Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The NYCHA Scandal and Coverup

How to End the Culture of Cover-up in New York City Public Housing

By Victor Bach, Center For New York City Affairs, July 11, 2018

Transgression followed by cover-up: This all-too-familiar scenario has played out again, this time in the disgraceful and high-profile failures to protect New York City public housing residents from decrepit and dangerous living conditions. Urgent repairs to the buildings, and restorations to the integrity and reputation, of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) are now clearly in order.
The far-reaching civil legal settlement City officials struck last month with Federal authorities laid out why in distressing detail. It confirmed failures and falsifications between 2010 and 2016 in lead paint inspections that endangered the health of children living in NYCHA developments and that occasioned a suit by tenants. It also documented a widespread, appalling pattern of neglect and deceit concerning repairs and abatement of apartment mold, failing furnaces, and other unsafe conditions.  A follow-up seizure of records and other items at a NYCHA office in Queens suggested that a separate criminal investigation may be underway, too.
NYCHA’s more than 400,000 public housing residents have long sounded alarms about worsening conditions in their apartments and buildings. The Community Service Society’s 2014 report Strengthening New York City’s Public Housing: Directions for Change was the first to systematically track the accelerated deterioration residents had experienced since 1999 and identify government disinvestment—at every level of government—as a root cause of these problems.
The consent decree settling the tenants’ lawsuit commits the City and State governments to some $4 billion in additional funding for repairs at NYCHA over the next four years that are to be overseen by a court-appointed outside monitor. Unfortunately, reporting last week on NYCHA’s state of disrepair showed that the housing authority still lacks more than $20 billion to pay for essential fixes and improvements. To raise that kind of money, NYCHA needs to shore up its badly damaged credibility with potential funders, as well as with its long-suffering tenants.
That can start by providing tenants something they’ve long been denied: Clear, publicly accessible information about progress, or lack thereof, in responding to their complaints about conditions and unmade repairs. Here’s our advice to City leaders, including Stanley Brezenoff, the housing authority’s new interim chair, for how to show that NYCHA is at last replacing a culture of cover-up with a commitment to transparency.
For example, today any tenant in a private multiple dwelling can call the 311 Citizen Service Center to register a housing complaint. The complaint—its date, location, and nature—is recorded and referred to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation (HPD) division of code enforcement for appropriate follow-up and, as necessary, an inspection.
That’s not been the case, however, if you live in public housing. A resident of a NYCHA development who dials 311 is instead automatically referred to the authority’s internal Centralized Call Center, which passes the complaint on to the development’s on-site manager. No record of the complaint is made outside NYCHA; much is left to the discretion of the manager.
In short, right now what happens in NYCHA stays in NYCHA, with no external records of complaints and outstanding violations that can be used to assess conditions and management responses. But daylight, as always, remains the best disinfectant—especially in ending the kind of deceptions NYCHA has practiced to hide building disrepair, including literally papering and painting over holes in apartment walls in advance of outside inspections. For that reason, NYCHA residents should be given access to the 311 Citizen Service Center and the City’s code enforcement system.
Similarly, any tenant in a private multiple dwelling can go to the public websites of HPD and the Department of Buildings (DOB), enter his or her address, and obtain a record of past code violations and whether and when they were cured. If a NYCHA resident enters an address, however, he/she will find no record in these data bases. NYCHA has enjoyed an exemption from these open records—but it has clearly forfeited its right to this so-called “gentlemen’s agreement.”
At the Community Service Society, we strongly recommend that NYCHA apartments and buildings be included in the public data bases maintained by HPD and DOB. Doing that will signal a welcome commitment to re-establishing NYCHA’s once-proud but now badly tarnished reputation for administering “public housing that works”—and to providing NYCHA tenants the safe, decent housing they deserve.  

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Center School on The Upper West Side of Manhattan Avoids Diversity. Really.

How can a public school on Manhattan's West Side admit students with a secret process?
Chancellor Carranza has a big challenge in front of him, if he really wants to diversity and integrate NYC schools.

Betsy Combier
Center School
How an ultra-exclusive public school has avoided a citywide diversity push

