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New York

Parents rally at City Hall, but their protest is directed elsewhere

New York

StudentsFirstNY adds an educator in time for Cuomo task force

Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky taught a class at Bronx Academy of Letters in May. The school's principal has joined an education advocacy group, StudentsFirstNY. When New York City faced a budget shortfall three years ago, Bronx Academy of Letters principal Anna Hall faced a crisis at her school. Because state law requires that layoffs start with the newest teachers, threatened cuts meant more than 50 percent of Hall's strongest teachers would be cut loose: They had logged relatively few years in the school system. "That was the most harrowing, horrible experience," Hall said. The layoffs never materialized. But the scare cemented Hall's belief that teachers shouldn't be protected from layoffs based solely on their experience. The experience was one of many that Hall said drew her to her new job: as director of education for StudentsFirstNY, the state's spinoff of Michelle Rhee's national education advocacy group. StudentsFirstNY has kept a low profile in the three months since its splashy entrance onto the education advocacy scene. It spent about $10,000 on a mailer to support Hakeem Jeffries in his successful Congressional primary campaign against Charles Barron last month, according to federal election filings. But the group has steered clear of some more heated education debates, including the city's now-failed effort to close two dozen schools through a federal turnaround model, and it has not yet fully articulated its policy agenda for the next year. That seems poised to change today. Hall is set to share her personal hopes for policy change at a public meeting in the Bronx of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's education reform commission.
New York

DOE's public affairs director leaving to teach in Central America

Lenny Speiller, the education department's head of public affairs whose stint was checkered by a lobbying incident that got him into trouble with city investigators, is making an unusual career move. He's moving to Honduras to become a teacher. Speiller's exit is part of a restructuring within the Department of Education's communication and legislative offices meant to improve how the DOE communicates with members of the public, Chief Operating Officer Veronica Conforme told staff in an email this week. Speiller's role in charge of public affairs was to work with elected officials and community-based organizations on DOE initiatives and to curry support for the department's legislative goals. Under a four-office merger, public affairs will be folded into the External Affairs office. The other public-facing shops getting absorbed are: Communications, Digital Communications, and the Chancellor's Strategic Communications Group (a spokeswoman said the last one helps Dennis Walcott read and respond to emails from the public). Jessica Scaperotti, a former Cuomo and Bloomberg aide who joined the department in April, will over see the new streamlined office. Elizabeth Rose, a public affairs official, will temporarily fill in for Speiller while a permanent replacement is found. In announcing Speiller's departure to staff, Conforme didn't offer much of a reflection on his two-and-a-half year tenure, which was filled with a busy legislative agenda. During his time, Speiller worked on the successful push to raise the state's cap on  charter schools and on the less-successful effort to reform teacher tenure laws. But it was his work on the issue of seniority-based layoff laws that got him into trouble.
New York

Investigation confirms that a DOE official urged illegal lobbying

The head of the Department of Education's public affairs office broke the law when he urged school employees to engage in political lobbying, according to a report today from Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon. During "Lobby Week" in March, Lenny Speiller, executive director of the DOE's Office of Public Affairs, inserted language into an email to parent coordinators asking them to share a petition calling on lawmakers to do away with seniority layoff rules for teachers, investigators concluded. Mayor Bloomberg was pushing the policy change heavily at the time. But the state constitution prohibits public employees from engaging in private political lobbying. Parent coordinators told us that the lobbying had begun months earlier. We reported about the advocacy efforts, which the city immediately disavowed, on March 16. The next day, teachers union president Michael Mulgrew filed an official complaint against the lobbying, and SCI launched an investigation. The union opposes changes to seniority layoff rules. The petition asked lawmakers to “allow the City to keep it’s [sic] most effective teachers by ending the State’s ‘Last-In, First-Out’ policy, allowing teachers to be retained based on their performance, rather than just seniority.” Speiller told investigators that he suggested that language but didn't expect it to be included in the petition that parent coordinators were asked to distribute. But other DOE employees said he made clear that his revisions would be included.
New York

Hearings leave lawmakers more turned off to mayoral control

New York

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.