I sent this letter to the editors of the NY Post on Friday, in which I highlight their hypocrisy: in an editorial, they professed to be concerned about the fact that city funds have been awarded preK programs without proper background checks, while advocating that these funds be given Success Academy charter schools without a contract and with no city oversight. This is despite the voluminous evidence that Success charter schools abuse their students in myriad ways.
On Friday, yet another lawsuit was filed against a Success charter school by NY Lawyers for Public Interest, Advocates for Justice and Stroock Stroock and Lavan for violating student rights, particularly young children with special needs. See the press release below my letter about this new lawsuit, on top of several other lawsuits and federal civil rights complaints filed during the last few months against this charter chain.
Though I gave the NY Post a chance to respond before posting my letter, they have not. Clearly, just as in the issue of mayoral control, children are being used as pawns by the charter lobby and their allies in a larger political game against de Blasio and in support of their privatization agenda.
From: Leonie Haimson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 11:53 AM
Subject: absurd hypocrisy re preK funds
Cc: Leonie Haimson <email@example.com
To the editors:
I was astonished to read the editorial in today’s NY Post (Mayor de Blasio’s war on quality pre-K
), claiming that the NYC Department of Education’s sloppy contracting with preK programs that have not undergone background checks or have been found to have questionable records justifies giving Success Academy preK funds without requiring them to sign a contract or undergo city oversight. The DOE’s lax attitude with vendors who have exhibited waste and even fraud has a long history that was evident during the previous mayor’s administration
Yet Success charters have exhibited years of documented instances of abuse and been repeatedly sued in recent months for violating student rights, including suspending small children repeatedly without due process, withholding instruction and failing to provide them with their mandated services, refusing to let them go to the bathroom, and calling the police when they have exhibited minor behavioral problems. Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of Success Charters, also flagrantly violated a former student’s privacy rights by posting online and sharing with the media his disciplinary file, full of trumped up charges, in order to retaliate against his mother who had appeared on television to speak about the numerous abuses he had suffered at the hands of school officials.
In my view, Success Academy charters should receive no public preK funds until and unless they have been found innocent of all these charges, no less awarded city money to expand preK without adequate oversight. The fact that the NY Post editors should use the city’s lax contracting practices to try to justify the provision of these funds to Success charters without the most minimal legal requirements shows how they are less interested in ensuring quality preK and accountability with taxpayer dollars than serving as the handmaiden to Eva Moskowitz and the charter industry as a whole.
I intend to blog about this on Monday; if you have any response, please email it to me by Sunday evening so I can post your comments along with my letter.
New York, NY 10011 124 Waverly Pl.
Class Size Matters
|PS 31 when it was still standing|
Today it was announced there will be a mixed use development
at 425 Grand Concourse in the
Mott Haven section of the Bronx. A large apartment complex will be built on city owned land where until recently, a landmark public school building PS 31 once
The city awarded the project to Trinity Financial and MBD Community Housing Corporation, and will be financing it with funds from its ten year capital plan. The city also upzoned the site
, to double its development rights and density.
The city will finance the construction through funds in the mayor's 10-year housing plan, which has as its goal to create or preserve 200,000 affordable units.
Yet instead of a public school going into this building, a charter school will be built instead:
The development will include 241 apartments that will be rented to tenants earning between 60 and 100 percent of the area median income — $46,613 to $63,700 for families of three.
The 24-story tower is also being billed as the city's largest passive-house development, meaning that it will adhere to stringent energy efficiency measures. The administration said it would consume 30 percent of the energy of a traditional housing development.
The site will house a charter school, a medical facility, space for cultural programs and social services and a supermarket.
P.S. 31 was built in 1899 in the "Collegiate Gothic" style by the innovative municipal architect C. B. J. Snyder, who also designed a huge number of other schools during his tenure as the city's Superintendent of School Buildings. Long referred to as "The Castle on the Concourse." Its commanding presence in the Mott Haven neighborhood, the school was granted landmark status in 1986, before its closure in 1997. Since then, it's fallen into extreme disrepair and is consistently threatened with destruction, with little to no effort made on the part of the city to restore the building to its former dignity. The building has long been seen as a battleground site for Bronx residents and preservation advocates across the city.