The children of Cynthia Nixon, Samantha Bee and Louis C.K. got into this popular public middle school, while hundreds of others are shut out every year.
The Center School has operated like a fiefdom on the Upper West Side, enrolling just 234 students in grades 5 to 8 with a mysterious admissions process that pledges diversity in race and ability but has resulted in a school that is mostly white, affluent and high-performing.
As the Upper West Side’s District 3 struggles to bring “academic diversity” and desegregation to the area, The Center School stands out as an island of privilege.
It would be exempt from the Department of Education proposal to require middle schools in District 3 give 25 percent of admissions priority to students scoring at the lowest two levels on state English and math tests.
The school’s loophole lies in the fact that it begins admitting students in fifth grade, not sixth, as the district’s other schools do. Because it is exempt from the city’s admissions process, the school can cherry-pick kids who’ve scored higher on standardized tests, resulting in less academic diversity.
“It will not be a part of this particular discussion, but the superintendent is working with The Center School to bring it online with the rest of the district at some point in the future,” said Kim Watkins, president of the District 3 Community Education Council.
The West 84th Street school is one of just eight middle schools in the city that has its own admissions policy, but most of the others have clear guidelines for entry, such as a student’s performing-arts talent or a lottery system.
Not The Center School. The process there is a mystery to the students who apply in fourth grade and are interviewed by both a current student and a teacher. Some 350 kids vie for 55 spots, and they can live outside of the district.
“They have their completely own independent rubric which they don’t have to release or justify,” said Alina Adams, an education consultant. “Nobody knows how kids get into that school.”
One mother said that during an admissions interview, her daughter was asked what her parents did for a living.
“They ‘never received’ our application materials. Turns out the exact same excuse was used on another family we know,” it read.Another parent cried foul over the admissions process in a comment posted on
Those who do win a coveted spot love it.
“The kids, I think, have a lot of freedom, and it ends up being an incredible happy place where your kids are learning so much all the time. I don’t know what they do, but their system is incredible,” said Karen Haberberg, parent of a fifth-grader.
The school opened in 1982 to lure kids who were fleeing to private schools.
“We decided that nothing really worked, so we decided to start from scratch,” Elaine Schwartz, the school’s 83-year-old co-founder and its current principal, said in a 2013 interview.
Classes are small, arts are a focus. Students learn Latin and attend classes with those in other grades. Standardized testing is de-emphasized.
Schwartz is well connected at City Hall, according to a former parent.
“She’s been able to kind of run this school the way she’s wanted to,” the parent said.
“I think it’s a fantastic place, but I wished it were much more integrated,” the parent said. “I wish they took many more low-income kids and kids who weren’t performing well on the tests.”
Schwartz refused to comment.
The Center School has become increasingly white and affluent in the last decade. In 2008, parents — including Nixon — argued that moving the school from its location within PS 199 would result in less diversity. At the time, it was 55 percent white, 23 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic with a “poverty rate” of 38 percent.
“It is one of the whitest schools in the district, and it is increasingly white and increasingly affluent and ousting The Center School means a de facto segregated building,” the ex-“Sex and the City” star and current gubernatorial candidate said in a hearing at the time.
The Center School moved anyway to West 84th Street, where it shares space with PS 9.
This year, the school’s population is 58 percent white, 12 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian and 6 percent other. Twelve percent of students qualified for free lunch.

‘Academic diversity’ plan for NYC schools opens racial wounds
Susan Edelman and Melissa Klein, NYPOST April 28, 2018

