dennis walcott

New York

In court, UFT and NAACP ask for immediate halt to closure plans

New York

Layoffs to take center stage at tomorrow's City Council hearing

Chancellor Dennis Walcott will take the hotseat tomorrow morning before a City Council whose members are growing increasingly restive about the city's proposed teacher layoffs. According to the city's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the department is $350 million short of being able to fund its teaching spots. Mayor Bloomberg is pushing to close that gap by eliminating more than 6,000 teaching spots, 4,100 by layoffs. Insiders say council members are likely to grill Walcott on why the city's layoff estimates haven't wavered, despite two changes in chancellors since Bloomberg first unveiled them in November. They are also likely to demand why the city didn't cut other parts of the department's budget that doesn't directly affect the classroom, such as transportation and special education, both of which are projected to see a big spending boost next year. Many council members have said they don't think layoffs are necessary to balance the city's budget, and a few say they won't vote for a budget that includes layoffs. Robert Jackson, chair of the council's education committee, is among the elected officials set to appear at a rally against the layoffs proposal an hour before the hearing's 10 a.m. start. He'll be joined by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who has been lobbying against the proposed layoffs on his own; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who advocates cutting contract spending to boost the staff budget; and other officials. But most council members haven't stated where they stand so clearly. Tomorrow's hearing is a chance for them to signal their intentions, offer suggestions for alternative cuts, and construct a roadmap for a month of political jockeying over the city's spending plans.
New York

NYC teacher discipline model praised, but Walcott seeks change

The city needs changes in state law to speed and ease teacher firing procedures, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told members of the State Senate in Albany today. He asked legislators to change who judges teacher discipline cases and also the legal standard those cases must meet. Yet the city’s rules are actually the toughest in the state and in many ways are a model for reform, state and union officials told the senators during a hearing on the state’s 3020-a process, the legal process that governs the discipline of tenured teachers. Districts that want to terminate a tenured teacher must prove their case in a 3020-a hearing. The hearings process has long been seen as unnecessarily time-consuming and expensive. Statewide, cases routinely take as long as two years to be resolved and some principals choose not to bring cases against teachers rather than have to take on the long and burdensome 3020-a process, senators said. “I really haven’t met anyone who thinks it's going swimmingly,” said State Sen. John Flanagan, who convened the hearing. Until recently, New York City was a case study for how 3020-a hearings could drag on. By last summer, the city was paying more than 700 teachers under investigation to report each day to “rubber rooms.” But after Mayor Bloomberg turned his attention to the rubber rooms, the city and teachers union reached an agreement to close them by speeding up the hearing schedule, paying neutral arbitrators to work more days, and rotating cases randomly among the arbitrators. The backlog was cleared of all but 16 cases in just four months, by the end of 2010, and the accelerated timeline remains in place.
New York

Teachers union lawsuit takes aim at 22 school closures

For the second time in two years, the city teachers union is suing to stop the Bloomberg administration from closing schools and opening new ones in their place. The union's lawsuit, which it filed along with the NAACP and a host of elected officials and parents, challenges plans to close 22 of the 26 schools that education officials hope to phase out this year. Last year, the union successfully stopped the city from closing 19 schools by persuading a State Supreme Court judge that the closures violated various requirements in the state's education law. These ranged from not following the law about public notification of hearing dates to failing to failing to map out the predicted impact of school closures. This year, the city took pains to follow public notification rules, beginning the process earlier in the year, and by last month, 26 schools had ended up on the chopping block. Perhaps as a result, the United Federation of Teachers' argument against closures this year is broader and more complicated. And unlike last year, the union is also seeking to prevent charter schools from moving into public school buildings, charging that the city did not prove the co-locations would be equitable. “The department continues to insist that phase-outs and closures of schools and co-locating untested schools is the answer, while depriving the remaining students in those designated, 22 schools of the resources to succeed academically,” said Kenneth Cohen of the NAACP at a press conference this morning. Chancellor Dennis Walcott — who said he learned about the suit not from UFT President Michael Mulgrew but from a reporter this morning — said he was "saddened" by the suit. As deputy mayor, Walcott decried the NAACP last year for its involvement in the school closure lawsuit because he said the group prevented the city from improving school choices. "We totally disagree with the union," Walcott said. "We have met the letter of the law and we will continue to meet the letter of the law as far as these schools are concerned."
New York

After massive leadership turnover, new deputies are named

A month after taking over a Department of Education hemorrhaging its leadership, Chancellor Dennis Walcott today announced a slew of high-level appointments. For two deputy chancellor slots, Walcott turned to veteran educators who made their careers in the city schools. David Weiner, a one-time city principal who is currently Philadelphia's chief accountability officer, will become deputy chancellor for talent, labor, and innovation. In that position, he will manage hot-button issues including labor relations and the city's Innovation Zone of schools experimenting with technology. The founding principal of PS 503 in Brooklyn, Weiner succeeds John White, who took over the Recovery School District in New Orleans at the beginning of May. A 30-year veteran of the city school system, Dorita Gibson will take on a newly created position, deputy chancellor for equity and access. She will supervise District 79, the network of alternative schools previously headed by Cami Anderson, who was named Newark's next schools chief last week. District 79 will still get a new superintendent, according to DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz. Gibson will also lead initiatives that "focus on ending long-standing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities and directing supports to communities most in need," according to the city's press release. Some of those initiatives previously fell under the purview of Santiago Taveras, the deputy chancellor for engagement who departed for the private sector earlier this year. The appointments signal that Walcott is moving to stabilize the department, which has experienced rapid leadership change at the top since ex-Chancellor Joel Klein left at the end of last year. They also confirm Walcott's intention to continue policies established during Klein's tenure while also asserting new priorities.
New York

City panel votes to close three more schools, bringing total to 27

New York

Walcott tells principals he'll reduce their paperwork load

In his first policy speech earlier this month, new Chancellor Dennis Walcott extended an olive branch to teachers. Now he's reaching out to principals, telling them that simplifying their jobs is one of his top goals. "One of my top priorities is to free up more of your time so that you can focus on the critical tasks that directly improve student achievement," Walcott wrote in this week's Principals Weekly email, the first to contain a letter from him. While Walcott has said repeatedly that he plans to continue the school policies that Mayor Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein established, his note indicates a subtle — but meaningful — divergence. Klein considered principals the CEOs of their schools and emphasized their management responsibilities, many of which brought new paperwork requirements. Walcott's letter focuses instead on principals' role as instructional leaders. Walcott told principals he would starting working soon with their union and the groups that support them to "reduce even further the burden on your time of non-instructional tasks." Teachers and principals have complained in recent years about mounting levels of paperwork they are required to complete. A teacher who retired early in 2009 cited the mounting paperwork as a chief reason for her exit from the classroom. And research suggests that the burden of paperwork tends to fall most heavily on low-performing, high-needs schools, which compose much of the city's school system. Walcott's complete message to principals is below.