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August 21, 2012
Mayoral hopefuls mum, other politicians shun StudentsFirstNY
Most of the 2013 mayoral contenders are still keeping an arm's length from a union-backed campaign to tie StudentsFirstNY's agenda to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. But that hasn't stopped a slew of other political hopefuls from throwing their support behind the effort. New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a coalition of public unions, community-based organizations and liberal advocacy groups, has released a list of 33 elected officials and candidates who have signed on to a pledge to refuse support from StudentsFirstNY, which is seeking to advance the education polices started by the Bloomberg administration. The list includes candidates for Manhattan and Brooklyn Borough President, Public Advocate and a slew of City Council members and state legislators. Noticeably absent are frontrunners in the one race that New Yorkers for Great Public Schools and StudentsFirstNY hope to influence the most: the 2013 mayoral election. Only one prospective candidate, John Liu, has said he'd reject StudentsFirstNY's support. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said last week she'd be fine accepting their support, as did long-shot Tom Allon. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson was non-committal in his response and one other candidates, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has stayed mum on the subject.
August 16, 2012
Mayoral hopefuls split on taking donations from StudentsFirstNY
New Yorkers for Great Public Schools took aim at StudentsFirstNY's ties to Mitt Romney during a rally at Department of Education headquarters today. Hours after the union-backed New Yorkers for Great Public Schools launched a campaign to tie the education advocacy group StudentsFirstNY to the political ideologies of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, 2013 mayoral candidates began chiming in on whether they would accept StudentsFirstNY's support. Of the three campaigns that responded to requests for comment from GothamSchools, one said no StudentsFirstNY money would come into its coffers. The other two said they would have no problem accepting support from the group, which seeks to advance many of the Bloomberg administration's education policies. A fourth candidate says he hasn't made up his mind yet. Comptroller John Liu said he would reject any support, although a spokesman acknowledged that funds from StudentsFirstNY were unlikely to be directed toward Liu's campaign. "I doubt the group would send us any contributions," said the spokesman, Chung Seto. Liu, who hasn't declared for mayor and whose campaign finances are the subject of a federal investigation, is considered a candidate likely to align with the teachers union. Speaker Christine Quinn, an early favorite in the Democratic primary bid, would happily accept support from education groups, no matter their school reform ideologies, a campaign consultant said today.
January 31, 2012
Mayoral candidates unite to target Bloomberg's school policies
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a 2013 mayoral candidate, talks about school closures at a press conference outside City Hall. A press conference about the city's school closure policy looked a lot like a campaign stop for four men eyeing 2013 mayoral runs. Four leading mayoral candidates — Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, and former comptroller and 2009 mayoral runner-up Bill Thompson — spoke at the event on the steps of City Hall. The press conference was organized by the Coalition for Educational Justice, a nonprofit that has spearheaded protests against many of the 25 closures proposed this year. Flanked by advocates and parents, the men echoed concerns outlined in a report CEJ released last week about the inclusion of students with special needs in new small schools. (That report responded to a report by an independent research firm that found the schools had increased students' chances of graduating.) The candidates all said the Bloomberg administration had been too quick to close schools without trying other interventions and had "warehoused" high-needs students in schools that are now facing closure. They also demanded that the city release details about what happened to students who had not yet graduated when their schools closed — information that is required by law to come out tomorrow. But they stopped short of explaining how they would do things differently if they became mayor and gained control of the schools. The closest anyone got was Stringer, who took aim at an Achilles' Heel for Bloomberg: the way the Department of Education engages parents and communities.