NYC Chancellor Richard Carranza                                                                                   Matthew McDermott
School officials call it “academic diversity,” but a well-meaning plan to equalize access to good schools has sparked an ugly racial debate that pits white, affluent parents against poor blacks and Latinos.
The recently announced proposal in District 3 — which covers the West Side of Manhattan from 59th Street to 122nd Street — would give bottom-scoring elementary-school students “priority” for admission to most middle schools. The district’s schools are sharply divided along racial and socioeconomic lines.
High-performing middle schools — usually with a white, middle- or upper-class majority — would have to reserve up to 25 percent of their seats for students who score at the lowest 2 of 4 levels on state math and English tests. That means some students with high test scores would be shut out of their preferred schools and possibly steered to lower-performing schools which enroll more blacks and Hispanics.
It’s the first proposal of its kind in New York City, but the social experiment paves the way to expand to other schools and districts.
And that threatens to raise racial tensions akin to explosive school battles in Boston, Detroit and LA, said David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center education professor.
“Without strong leadership, this strategy may divide the city based on racial politics — those who favor desegregation against those who don’t,” Bloomfield said.
New York City schools are the nation’s most segregated by race and class, a 2014 UCLA study found.
The proposal would affect current 4th graders who will enter the 5th grade in September, and apply to middle school in December. The DOE hopes to approve the plan by June.
The controversy erupted at a recent community meeting, videotaped by NY1, when one mother at high-ranked PS 199 on the Upper West Side angrily asked what she should tell an 11-year-old who “worked [their] butt off” but was shut out of the best school. “Life sucks!”
Mona Davids, president of the NYC Parents Union, blasted “progressive limousine liberals” at the popular school, where 62.2 percent of kids are white and 14.9 percent are Asian.
“It’s racism because they know the students who are doing poorly and condemned to failing schools are black and Latino. They don’t want those students in their lily-white schools,” she said.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, who joined the city school system this monthfanned the flames Friday by retweeting a news story on the meeting headlined: “Watch: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools.”
In a WNYC interview Friday, Mayor de Blasio said he did not believe that Carranza “intends to vilify anyone.”
Some parents at poor-performing schools in the district hailed the diversity plan, which still requires DOE approval.
At the struggling PS 149 Sojourner Truth in Harlem, just 8 percent of students got a 3 or 4 — passing or higher — on the state English test last year, and only 1 percent hit those scores on the math test. The school is 90 percent black and Hispanic.
Jameelah Ricks, whose son is a second-grader at the school, said low test scores don’t mean a child can’t improve.
Parents who oppose the plan stereotype low-income minorities and worry they will “flood” their elite schools, she told The Post.
“We’re all not ghetto, project, welfare recipients. I’m educated. I’m actually in my second year in law school. I’m a senior corporate paralegal,” Ricks said.
But opposing parents at high-performing schools say the plan turns the merit system on its head.
“I think it’s very crooked,” said Aya Goshen, whose son is in grade 4 at PS 199 on West 70th Street. “You tell your kid that he needs to do his best on the test to get into a good school and it turns out he’d better get a 2, and he might get into a better school. The system is motivating kids the wrong way.”
The diversity plan, if approved, will affect Goshen’s son when he applies to middle school,
“I am very worried,” she said. “Diversity is good for our kids but the environment needs to supply the kids that are struggling with tools so they won’t disturb the kids that are not. Unless they do that, the kids who have 3s and 4s are going to suffer.”
DOE officials did not address in detail how schools will handle the mix of students at sharply different academic levels, or how they will improve the poor-performing schools where many kids will still be stuck.
Enrollment in Harlem schools has dropped because of competition from charters and other district schools, said Dennis Morgan, a member of the District 3 Community Education Council.
“I’m concerned that this is going to exacerbate problems with enrollment,” he said of the diversity plan.
Admission to elementary schools is normally determined by residential zones. But after grade 5, students can apply to middle schools in their district. Students rank their preferences, and can list up to 12 choices.
Some schools also rank the students they want. Then, students are matched to schools by computer algorithms that typically give most students their first or second choice, experts said.
In another citywide change under the proposal, schools will not see how students rank them. So schools could no longer favor kids who rank them No. 1.
Currently, some popular schools cherry-pick the highest-scoring kids. In District 3, for instance, MS 54 Booker T. Washington in Morningside Heights enrolls 80 percent of students who score a 3 or 4 on the English test and 85 percent who score a 3 or 4 in math. The school is 62 percent white, 11.5 percent Asian, 12.7 percent Hispanic and 7.7 percent black.
Graduates move on to the city’s top high schools, including Bronx HS of Science and Stuyvesant HS.
Under the District 3 plan, 17 middle schools would offer up to 10 percent of seats to students who score an average 1 on their fourth-grade exams and up to 15 percent to those who score an average 2.
A suggestion to limit the percentages of kids with 3 and 4 scores at each school was nixed, for now, as “too drastic.”
Based on 1,815 applications last year, the DOE estimates that, if the diversity plan was in effect, 118 families would get into a school higher on their wish list, while 56 would get a less-desired placement — or none of their choices.
“Because there’s a fixed number of seats in the best schools, somebody has to lose,” said Aaron Pallas, an education professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “It’s the fear of white, middle-class parents, whose children have done well in school, that they will be losers.”
Clara Hemphill, editor of the local education site, said the city should increase the number of seats at popular, high-performing schools to expand opportunities for all.
Some parents admit that privilege must not determine opportunity.
“There are some really good middle schools in New York City and it shouldn’t just be rich kids who get to go to them,” said Josh Auerbach, whose daughter is a 5th-grader at PS 199.
But he added that some parents are upset because “school integration is scary. Even when it’s the right answer, it’s scary.”
Other diversity efforts across the city are also underway.
In Brooklyn’s District 15, which takes in Park Slope, Sunset Park and Red Hook, a consultant was hired to help shape a plan for its middle schools, which have an uneven racial and economic distribution.

Carranza: Schools aren’t meeting minority students’ needs

Thursday, April 26, 2018

NYPD Blues: De Blasio Takes Over

NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio
Bill de Blasio and Phil Walzak

In 2011, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got himself in hot water when he declared “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.”

It was not—not the seventh biggest and not an army—but Bloomberg was not far off the mark. With a current uniformed strength of about 36,000 and powerful unions, the New York Police Department is a profound force in the city, from the streets to the suites and in the corridors of political power. It has shaped the national and even international imagination in countless books, movies and television shows. The mayor rightfully exercises civilian control over the department and to varying degrees, and with varying success, police commissioners rightfully have struggled to keep the NYPD from being bent too far to the political will of the city’s top elected official.

