Thursday, December 23, 2010

DWC: Albany Road Trip

Thurs., Dec. 23, 7PM

See NY1 Story here and AP story here.

Just got back from Albany for the Deny Waiver Coalition Cathie Black Waiver law suit. I got up at 4AM so I will old off on the details of the court case and leave it to the video which is being processed tonight. And therein lies a tale.

I was told the other day to fax a request to tape and asked Chris Owens, one of the parent plaintiffs if he could take care of it and he did a great job but as of last night I hadn't received word from the court. Early this morning before I left I had an email from Chris with the letter attached. I printed them out and it turned out to be very lucky I did.

I left at 4:45 to pick up Lisa Donlan on the lower east side. Got there at 5:20. Lisa was loaded down with coffee, carrot cake and truffles. We hit a rest stop at around 7:30 where she treated me to the big meal with hot cakes at McDonalds (over 1300 calories - called my wife to give her the news and tell her to reinforce the floor boards.)

Hit Albany by 9AM, parked and headed to court house. Chris had told me I couldn't bring a camera in and he was right - I had to leave it with security - even my voice recorder.

Got to court room - 3 cases - Eric Snyder - parent, Roger Wareham and Norm Siegel. Siegel wasn't there yet - so I went up to clerk and asked about my faxed request to tape. She said she didn't get it. I gave her my copy - she said she'd go show it to the judge.

Judge Connolly came in with my letter and announced my request would be first on the agenda but he was waiting for Siegel and his partner Herb Tietelbaum. When they came he asked if anyone objected to my taping and of course the people suing didn't.

The reps defending Black - from  State Attorney General and NYC Corp council had differing responses. The former said no objection as long as I had proper press credentials but the Bloomberg rep of course objected because little ole me with my tiny camera shooting from the back would - as Noah Gotbaum tweeted:

They said the videotaping: "doesn't benefit the dignity of the court" (!)  You can't make this stuff up...

Judge Connolly, who seemed very reasonable and fair throughout, asked me to do a short presentation on my credentials. I wasn't exactly prepared but I said I was ed editor of The Wave and was also covering for the Chicago based Substance for print and video. Also that I had been chronicling ed events on video for a possible documentary. He asked how long it would take me to get ready and I said 5 minutes to go down. Mona Davids tweeted:
Bloomberg's lawyers are objecting to Norm Scott videotaping and recording the hearing. AG's office has no objections.
Yes, to democracy!! The judge approved Norm Scott's request despite Bloomberg's attorneys objections!!!!
Go Norm. Yippee!!!!
A woman also asked to tape and even though she didn't ask prior permission he was lenient and we raced down to get our stuff. We were joined by a woman who introduced herself as the NY Times' Sharron Otterman, whose work has been impressive, especially on Cathie Black, so it was a pleasure to meet her.

Here are some pics I took and this afternoon"s press release.

Norm Siegel

Eric Snyder

Patricia, Shino, Lisa

Mona and Patricia

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Norman Siegel (Attorney)          347-907-0867
Herbert Teitelbaum (Attorney)   518-441-9412
Mona Davids                                 917-340-8987
Noah E. Gotbaum                          917-658-3213
LupĂ© Todd (for Asm. Jeffries)      917-202-0116

Cathleen Black Waiver Hearing Completed In Albany 
Public School Parents Fighting for a Qualified Chancellor
See Victory in Court Challenge Against Commissioner Steiner

Earlier today, attorneys Norman Siegel and Herbert Teitelbaum appeared before Judge Gerald Connolly in the Albany County Supreme Court on behalf of 13 parent Petitioners and one teacher to challenge New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner's granting of a waiver to Cathleen Black so she may assume the office of Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.  Ms. Black was nominated by Mayor Bloomberg on November 9, 2010 to succeed outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein.  Commissioner Steiner granted the waiver on November 29.

The Petitioners, including New York State Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn / District 57) and members of the Deny Waiver Coalition, have contended that Ms. Black does not have the qualifications necessary under New York State law to oversee the educational system that serves their children and, furthermore, that Commissioner Steiner misinterpreted State law and exceeded his authority in granting the waiver to Ms. Black.
The parents, educators, and community members now await the Court's decision, which may come before the end of the next week.  Regardless of the outcome, however, the legal challenges to Steiner's waiver have already confirmed that Black's appointment by Mayor Bloomberg and the granting of the waiver by Commissioner Steiner represent a serious "disconnect" between these policymakers and the citizens they serve.  New Yorkers recognize this problem and have opposed the appointment of Ms. Black by a margin of two-to-one.  Since early November, the Deny Waiver Coalition has worked to make sure that the voices of all New Yorkers are heard. 

As parent Petitioner Noah E. Gotbaum stated, "Parents and educators believe that this waiver has broken the law.  We are hopeful that Judge Connolly will hold that Mayoral control stops at the courthouse steps."  Gotbaum is the President of Community Education Council 3 in Manhattan.

Norman Siegel and Herbert Teitelbaum were joined by attorneys Roger Wareham and Eric Snyder, each representing additional New York City public school parents who are also challenging the Steiner waiver.  Three separate Article 78 petitions challenging the waiver had been filed and were consolidated during the court hearing, which started at 9:30 AM. 