January 27, 2012
City plan to shrink Wadleigh draws vocal and official opposition
Ninth-grader Geronimo Miranda joins sixth-graders Ariyelle Ceasar, Tiane Jackson, Cheyanne Young and Nia Manerville in describing Wadleigh Middle School's positive qualities at a school truncation hearing Jan. 26. A who's who of elected officials and Harlem leaders turned out Thursday to defend the Wadleigh Secondary School of Performing Arts against the Department of Education's plan to close its middle school. About 200 parents, students, activists, and staff packed the school's auditorium Thursday evening for a public hearing on the proposal. Just before, officials who included City Councilman Robert Jackson, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Sen. Bill Perkins, and Comptroller John Liu all held court in the packed lobby of the Harlem campus. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the city's NAACP chief, Hazel Dukes, also spoke at the hearing. They said the city was giving up on a neighborhood institution by moving to close Wadleigh's middle school. Jackson promised to call Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott today to air his opposition to the plan. Wadleigh's 440-student high school would remain open under the plan, as would another middle school in the building, Frederick Douglass Academy II, which narrowly escaped closure this year after earning an even lower progress report score than Wadleigh's middle school. A charter school, Harlem Success Academy I, is set to move its middle school grades into the building, according to a plan the city set last year.
January 23, 2012
Liu: City hasn't gotten sufficient bang from ARIS's $83m buck
Graph of principals' self-reported satisfaction with ARIS over time, from an audit of by Comptroller John Liu. The Department of Education hasn't gotten adequate bang for its buck from more than $80 million spent on ARIS, its data warehouse, concluded an audit released by Comptroller John Liu today. Liu offered a solid clue to the audit's conclusions last week, when he lambasted the city's $10-million move to formally reassign its ARIS contract to Wireless Generation, which has managed the system for years. The audit began in March 2011, shortly after Liu held a series of town hall meetings to solicit public input about what he should investigate. The data warehouse, launched in 2008 by IBM, has attracted no shortage of critics because of its steep price tag and early glitches. Examining usage data, principals' responses to a satisfaction survey the city administers, and the results of a survey that it distributed to educators in June, Liu's office concluded principals' satisfaction with ARIS has fallen, that many schools substitute other data programs in whole or in part, and that use among school staff has leveled off since the system's first year, although use by department officials who work with schools has risen. What's more, the audit concludes, the city can't show that ARIS is leading to higher student performance — something that former chancellor Joel Klein signaled would be a result when he rolled out the system in 2008. "This costly tech program was much-touted by the DOE to help principals and teachers track progress and thereby improve student learning, even as long-time educators questioned its cost and effectiveness," Liu said in a statement today. "$83 million later, there is little discernible improvement in learning and many principals and teachers have given up on the system." DOE officials disputed the audit's methodology, conclusions, and very premise.
December 14, 2011
Citing unexplained cost jump, comptroller rejects DOE contract
A day after taking aim at inflated food costs at the Department of Education, Comptroller John Liu blocked the city from paying more for custodial services. In an uncommon move, Liu rejected a $65 million contract with Temco Service Industries today, saying the DOE had not justified a 44 price hike when applying to renew a contract with the Bronx provider of cleaning and maintenance services. Since at least 2007, the department had paid Temco $45 million annually for its services. Liu said the department had not explained an additional $20 million tacked on to the contract extension. “With budget deficits still looming, contracts with huge inexplicable cost increases and other outstanding questions simply cannot be green-lighted,” he said in a statement. “An extra $20 million on top of $45 million is an enormous amount of money." DOE officials said Liu had not alerted them to his concerns before he issued a press release rejecting the contract today.
October 27, 2011
Proposal would shift teacher pension fund to new management
UFT President Michael Mulgrew joined Mayor Bloomberg and other union leaders to announce new pension reforms Management of the teachers' retirement fund is being merged with other public pensions systems under a proposal unveiled today by city officials and union leaders. In an effort to chip away at the rising costs of the city's $120 billion pension fund, Mayor Bloomberg and Comptroller John Liu announced a proposal to overhaul city unions' scattered pension systems. Until now, each of the five different funds – for teachers, police, fire, school employees and other public sector — had been managed by a handful of trustees under the comptroller's office. Under the proposal, the pools of money from each union will be kept separate but the same professional investors will manage all of the funds. Those investors will not be part of the comptroller's office and will not change when a new comptroller is elected, as they have in the past. Bloomberg, Liu, and union leaders said today that the fund's underperformance had resulted in part from its management structure. But the proposal does not address other issues underlying the city's growing pension costs, which have soared in the last 10 years.
