As city revises space-sharing plans, settlement looks possible

A contentious legal battle between the city and the teachers union could be inching toward a settlement as school officials race to re-write plans that are key to the dispute.

In the past month, city officials have revised each of 20 space-sharing plans outlining how charter schools would be housed inside district buildings. The way that previous plans allocated space between charter and district schools is a central criticism of the teachers union’s lawsuit.

The sweeping revision effort is in direct response to the lawsuit, filed May 18, Chancellor Dennis Walcott acknowledged in a statement.

Several of the plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit praised the revisions and indicated that they might lead to an out-of-court settlement.

In a conference call with reporters, Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, a lead plaintiff in the suit, said his organization’s ultimate goal was to place all students in their school of choice. “We are open to all options to settle this suit,” he said.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in an interview today that he was “happy” with the efforts. UFT lawyers, he said, have expressed cautious optimism that the revised plans would satisfy their demands.

The city’s move means that the plans, many of which were already approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, will require new votes by the PEP and new public hearings to solicit community feedback on their terms. The city began holding new hearings this week.

The most significant revisions made to the plans, called Educational Impact Statements and Building Utilization Plans, will allocate more time in common school building space — such as libraries, cafeterias and gymnasiums — to students enrolled in district schools.

Previously, the plans uniformly gave each school equal time in shared spaces, regardless of the school enrollment, an education official said. But now the DOE is dividing up space based on how large each school population is.

City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson, also a plaintiff, said that a settlement was possible if it included a commitment to allocating school building space more equitably. “Their move toward equity and fairness is a direction they should have moved toward a long time ago,” Jackson said today.

The lawsuit alleges that the Department of Education has not complied with state education law requiring students to receive an equal allotment of resources. Many of the specific complaints detailed in court documents targeted the shared space inequities.

School officials revised the plans in the last month, beginning even before the union filed its lawsuit. Over the next 19 days, officials will hold joint public hearings for all 20 charter schools targeted for co-location, setting up a June 27 PEP meeting that will have to vote on each plan.

Jealous’ comments came in a conference call with bloggers, which he said was organized to clarify the NAACP’s legal position. Noticeably absent on the call was Hazel Dukes, the president of New York’s NAACP chapter, who was initially listed on invitations as a speaker.

Dukes has been a public presence for the organization since the lawsuit was filed last month, but she sparked controversy with comments she reportedly made to a charter school parent on June 1.

In an email, Dukes said the parent was “doing the business of slave masters,” according to the New York Post.

Jealous described the Post report as a “mischaracterization” but declined to condemn the email.

The suit’s next crossroads is scheduled for June 21, when a state judge will decide whether the city can immediately move forward with its co-location and closure plans.

Meanwhile, the joint public hearings have already begun. Tonight is the co-location hearing for Bronx Academy Success.

Mixed messages

Strange graffiti scrawled on New York City education department headquarters, police say

Strange graffiti was scrawled on the education department headquarters.

Before 7 a.m. on Tuesday, cryptic messages were scrawled on the Corinthian columns of Tweed Courthouse, the historic education department headquarters in lower Manhattan.

The message meant to be conveyed by the graffiti, written in royal blue spray paint, was unclear. It was largely a rambling series of words related to social justice such as “unconstitutional murder lower economic education feudal class” and “superior erudite tyrants,” according to the New York City Police Department.

An investigation has been launched, but police said no description is available of who might have left the graffiti or why.

The education department’s maintenance team quickly began cleaning up the mess with a large pressure cleaner.

Tweed Courthouse is a New York City landmark and we’re disappointed that someone would vandalize the building,” spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in an email.

The courthouse was designated as a landmark in 1984, and became the education department headquarters in the early 2000s after extensive renovations.

It took two decades to build and was completed in 1881, according to city records. Construction was interrupted by the trial of the legendary Tammany Hall boss William M. Tweed, who embezzled money through the project. He eventually was tried in an unfinished courtroom there and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Police didn’t say what types of charges or fines the tagger might face.

Superintendent search

Newark’s school board may pick a new superintendent today. Here’s what you need to know

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

The Newark school board is expected to choose a new superintendent at its meeting Tuesday evening — the first time it has done so in more than two decades.

In February, the state returned control of the 35,000-student school system to the school board, restoring its authority to pick a schools chief. Now, the board is set to choose from four superintendent finalists at its meeting at 6 tonight at Speedway Academies.

Before the big decision, here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened so far.

  • The four finalists are:
  • You can find their official bios here.
  • They each gave 30-minute presentations about themselves at a public forum on Friday, where the audience was not allowed to ask questions. The board interviewed the candidates in private on Saturday.
  • The finalists were selected according to a state plan that the district must follow to fully return to local control.
  • The plan says that the search must be led by a seven-person committee that includes three school board members, a state representative appointed by the state education commissioner, and three people with a “longstanding connection to Newark” jointly chosen by Mayor Ras Baraka and the commissioner.
  • The board hired the firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to conduct a national search (as required by the plan), and presented candidates to the search committee.
  • The plan called for the committee to select three finalists for the full board to vote on. However, board chair Josephine Garcia requested four choices instead of three. The state education commissioner agreed, and four finalists were presented.
  • The plan sets a deadline of May 31 for the board to choose a superintendent and that person to accept the offer.