The Office of the Attorney General and the Corporation Counsel had each responded to the anti-waiver petitions on behalf of New York State and New York City respectively.  At the hearing, Ms. Kelly Minkowitz represented Attorney General Cuomo acting on behalf of Commissioner Steiner, the New York State Education Department, the New York State Board of Regents, and the University of the State of New York.  Mr. Chlarens Orsland represented the Corporation Counsel's office acting on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York.  During the hearing, all sides presented oral arguments and answered questions posed by Judge Connolly.

The Judge, who appeared to have reviewed all of the legal submissions thoroughly, did not specify when a decision would be forthcoming.  Observers believe that it could be handed down as early as next week.
Prior to today's hearing, on Wednesday, December 22, attorneys Siegel and Teitelbaum filed their Memorandum of Law with the court in response to papers presented by the Attorney General's office and the Corporation Counsel.  The Memorandum reinforced four points that were discussed during the Court hearing.

First, Commissioner Steiner could not provide a "substantially equivalent" qualification for Ms. Black that would "provide her with the requisite knowledge, skills and experience" in subject areas that Steiner himself identified as "critical," including educational standards, curriculum, staff development and turning around low-performing schools.
The fact that Commissioner Steiner improperly looked beyond Ms. Black's qualifications to the qualifications of potential staff in assessing whether or not she herself possessed the necessary knowledge and experience was the second argument.  Third, nothing in the relevant State law provides for a waiver of the requirement that Ms. Black have earned a Master's degree or higher -- and she does not have one.
The fourth argument was the fact that the Petitioners' challenges to the waiver are only asking for appropriate enforcement of standards put in place by the New York State Legislature and the New York State Commissioner of Education, and that the Petitioners are not requesting extraordinary action by the Court. 

Siegel and Teitelbaum referenced the fact that, in 1983, Education Commissioner Gordon M. Ambach fulfilled the intent and letter of the law when he refused to grant a similar waiver request on behalf of Robert F. Wagner, Jr., who actually had more extensive education and public policy experience than Ms. Black -- who has none -- but still not enough to meet the appropriate and legislated standard for the position of Chancellor. 

As Commissioner Ambach stated in his decision, "The certification requirements are intended to assure that there is proper training and experience for educational leadership.  The determination to be made by the Commissioner in any case where an exception to regular certification is requested is not whether there is potential for or promise of effective service by the candidate, but rather whether the candidate currently possesses 'exceptional training and experience which are the substantial equivalent of the stated requirements and which qualify such person for the duties of a superintendent of schools.' "

To the extent that there were no surprises during the Court hearing, attorneys Siegel and Teitelbaum were cautiously optimistic regarding the outcome.  "In our Constitutional democracy, when government officials do not adhere to the rule of law, it is important for the judiciary to uphold the rule of law," said Siegel.  "We are hopeful that the Supreme Court in Albany County will grant our petition in all respects."

Parents present in court today were also encouraged by the day's proceedings.

Mona Davids, parent Petitioner and President of the New York Charter Parents Association said, "Today marks the beginning of a new era of parent involvement in public education. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired and we will continue to advocate for quality public schools and education leadership in New York City.  We will no longer allow the Bloomberg administration to violate our rights and education law."

Patricia Connelly, Petitioner and a parent of a student with special needs in Brooklyn, stated, "I am grateful that we still have the judiciary to turn to for refuge and possible redress, even if we have to travel miles from home during the holidays to seek it."

Shino Tanikawa-Oglesby, parent Petitioner, and leader within NYC Kids PAC and Community Education Council 2 (Manhattan) concluded, "Governance by lawsuit is not a good way to run our school system. I hope the Court will see the importance of our petition and recognize the implications of a negative ruling." 

"Simply put, parents and educators are no longer going to accept a 'business model' which 'contracts out' our school system to hedge fund managers and other institutional interests, while treating parents and teachers as 'competitors' and excluding us from having any input into our children's educations," said Noah E. Gotbaum.

Assemblyman Jeffries (Brooklyn), Ms. Davids (Bronx), Ms. Connelly (Brooklyn), Ms. Tanikawa-Oglesby (Manhattan) and Mr. Gotbaum (Manhattan) were Petitioners who could attend the hearing. 

Parent Petitioners who could not attend the hearing included Hon. Chris Owens (Brooklyn), Ms. Khem Irby (Brooklyn), Ms. Lydia Bellahcene (Brooklyn), Ms. Monica Ayuso (Queens), Ms. Mariama Sanoh (Manhattan), Mr. John Battis (Brooklyn), Ms. Latrina Miley (Manhattan), and Ms. Maria Farano-Rodriguez (Staten Island), as well as teacher Petitioner Julie Cavanagh (Brooklyn).
Over the objection of the Corporation Counsel's representative, the Court granted a request to videotape the proceedings, which were then recorded.

# # # 

Visit the Deny Waiver Coalition website:

The DENY WAIVER COALITION ("DWC") is an association of public school parents and educators as well as concerned community leaders opposed to granting a waiver of employment qualifications to Ms. Cathleen Black, the proposed Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.  The DWC also supports improvements to the Chancellor selection process.

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