October 13, 2011
In audit, Liu and DOE spar over pre-K funds the city doesn't use
The city isn't sending as many 4-year-olds to pre-kindergarten as it could, according to an audit by Comptroller John Liu. Liu's latest Department of Education audit looks at the way the city uses state funding for "universal pre-kindergarten" programs. The funds can be used to pay for half-day pre-K classes at public schools or through city or community-based preschool programs. Even though many public schools maintain waiting lists for pre-kindergarten classes, especially where space is tight, many 4-year-olds are not enrolled in pre-K classes that could help prepare them for school. Every year, the audit calculates, the city returns an average of about $30 million in unused pre-K funding to the state. "DOE's failure to fully allocate all UPK funds means that children who could have received pre-kindergarten classes are not being served," concludes the audit, which radiates evidence of tension between Liu's office and the DOE. The department submitted its response to the audit "under protest" and calling the audit's focus "deliberately and stubbornly myopic, thereby rendering it of little, if any, worth." If Liu's office had looked at efforts to expand pre-K enrollment, the DOE argues, it would have found that the problem lies not with the department but in constricting state regulations. An enormous challenge, the DOE and Liu's office agree, is that the state will only pay for two and a half hours of pre-K per day for each child.
October 4, 2011
Comptroller: Most schools not meeting P.E. time requirements
City students aren't getting the physical education they're supposed to, according to the latest Department of Education audit out of Comptroller John Liu's office. The audit — which follows others in recent weeks about the DOE's space planning and handling of the Absent Teacher Reserve — concludes that the DOE is doing too little to monitor physical education compliance at individual schools. According to state law, students in kindergarten through sixth grade must have at least two hours total of physical education each week, with daily instruction until third grade and at least three times weekly after that. But of the 31 elementary schools that auditors surveyed, only two appeared to be meeting the requirements for all students. Some principals told Liu's office that they didn't know the state's physical education requirements. Others said they lacked the space or personnel to offer as much physical education instruction as they would like, especially after budget cuts. And still others said they had felt pressure to curtail physical education in favor of academic subjects. In their response to the audit, DOE officials said they would do more to make principals aware of the state's physical education requirements and would create a formal plan for delivering physical education within the next year. But they emphasized that they do not monitor the amount of time that schools spend on any single subject.
September 14, 2011
Auditing DOE's space planning data, comptroller finds glitches
The Department of Education's annual assessments of how much space is available in each school building are not always correct. That's according to an audit being released today by Comptroller John Liu, who is in the midst of scrutinizing DOE data in a series of reports. Liu, who is weighing a 2013 mayoral run, launched the audits this spring after holding town hall meetings in which New Yorkers suggested topics for investigation. Last week, he critiqued the DOE's handling of the Absent Teacher Reserve, and he has at least three other schools audits in the works. The newest audit examines the city's "Blue Book," which contains space estimates for each school building. The DOE and the School Construction Authority use the Blue Book to guide how many students can be placed in a school, and how many schools can fit into a building. Critics, including members of the City Council, say Blue Book numbers don't always reflect reality — for example, suggesting that an additional class could fit into an art room — and that decisions based on them can leave schools crunched for space. To evaluate the city's success at ensuring accurate Blue Book data, Liu's office analyzed entries for 23 schools and found that space assessments for 10 percent of all rooms were incorrect in a way that affected the school's overall capacity. "Proper space is essential for fostering a good learning environment, yet all too often the DOE is basing critical building decisions on its unreliable Blue Book, which bears too much resemblance to a house of cards," Liu said in a statement.