In June 2013, the city argued that P.S. 31 was a "public hazard" and couldn't withstand any more storms, but two years later, the building remains standing and in virtually the same condition. Engineers hired by nonprofit SoBRO argued that "although structurally unsound, the building is salvageable," to such a degree that even Goldman Sachs has expressed interest in investing in the restoration process.
Despite the fact that the city had let the building deteriorate badly, even the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted not to strip the landmark status of the building and urged the city to preserve it. Yet their vote had no impact on the city's decision. As the NY Times reported in 2014 .
The Landmarks Preservation Commission had strong words for the owner of an abandoned landmark in the South Bronx — the elegant and imposing “Castle on the Concourse” — which is so dangerously deteriorated that emergency demolition may be the only resort.
“It’s been a disgraceful stewardship,” Elizabeth Ryan, a commission member, said at a public hearing on Dec. 17.
A fellow commissioner, Michael Devonshire, seconded the sentiment. “I find it completely despicable,” he said.
As remarkable as their anger was the identity of the landlord: New York City.... As a landlord, the city is treated differently by the landmarks law than a private owner, who must obtain approval from the commission before altering or demolishing an individual landmark, or a building within a historic district.
By contrast, a city agency receives only a nonbinding advisory report from the commission, which it may embrace, consider or disregard as it chooses....
Roberta Brandes Gratz, an author on urban affairs and a former member of the landmarks commission, took a longer — but no happier — view. “What a sour note to end the Bloomberg administration landmarks legacy,” she wrote on Facebook.
“The city is a terrible steward of its landmarks and frequently lets them deteriorate ’til they can make this excuse, even though alternative engineers show rescue and reuse possible. Watch a developer scoop this up.”
“As a proud graduate of P.S. 31, I was sorry to see my beloved school building fall into such disrepair, and even sorrier to see it demolished. However, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) recognized the need for new life and new development at this historic site, and has moved to bring welcome new affordable housing units, commercial activity and a reinvigorated Garrison Playground to the Lower Concourse neighborhood."
Sadly, these artifacts, including the PS 31 sign, will now apparently decorate a building housing a privately run charter school instead.
1. On Friday May 6
, Dr. Betty Rosa, the new Chancellor of the NY Board of Regents, will be speaking about her vision to transform our public schools. Juan Gonzalez, investigative reporter, will moderate and ask questions.
Dr. Rosa is an experienced and eloquent former NYC principal and Superintendent who has been critical of many aspects of the status quo. In her first press conference after being chosen as Chancellor, Dr. Rosa said she would have opted her own children out of the state exams if they were still in school.
Please come! Juan always asks great questions but the audience will have a chance to ask theirs too. A flyer you can post or distribute at your schools is here.
Another version of the flyer in English and Spanish is here
When: Friday May 6 at 6 PM
George Washington Educational Campus, 549 Audubon Ave. (near 192 st.)
Educational forum featuring Dr. Betty Rosa and moderator Juan Gonzalez
This forum is co-sponsored by Class Size Matters, CEC 6 and the Youth and Education Committee of CB12M.
Also save the date!
The Class Size Matters Annual "Skinny" award dinner will be held on Thursday June 9
; special guests and location TBA soon. This is always one of the most fun events of the year so you should really try to make it!
Sue Edelman of the NY Post reports on how the Mayor’s office
asked a city-related nonprofit called the Fund for the City of NY to cover the costs of preK providers who had evaded taxes, engaged in fraud, failed to hire sufficient qualified staff and/or exhibited other unspecified problems.
Now the DoE is asking the NYC Comptroller to retroactively approve these contracts so the city can reimburse the Fund to the tune of $1.36 million, in an apparent end run around the procurement rules.
What the story doesn't mention is that the DoE continues to ask the Panel for Educational Policy to approve payments to preK and/or Special Education providers before background checks are complete- and to approve contracts with vendors where investigations have already revealed serious issues in the past.
This behavior is of questionable legality and risks taxpayer funds and kids' lives.
