Saturday, March 3, 2018

Analysis: The Story Behind the PEP Rockaway Vote - It Came Down to One Guy Abstaining

In stunning rebuke, oversight board rejects two of de Blasio’s school closure plans... Chalkbeat
I don't agree with the hysteria of the Chalkbeat headline. The two Rockaway schools, PS/MS 42 and MS 53 slated for closing got a last minute reprieve at 2:30 AM Thursday morning when mayoral appointee and Queens resident Isaac Carmignani, who voted to close the other schools on the list*, abstained on the two Rockaway schools.


Let me try to make some sense of what occurred.

MORE was in the house with the CASCADE Crew

My guess, fueled by my sources, is that Carmignani is ambitious and rumored to be planning to run for office in Queens and didn't want to alienate Melinda Katz and the Rockaway politicians. As to the UFT, he would need them for a run, but given his vote to close other schools, how will the UFT view him?  Otherwise, his voting pattern to close all the other schools makes no sense. And don't forget, he didn't actually vote to keep the school open, but abstained. (I think of the Vince Lombardi comment that a tie is like kissing your sister.)

The Queens UFT was strong for the Rockaway schools and may have impacted, but my sense is that Borough Pres Katz was the key and the PS 42 rally outside her office a few weeks ago had an impact. When all 30 of us piled into a meeting upstairs it was impressive and we got to touch base with PEP member Deborah Dillingham, who led the charge at the PEP meeting.

The UFT didn't fight very hard for the other schools - other than possibly PS 92x (according to a UFT official I spoke to but not confirmed -- I didn't see any Bronx politicians standing up. As for PS 50, the Manhattan UFT did nothing with Dist Rep Servia Sliva, the Supt's buddy, making a tepid speech at their hearing. Man Borough Pres Gale Brewer made a speech and Manhattan pols spoke up for Health and Sciences.

[I'm including a reference to the voting put out by Leonie in case you get lost in this commentary: Leonie posts PEP Votes on Closures and Co-locations.

[*HS of Health and Sciences was given a postponement by unanimous vote after an appeal from one of the mayoral appointees.]

In my speech at the Feb. 28 (or early morning March 1) PEP, I pointed out that all it would take to change the lives of thousands of teachers, students and parents was for just 2 mayoral PEP people to stand up for what is right. There were much better speeches than mine and I will be putting some of them up, but as the videographer and editor, I'm taking some privilege.

And  Isaac and Elzora Cleveland actually did it.
She voted to keep the Rockaway schools open and his abstention deadlocked the vote. (Though another sitting on the fence politician is not what we need.) Cleveland voted to keep other schools open but not others.

First we should point out that all five of the borough reps, including the Staten Island rep, Peter Calandrella, banded together to call for the removal of many schools from the list in every borough. The Mayor appoints 8. Under Bloomberg the SI rep was often the lone borough rep who voted with the DOE (the vote was often 9-4), so right up front from the first minutes of the meeting, I was surprised and pleased to see Calandrella not only joining the others, but also using his knowledge to help shepherd the resistance.

Second, as I said, mayoral appointee T. Elzora Cleveland voted with the 5 borough people consistently throughout the evening on certain schools, though there were 13-0 votes on many closures.

With Elzora joining the 5 boroughs that gave some schools 6 votes with the other 7 de Blasio appointees voting against them. Imagine the fate of so many people were based on one vote -- Shame on you Ben Shuldiner, who claims he was an educator, but in reality he is an ed deform slug.

Elzora has been connected to CEC 2 (Manhattan) one of the most progressive districts. (See her bio below). And also that she was the one pushed by the UFT to be on the PEP. Didn't de Blasio owe the union a crumb for their laying down for him --- see one bad retroactive laden contract when the city claimed it was broke and then rose up in riches the day after the contract was signed.

There's a vague  rumor there is pressure on her to resign from the de Blasio people. Resist Elzora and make him fire you, which I don't think de B has the guts to do publicly.

Some votes came down to 7-6 on the procedural issues made by each borough reps at the beginning of the meeting to have their schools withdrawn.
P.S. 25K Eubie Blake School was 8-5 for closure.
P.S. 92- 7-6
Urban Science Academy 7-6

Only Deborah Dillingham, the Queens rep appointed by borough President Melinda Katz, was ultimately successful in getting her two schools off the list based only on the Carmegnani abstention
which deadlocked the vote at 6-6-1.