July 5, 2011
Months after launching ARIS audit, comptroller surveys its users
Three months after announcing that he would take a taxpayer's suggestion and audit the Department of Education's online data system, Comptroller John Liu is asking the system's most frequent users for feedback. Liu announced in March that he would audit the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, the department's data warehouse known as ARIS, which has attracted no shortage of critics for its $81 million price tag and early glitches. In June, Liu's office distributed a satisfaction survey to some ARIS users, including teachers. "As part of the audit, we are evaluating whether the system meets users’ needs," read an email containing the survey sent June 14 by Vince Liquori, director of financial audit in the comptroller's office. A high school teacher who received the survey sent it to GothamSchools after the deadline to complete it, June 24, had passed. The 21-question survey asks respondents for details about how they use ARIS and whether they think they system is helping them boost student achievement. The survey also includes a free-response section for respondents to list what they like and dislike about the system and identify which of its features they would change. The survey comes as ARIS continues to contend against lower-budget competitors for teachers' attention.
May 12, 2011
Thousands march from City Hall to Wall Street to oppose layoffs
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the mayor should not have to lay off teachers given that Wall Street rebounded this year. CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the size of the rally. Thousands of people attended this afternoon's rally, according to multiple people who attended and other press accounts. Protesters came from multiple locations and then converged near Wall Street. Thousands of teachers joined elected officials in a symbolic march from City Hall to Wall Street this afternoon to protest Mayor Bloomberg's proposed budget cuts. “You took the money from us, now we’re going to where you sent the money,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped lead the march along with national teachers union president Randi Weingarten and half a dozen City Council members. The march was designed to dramatize the argument that opponents of Bloomberg are making in response to his budget, which calls for laying off more than 4,000 teachers. In a year when Wall Street’s recovery contributed to a citywide surplus, they ask, why are teachers being laid off? “I never expected to come home to see New York act like Wisconsin,” Weingarten told the screaming crowd. Bloomberg has blamed the draconian budget on state cuts and pointed out that the surplus this year is not large enough to plug projected gaps next year — an assessment the Independent Budget Office seconded in a recent analysis.
March 20, 2011
City comptroller launches audits of school tech programs
City Comptroller John Liu announced today that he is launching audits of two of the Department of Education's most ambitious technology programs developed under former Chancellor Joel Klein. The comptroller's office plans to examine the Innovation Zone, or iZone — a $50 million initiative the Department of Education is touting as a strategy to improve schools during budget-conscious times. Funded through a combination of Race to the Top winnings, private donations and $10 million in tax dollars, the iZone is paying for experiments in online learning, staffing, and school time in 80 schools this year. Liu also plans to audit ARIS — the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System — an $81 million online data warehouse that debuted in 2008 and eventually overcame some of its early glitches. ARIS began as a contract with IBM, but soon became a project of Wireless Generation, a company that was recently purchased by News Corporation. The city plans to pilot a second phase of the database, known as ARIS Local, in some schools this spring. Both projects have their skeptics and supporters, but it was mainly the former who attended Liu's townhall meetings, where participants suggested that the comptroller investigate whether both of these programs were accomplishing their goals.
March 10, 2011
Comptroller rejects $20 million teacher recruitment contract
Comptroller John Liu rejected a $20 million contract for teacher recruitment today, calling the proposal wasteful given the city's current fiscal climate. Yet the main reason for the comptroller's refusal came down to paperwork. A spokesman for the comptroller's office said that the five-year contract with The New Teacher Project was rejected this morning because of problems with the DOE's submission. In reviewing the contract, officials in the comptroller's office said that the DOE did not include information on conflicts of interest or what the dates of service would be. The department can choose to resubmit the contract. The New Teacher Project, or TNTP, is a non-profit that handles the recruitment and training of New York City's Teaching Fellows. It also studies teacher job markets around the country. In a statement sent to reporters, Liu — a possible candidate in the next mayoral election — said he objected to the contract's premise. The city does not need to spend money recruiting new teachers, he said. “Twenty million dollars to recruit teachers as the DOE insists on laying off thousands of teachers seems curious at best,” Liu said.
July 19, 2010
City backs away from sweeping contract plan after Liu protests
Protests from Comptroller John Liu have prompted the city to scrap a proposal that would have let it enter into certain contracts without individual approval…
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