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July 17, 2013
City's bid to site schools before Bloomberg's exit draws criticism
Supporters of Martin Van Buren High School held a press conference Tuesday to oppose what they said are the Department of Education's plans to open a new school in the building in the future. The department is under fire for trying to put plans in place for after Mayor Bloomberg leaves office. The Bloomberg administration's efforts to keep school changes moving after it exits office, which have picked up in recent months, are attracting growing resistance from critics who say the city is overstepping. On Thursday, the teachers union plans to file suit to stop the Department of Education from crafting plans to open, move, or shrink schools after Mayor Bloomberg exits office at the end of the year. Its press advisory says the department is planning to "cement a dozen or more" school space-sharing plans over the next five months, to begin in 2014 or later. In fact, the Panel for Educational Policy this year has already approved more than that number of co-locations, grade truncations, and new schools to open eight months after Bloomberg's replacement takes office. Some of the plans that the panel has signed off on include charter school sitings, which tend to elicit the most controversy of any space changes, and a few would not take effect until 2015, nearly two years into the next mayor's term. Department of Education spokesman Devon Puglia said the proposals have all been part of the regular planning process.
March 19, 2013
At council budget hearing, talk turns to high school admissions
City Councilman Mark Weprin raised the issue of high school admissions during a City Council budget hearing today. A middle school in eastern Queens has been hit particularly hard by the limits of the city's high school admissions system, according to a local elected official who wants a new high school program opened to serve shut-out eighth-graders. City Councilman Mark Weprin announced during a council hearing today that 67 students at M.S. 72 in Springfield Gardens wound up without a match last week when high school admissions decisions came out. The students made up 20 percent of the eighth grade, meaning that M.S. 72 students went unmatched at twice the citywide rate. "There are 67 kids who think they did something wrong," Weprin said. But their only offense, he said, is that students at M.S. 72 — which posts lower-than-average test scores but has a selective program — often don't want to go to the high school most likely to accept them.
June 6, 2011
Rhee's Students First campaign tries to pressure politicians
Screenshot of the campaign page against the UFT/NAACP lawsuit (click to enlarge) Michelle Rhee’s new advocacy organization is jumping into the fight between the NAACP and charter school families with a new email campaign that has been flooding elected officials' inboxes since Friday. The campaign targets elected officials who co-signed a lawsuit, along with the teachers union and the NAACP, demanding that the Bloomberg administration halt its plans to close struggling district schools and replace them with charters. Students First, which Rhee founded last year, sponsored the campaign, titled "Tell NYC Officials: Don't Decrease Charter School Space." “Remove Your Name from the Charter School Lawsuit,” reads the subject line in the identical emails, which has been sent to the dozen officials listed as plaintiffs in the suit. In four days, more than 550 emails have been sent from people from all over New York State. "New York needs more quality public school options,” the email reads. "That is why I ask that you remove your name from the lawsuit that threatens to close several existing charter s ychools [sic] and to prevent others from enrolling new children. This action is tantamount to condemning thousands of kids to failing schools who otherwise would have an opportunity at a great education."
September 25, 2009
Superintendents need more than two aides, lawmakers say
State lawmakers are warning that if the Department of Education doesn't comply with the new governance law immediately, they will try to force them to. School officials came under attack earlier this week when they laid out their time-table for implementing changes ordered by the legislature. The law required that community superintendents work exclusively "predominantly" with schools in the districts where they are assigned. Education department officials said that it would take a full school year to make that happen. Assembly members critical of the department said this week that was too long. "It's violating, certainly, the spirit of the law," said Assemblyman Alan Maisel of Brooklyn. Maisel said that if the department continued to defy what he said was the intent of the law, legislators in Albany do have one recourse--amending the legislation. "There's no law that says we couldn't come back and come up with another piece of legislation," he said.
July 30, 2009
Assembly members unenthusiastic about parent training center
A bill that would create a parent-training center is expected to sail through the Senate next week. But it could face an uphill battle in the Assembly. Assembly members said today that they had serious doubts that the state should spent money on a parent-training center when the city's school system has already gone through a round of budget cuts. Others were skeptical that parents of public school students would benefit from training. The center would cost the state $1.6 million, and would be housed at CUNY. "It sounds like a colossal waste of money to me," said Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Queens). "I know people want to have parent training, but our problem has never been that the parents don't know what they're doing, it's that there's no power locally," he said. "Obviously the senators seem to think they have a deal, but no one has checked with us," Weprin said. Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan) was equally unenthusiastic. "I'm not a fan of the idea of parent training centers," he said. "If we want a better relationship between parents and the DOE [Department of Education] it's not about parents needing to be trained better, it's about making sure the DOE is listening to parents." "It seems like a boondoggle to me," he added.