Carmengnani could have taken a firm stand and vote NO. But he didn't. He used the abstention to deadlock the vote and maybe hope to keep the support of the mayor. We'll see. How Cleveland fares will be interesting to watch. In Bloomberg years she, an probably Carmegnani, would have been fired immediately. De Blasio is more devious.

Some of my sources speculate that Isaac cleared this with de Blasio and maybe the push back from so many Queens politicians had an impact on de Blasio. One of my sources thinks De Basio might have told Carmegnani to vote that way due to the threat from the NAACP lawsuit and especially the charges of racism directed at him.

I don't view this outcome as cataclysmic or a stunning rebuke as Chalkbeat puts it, but only an isolated example and special circumstance.

Think about this.

PS/MS 42 put up a massive struggle and showed up at the PEP in force. There was no school close to being as active, though PS 92 did a pretty good job. I've asked one of the main organizers to one day do a presentation to other schools of just what they did -- it is a classic grassroots response and organizing effort. (People who push the Labor Notes organizing workshops should take note.)

The following paragraph was updated to reflect new information:
MS 53, where Eva Moskowitz is located and was already measuring the space, did not have nearly as much presence at the PEP as other schools (but did have 3 teachers who spoke) or even made many waves, yet the outcome was the same for both schools. 
(There's more to the MS 53 story I believe and will do some digging --- any people at the school with info touch base with me or Ralph Mancini of The WAVE).

Did MS 53 ride in on the 42 coat tails? Assemblywoman Stacey Pfeffer-Amato spoke at the PEP and mentioned she was a 53 alum. Will Eva target Carmegnani for this betrayal?

Also, credit the UFT which was very much involved in the PS 42 story and MS 53. I saw a bunch of people in the back of the PEP - not a lot of UFT folks - despite the Leroy Barr claim they would come out to the PEP. Only Janella Hinds spoke. A sidelight is that the chapter leader of PS/MS 42 is a Unity guy, and not just someone on the fringes of Unity but active, and seems to have been able to lobby the union for support.

Below the break is the Chalkbeat piece and contact info for all the PEP members in case you want to drop them a line - tell Shuldiner he is an ed deform slug.
An oversight board rejected two of the de Blasio administration’s proposed school closures and voted to postpone a third after an emotional hearing that stretched into Thursday morning — a stunning rebuke by an education panel that typically rubber stamps the mayor’s policies.

The vote by the Panel for Educational Policy came around 2 a.m. Thursday after more than seven hours of testimony from well over 100 parents and elected officials. The panel signed off on the city’s plans to shutter 10 other schools — the largest single wave of closures since de Blasio took office in 2014. 

But the board’s decision to block the other closures raises fresh questions about the education department’s criteria for closing schools, and suggests that officials may face a higher bar in future when seeking approval for such controversial moves. The mayor appoints the majority of the panel’s 13 members, who typically green light the city’s proposals.

In this case, the panel faced intense pressure from supporters of the low-performing schools, which are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $582 million school-turnaround program. They argued that the schools were actually showing signs of improvement but needed more time in the program.

“I believe that this vote and this decision is premature,” said City Councilman Mark Treyger, the chair of the council’s education committee, at the hearing. “School closures can rip a community apart.”

Education department officials have said the schools had either shed too many students or were too low performing to be viable. When deciding which struggling schools to close, officials say they consider the schools’ test scores, attendance, graduation rates, classroom instruction, leadership, and the school’s “overall trajectory for success.”

Still, some community members say that the city has not made it clear when schools perform poorly enough in any of those areas to warrant closure. Instead, many have complained that their schools were arbitrarily chosen for closure while other struggling schools were spared.

The two closures the panel blocked are both Queens schools in de Blasio’s “Renewal” improvement program: M.S. 53 Brian Piccolo and P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam. An education department spokesman said those two schools will remain open next year. The panel voted to postpone a decision on a third Renewal school that had been slated for closure, High School for Health Careers and Sciences in Manhattan.