More details about the problems with these preK vendors is revealed in the Addendum of this month’s RA's
Patrick Sullivan and I, on behalf of our Citizens Contract Oversight Committee, highlighted these in our comments sent to the PEP before the vote, as well as other unresolved questions, pertaining to the Amazon contract
and special education vendors
who were found to have spotty records.
In terms of the Amazon contract, we had pointed out
that there was no cost-benefit analysis of how much it will cost to provide e-readers to hundreds of thousands students if they are to receive 30-40% of assigned readings digitally, as the DOE plans; no analysis of the risk to student privacy if teachers will now be able to track student behavior online; and no analysis of how Amazon may access to their digital profiles to engage in targeting advertising to students and enlarge the corporation's massive market share, which further enables their monopolistic and abusive practices
, protested by publishers and authors.
Finally, there was no mention of the fact that numerous studies have shown
that students who access their reading assignments through digital devices comprehend and retain significantly less.
In terms of the special education and preK contracts, there continues to be a troubling lack of care in the DOE’s practice of rushing these contracts through without sufficient information in advance, or even after background checks have shown them to have engaged in activities that would bar them from other city contracts.
Yet not one PEP member brought up any of these issues during this month’s Contract Committee meeting or during the PEP meeting itself.
I have been told that there are backroom discussions where PEP members privately air their concerns to DOE officials, but the public doesn't have the chance to hear the questions asked or the responses. The private nature of these discussions sidesteps the open transparent process that is supposed to prevail for a governmental board, and deprives the public of their right to know.
Sue Edelman asked me if the contracting process was better or worse under Bloomberg.
I said that I thought it was about the same because a lot of rotten contracts
were also approved during those years.
Yet at least from 2007 onwards, when Patrick Sullivan served on the PEP
as the representative of the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, he consistently challenged the DOE’s decisions and forced officials to respond to questions in a public forum.
In 2009, as part of the effort made by the Legislature to improve accountability when Mayoral control was renewed, the PEP was given the authority to approve DOE contracts
, because of all the abuses that had occurred as a result of corrupt and wasteful spending.
Patrick was frequently supported in his challenges by the Queens rep Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Brooklyn rep Kelvin Diamond and the Bronx rep Monica Major.
Yet never did the PEP actually vote down a contract during the Bloomberg years, as it was controlled by the Mayoral supermajority and the Staten Island rep which together served as a reliable rubber stamp. The Panel did retroactively rescind a contract
awarded to the tutoring company Champion Learning Center, after the NYC comptroller's office had rejected it due to an ongoing federal investigation.
Neither has the PEP voted down a contract since de Blasio took office, to my knowledge. Even the outrageously inflated $635 million contract for Custom Computer Specialists
was approved 10-1, though the company had previously engaged in a corrupt kickback scheme.
Only Robert Powell, the Bronx rep, voted against it. Luckily, this contract was so outrageous and the media attention so intense that City Hall rejected it after the PEP vote.
Patrick resigned from the PEP in 2013
, as neither the new Manhattan BP nor the Mayor
would re-appoint him, and Robert Powell recently left the PEP as well.
Even so, we remain intent on publicizing the flaws in these contracts and in the DOE’s procurement process because not a dollar should be wasted when hundreds of thousands of NYC children are still crammed into overcrowded schools with classes of 30 or more, with the city claiming they can’t afford to do anything to address these issues.
Wednesday night's meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy was even more emotional than usual. I was watching the livestream to see if any of the numerous, highly questionable contracts that Patrick Sullivan and I had highlighted and had been written about in the media aroused any concerns – including the huge Amazon contract as well as the others going to preK and special education providers who had failed their background checks. Silly me. They were all approved unanimously, without a single comment or question. This new, supposedly more “independent” PEP has never yet to vote down a contract – even the $625 million contract awarded to the corrupt computer vendor that had engaged in a multi-million dollar kickback scheme a few years ago.
|Meyer Levin video screenshot; see below |
Similarly, all the various charter school co-locations and school closing schemes were approved as well, as well as a change in the fair student funding formula and the spending for nearly one billion dollars of the Smart School Bond Act, with few if any questions asked. I think there was one recusal for a Success Academy charter co-location – a school that is facing several lawsuits and civil rights complaints for violating children’s rights. Wow do I miss Patrick on the PEP!