June 16, 2009
Silver's bill clears its last hurdle before tomorrow's Assembly vote
ALBANY, NY — One branch of the state government is functioning today. Lawmakers in the Assembly pushed Silver's mayoral control bill through the ways and means committee this afternoon, readying the bill for a final vote tomorrow. The bill immediately passed with no discussion. At least three Assembly members voted against Silver's plan, including Mark Weprin and Jeff Aubry of Queens and Deborah Glick of Manhattan. Aubry said he was concerned that the bill did not place fixed terms on members of the citywide school board and that it gives the mayor a majority of the appointees to the Panel for Educational Policy. Both he and Glick are supporters of the "Better Schools Act." Tomorrow, the Assembly will vote on the bill, and even its most vocal critics agree that its passage is guaranteed. UPDATE 2 (from Elizabeth): Billy Easton of the Campaign for Better Schools points out that nothing is final, even if the Assembly bill passes. "Tomorrow is an Assembly vote on their initial proposal," he said. "That does not mean that that’s the final vote that they will take on this matter. We have to see what unfolds." Easton added that lobbyists for the campaign are meeting with members from both the Assembly and the Senate. Exactly how negotiations between the two houses will unfold, however, is almost impossible to figure out. Anna reports from Albany that she only persuaded one senator to talk to her about mayoral control today — and his response was to say, "It can’t stay the way it is," and walk away laughing.
May 22, 2009
After Senate standstill, Assembly will start mayoral control talks
The state Senate ground to a standstill on the question of who should control the city's public schools this week, but a consensus among members of the Assembly looks like it will be easier to come by — and it could come soon. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told New York City members this week that he will hold the Assembly Democrats' first conference on the issue next week, according to a member who was there, Mark Weprin of Queens. The conference will kick off formal talks within the Democratic conference about whether to reauthorize, revise, or scrap the 2002 law that granted control of the city's public schools to the mayor. Several Assembly members are already putting together legislation on the subject, much of it influenced by the constellation of advocacy groups that are bombarding Albany this week. A slew of Assembly members are standing behind recommendations put out by the Campaign for Better Schools, while bills in line with the recommendations of Betsy Gotbaum's commission on school governance and the Parent Commission on School Governance are said to be on the way. Assemblyman Alan Maisel of Brooklyn today introduced a bill, backed by the city principals' union, that would beef up the power of superintendents. But the conference would be the first chance for Democrats to try to work out a consensus on the issue. The bills currently in circulation clash with each other on several points. More importantly, they also clash with the position of the powerful speaker, Silver, who supports giving the mayor a majority of appointees on the citywide school board.
March 25, 2009
Sparring over how much test prep happens, and what prep means
A lineup of Department of Education officials challenged Assemblyman Mark Weprin's assertion that the public schools are overrun by excessive test prep. <em>GothamSchools</em> Another snippet…
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.
February 25, 2009
After criticism, Klein embarks on a sit-down spree with lawmakers
Chancellor Joel Klein conducted at least one of his meetings with lawmakers in his office at Tweed Courthouse. After suffering a beating from legislators who accused him of being rudely unresponsive to their concerns since taking office in 2003, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is taking the hint and reaching out. In the last few weeks, Klein has walked Mark Weprin, a Queens lawmaker who is one of his sharpest critics on the Assembly's education committee, through his Tweed Courthouse headquarters; sat down with a handful of other lawmakers; and made appointments with more, including the committee's chairwoman, Catherine Nolan. He has also begun, through his staff, to send out prompt replies to lawmakers' requests. "We’re getting letters answered, we’re getting information that we’ve asked for," a spokeswoman for Nolan, Kathleen Whynot, said. "We have a really good working relationship right now with some of the DOE staff, which has been a nice addition." Assembly members said the outreach began after they launched a series of five hearings on the subject of mayoral control — the governance structure that Klein strongly supports, but which several lawmakers have criticized as authoritarian. The state legislature handed the mayor control in 2002, but the law they wrote sunsets this year, and so many in Albany are rolling up their sleeves and hoping to revise it. The hearings were a chance for citizens to give their thoughts on how they'd like the law changed (or not). They also became opportunities for the lawmakers to air their concerns. Several of the complaints had to do specifically with Klein and his staff, who lawmakers said frequently failed to respond even to basic questions and concerns. The complaints accelerated at a hearing held in Manhattan where Klein himself testified, sitting before a row of lawmakers who took turns rebuking him.
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