P.S./M.S. 42 had attracted especially vocal responses from parents and elected officials, who were puzzled by the school’s inclusion on the closure list because it has made gains on its test scores and quality reviews  — even outperforming a number of other Renewal schools.

Weeks before the vote, City Hall rescinded one of the closure proposals, citing community pressure. The move inspired advocates at some of the other schools to keep making their case. While it’s unclear what motivated the panel’s “no” votes, they faced strong pressure to closely scrutinize the city’s plans before signing off.
The panel did approve the closure of five other schools in the Renewal program, an effort to rehabilitate the city’s lowest-performing schools with extra social services and academic support. While critics have called the program a misguided attempt to save schools that should instead be replaced, the schools’ supporters have argued that they were not given enough time to turn around since the program launched three years ago.

Including Thursday’s closures, there will be just under 50 schools remaining in the Renewal program, down from an original 94. (Twenty-one schools are being phased out of the improvement program after making progress.)

Thursday’s vote came just hours after news broke that Miami school superintendent Alberto Carvalho will replace retiring schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, overshadowing a hearing that some parents and educators had hoped would draw attention to the city’s closure plans.

The meeting’s tone was reminiscent of similar public hearings under de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who moved to close dozens of schools and drew fierce protest from local communities. On Wednesday, dozens of people testified against the city’s plans, while audience members interrupted the proceedings with chants of, “Save our schools!”

Here is a list of schools that will officially be closed at the end of this school year. (The oversight panel also approved five school openings and one truncation.)

The five Renewal schools the city will close:

  • P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio (District 4)
  • Coalition School for Social Change (District 4)
  • New Explorers High School (District 7)
  • Urban Science Academy (District 9)
  • P.S. 92 Bronx School (District 12)

The five other schools to be closed:

  • KAPPA IV (District 5)
  • Academy for Social Action (District 5)
  • Felisa Rincon de Gautier Institute (District 8)
  • Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation (District 12)
  • Eubie Blake School (District 16)

T. Elzora Cleveland serves as Senior Accountant at Ithaka Harbors Inc., a non-profit organization that advances teaching in scholarship through digital platforms. A graduate of the SUNY university system, her career in finance and accounting spans more than 20 years, all in New York City. Having served as president of Manhattan’s District 2 CEC, Elzora has worked on behalf of parents in her district and across the city to improve the performance of struggling schools and represent the District 2 community to the NYC Department of Education on school issues. She lives in Manhattan and has one daughter in a New York City public high school.

Isaac Carmignani is a New York City native, a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, and a Queens resident for the past 25 years. Mr. Carmignani has been an active public school parent and education advocate for the last 12 years, having served in a number of roles within his children’s school communities, including PA Vice President and President, SLT AND CEC 30 President and Vice President. 
Professionally, Mr. Carmignani has worked at the United States Postal Service in Maintenance and most recently Electronics Technology for the past 24 years, and he is also the co-founder of a software startup. Mr. Carmignani serves as secretary of NYC Kids PAC; he is on the Overcrowding Task Force convened by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras; he was a member of the CEC election task force; and, he served on the Education Advisory Council for then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio advocating for universal pre-kindergarten. Mr. Carmignani is currently working toward a degree in Forensic Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Peter Calandrella - Staten Island RepresentativeEmail: 

Isaac Carmignani

Geneal Chacon - Bronx Representative

April Chapman - Brooklyn Representative

T. Elzora Cleveland

Deborah Dillingham - Queens Representative

Michael Kraft - Manhattan Representative

Vanessa Leung - Panel for Educational Policy Chair

Gary Linnen

Lori Podvesker - Panel for Educational Policy Vice Chair

Ben Shuldiner

D. Miguelina Zorilla-Aristy


  1. I'm happy for the saved schools, truly. At the same time think about all the years of inaction by Unity Party UFT on this issue. for more than a decade their response to the attack and closure of public schools has been what I would describe as complicite. It's nice to see some change, but as you point out it was truly a cherry picked situation. The efforts for these schools is likely an outlier that won't be repeated. It was politically expedient. Nothing has likely changed on either side.

  2. Many years ago my first job as a day to day sub was at PS 42. Congratulations to all who fought to keep the school open!


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