defended Nolan's and the Regents' stance, even though SUNY is the UFT's charter authorizer. "If you really want to have top to bottom and bottom to top accountability you should have one statewide entity authorizing charters, not two," she said. "We are always looking for ways to save money and be more efficient and having one statewide authorizer is probably best."
May 11, 2009
Queens charter schools enter the fray with information campaign
Spurred by a series of meetings held by Queens' borough president, charter school administrators, parents and students are gathering at The Renaissance Charter School in Queens to dispel “misinformation” about their schools in a discussion on Wednesday night. Queens is far from the center of the city’s charter school debate, which has been raging in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but with the opening of two new charters in as many years, and increased attention to the issue city-wide, some parents and elected officials have voiced their opposition to the schools. Nicholas Tishuk, the Director of Programs and Accountability at Renaissance and the organizer of the event, said that the discussion is the beginning of an “information campaign” targeted at charter school critics. Principals of two other Queens' charter schools, VOICE and OWN, will participate in the panel. Tishuk has been attending Queens Borough President Helen Marshall’s monthly Advisory Board meetings, where he said charter schools dominate the conversation. (Marshall said in February she has " fought against charter schools.”) He invited some of the most outspoken critics at Marshall’s meetings to Wednesday’s discussion, hoping to show them that charter schools aren’t “this big bad thing.” “We're all mom and pop schools here,” Tishuk said. “We're all single-standing schools that are not ‘invading’ communities.” Tishuk wants to address complaints that charter schools take away funding from regular schools, aren’t connected to communities, and counsel out “problem kids”—none of which apply to Queens’ schools, he says. Queens will have six charter schools next fall, including the city’s biggest, Our World Neighborhood Charter School. VOICE charter school started in 2008, and Growing Up Green, in Long Island City, opens this fall. VOICE is using a Department of Education school location for now, while the borough’s other charter schools occupy their own space. In Brooklyn and Manhattan, charter schools taking over public school space is a hot-button issue, one that has mostly been avoided in Queens.
March 26, 2009
Transcripts from Assembly mayoral control hearings online now
Catherine Nolan New Yorkers who weren’t able to attend any of the Assembly’s five public hearings on mayoral control can now find out just what…
March 23, 2009
Hearings leave lawmakers more turned off to mayoral control
Technology constraints prohibited me from live-blogging Friday's Assembly hearing on mayoral control of the city schools, which (for those not following along) is the policy that in 2002 handed near-total education authority over to the mayor — and which is up for renewal this June. The strong thrust of Friday's hearing, the last of five that have taken Assembly members on a tour through the boroughs, was that lawmakers are not happy with the system they created. Some have become even less happy during the hearings in every borough over the last few months. A few flubbed exchanges with lawmakers have not helped the Bloomberg administration's case. One such embarrassing moment happened one Friday, when officials failed to produce the graduation rate for black males. Here are some of the highlights from Friday: Thirteen Assembly members attended the hearing, one of the largest showings so far, and I didn't hear any of them speak positively about mayoral control. Two members made their dissatisfaction most clear. "I can assure you that my opinion has changed a lot in these hearings," Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell of Manhattan declared, after angrily chastising Department of Education officials during a question-and-answer session. "Talking to my legislative colleagues over the last three months, the question in my mind is no longer if we're going to make any changes to the law. It's going to be what changes are we going to make," declared Mark Weprin of Queens.
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