Before the votes, however, there was something stirring to see from the audience, who as usual got three minutes each to address the Panel members.
First, there were plaintive remarks from teachers at the Renewal FLAG school in the Bronx that the DOE is closing, with a very emotional teacher Aixa Rodriguez explaining how the timing was awful, with the announcement made after the high school admission process had ended. Aixa had to explain to a pregnant Spanish-speaking teenager that she would have to find a new school nearby. It is not easy to find high schools with a LYFE program to provide child care once her baby was born. MORE leader Jia Lee was there, as well as other teachers to provide support, with one pointing out that so many of the struggling Renewal schools were burdened with charter co-locations that they might as well be called Removal schools instead.
Then civil rights attorney Norman Siegel then took his turn at the microphone, accompanied by several now-adult male graduates of orthodox Yeshiva schools from the n
group Yaffed, attesting to the near entire lack of instruction they had received as students in English, math and other academic subjects which put them at a huge disadvantage in life and asking for the Chancellor’s help. Though it is the Chancellor’s responsibility along with the State Education Department to ensure these schools are providing an “substantially equivalent” to what’s mandated for public schools, the DOE has apparently done nothing to follow through, and didn’t even answer the letter that Norman Siegel sent to her in December 2014.
This was followed by a phalanx of parents, teachers and alumnae protesting the planned invasion of Kings Collegiate charter school into the building of the Meyer Levin School of the Performing Arts in Flatbush, with the charter school supposed to take over the entire third floor where this middle school’s performing arts rooms are located. See the terrific video at the bottom of this post.
One after another, they spoke of what a unique school Meyer Levin is, especially as it’s the only performing arts middle school in this part of the borough, and how well the school had served its talented and enthusiastic students over many years. See the Carol Burris article in the Washington Post; or the article about this in the Daily News. In contrast, Kings Collegiate, one of the Uncommon charter chain, is a “no excuses” school with rigid disciplinary policies and some of the highest suspension rates in the city. You can sign a petition to save Meyer Levin School; and here’s a website with more about the issue.
Finally, there were parents, students, teachers and alumnae from one of the oldest and most celebrated progressive schools in NYC – Central Park East 1, founded by Deborah Meier in East Harlem nearly forty years ago. Unbelievably, the DOE has installed a new principal at the school who doesn’t believe in progressive education, and who appears to be doing everything she can to destroy it, from carrying out a witch hunt against veteran teachers who haven’t fallen in line, even calling young students into her office to try to “investigate” and build a case against them.
The principal has refused to meet with parents to discuss their concerns, and instead sent them letters, with the strong implication that black and brown children can’t learn in a progressive environment. At the PEP meeting, amazing alumnae from diverse backgrounds spoke about how this fabled school had literally changed their lives around. Parents, teachers and students eloquently described how the principal is destroying what makes the school so exceptional. DNA info has run articles on the school’s plight here and here. Here is their website. Please sign their petition which already has been signed by nearly two thirds of the current families at the schools.
What is so dispiriting is here are two, unique and successful schools, trying to do the right thing by their students against all odds, and provide them with an engaging, well-rounded education, and yet the DOE is trying to undermine them in the most unsubtle ways. In the case of the Meyer Levin Performing Arts School, the administration is proposing to take away their performing arts rooms -- to give them to an oppressive charter school. In the case of the progressive CPE1, by inserting a top-down, authoritarian principal who doesn’t believe in collaboration or progressive education.
These schools somehow survived the twelve ruthless years of Bloomberg and Klein’s reign of terror, and yet are being destroyed by de Blasio and Farina – despite the fact that these schools exemplify the supposed values of this supposedly progressive administration.
Below is a fantastic video made by the students at Meyer Levin; please watch and enjoy! Sorry for the occasional email alerts at the right of the screen– I filmed this off Facebook before it was taken down.
Meyer Levin video
from Class Size Matters
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