That drama is being played out again today. Mayor Bill de Blasio, his eyes on higher national office, is wrapping his political machine around New York law enforcement, locking down avenues of transparency and independence that could cause him trouble. The mayor cloaks his moves in the progressive politics of his base but no one is fooled. This is about Iowa and New Hampshire and the kind of raw political power that de Blasio needs to exercise to keep his long-shot presidential hopes alive.

The mayor visited Iowa in December, insisting he was not running for president. His wife, Chirlane McCray, was in New Hampshire earlier this month. The New York Times recently noted that Ms. McCray “suddenly seems to be everywhere… [she] has stepped up her out-of-town travel, meeting with political leaders, speaking about her signature mental health initiative, networking and building the family brand outside New York City.”

In March, de Blasio installed a top political aide, Phillip Walzak, as NYPD spokesman, with the rank of deputy commissioner. Walzak was communications director for de Blasio’s successful 2013 mayoral run, a key City Hall aide, and helped run the mayor’s 2017 re-election campaign. New York’s police unions immediately denounced the appointment. “This is the clearest sign yet that the de Blasio administration thinks the NYPD’s primary mission is to serve as a political tool, not to protect the public safety of all New Yorkers,” said Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch.

“With the mayor’s former campaign manager now overseeing information given to the press, Lynch added, “…how can either police officers or the public have any confidence that it will be dispensed with an eye toward public safety and justice and not filtered through a purely political lens?”

Police Commissioner James O’Neill is an NYPD insider appointed by de Blasio. “When Jim O’Neill became police commissioner in 2016, he was known as a ‘cop’s cop,’” noted the influential police-affairs columnist Len Levitt. “With his recent appointment of Phillip Walzak as the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, he seems more like the mayor’s cop.”

The New York Post reported that several of O’Neill’s top aides opposed Walzak when rumors of the appointment first surfaced. And the head of another police union, Ed Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, told the Post that of the “many highly talented media personalities in the selection pool, it seems the Commissioner expects us all to believe the Mayor’s office had the best people. I guess we’ll see if the NYPD’s communications are separate from City Hall.”

De Blasio and O’Neill have triggered unease in police ranks with a sweeping series of high-level changes and forced retirements mainly aimed at instituting the mayor’s signature “neighborhood policing” concept. We have been to neighborhood policing dance before. The police seek stronger ties with communities to lower crime. “While neighborhood policing may be a terrific concept,” Levitt wrote, “there have been problems with its implementation that neither de Blasio or O’Neill have publicly acknowledged.” One of the problems, Levitt notes elsewhere, is a “behind-the-scenes battle” raging at the NYPD over the policy’s effectiveness and rollout.

Earlier this month, the mayor struck again, issuing an executive order limiting the power of the city’s independent-minded Department of Investigations. The issue at hand involved department commissioner Mark Peters’ control of a special unit policing corruption in New York’s vast education system. But the Post reported that the real reason for the executive order was that Peters, a former de Blasio ally, had issued “a series of scathing reports…against various city agencies, including the Housing Authority.”

The head of the City Council’s investigations committee—fellow Democrat Ritchie Torres—denounced the de Blasio move as “an insidious power grab” and “part of an orchestrated campaign to remove the DOI commissioner.”  Torres told the Post, “if disempowering the agency that investigates you fails to constitute a conflict of interest—let alone an abuse of power—then I’m not sure what does.”

Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips:
Investigative Bulletin is published by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries:

NYPD’s new top spokesman is former de Blasio aide

, March 19, 2018, NY POST

A former top aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking over the NYPD press office — and a police union boss accused Hizzoner of using the department as a “political tool.”
Phillip Walzak, who served as campaign manager, senior adviser and press secretary for de Blasio, is taking over for outgoing Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Stephen Davis.
“Phil showed me he is level-headed, dedicated, and thoroughly experienced,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a statement. “He understands the NYPD’s vital mission to maintain New York’s stature as the safest large city in America.”
But the announcement prompted an outcry from two of the city’s police unions.
“This is the clearest sign yet that the de Blasio administration thinks the NYPD’s primary mission is to serve as a political tool, not protect public safety for all New Yorkers,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said.
Lynch has been at loggerheads with the mayor’s office over the release of body-worn camera footage that he wants kept secret with police officers’ disciplinary records.
“With the Mayor’s former campaign manager now overseeing information given to the press — including the body-worn camera footage that the Mayor and the Police Commissioner have pledged to release in violation of state law — how can either police officers or the public have any confidence that it will be dispensed with an eye towards safety and justice and not filtered through a purely political lens?” Lynch said.
The cameras were ordered by a federal judge to promote police accountability. The department’s public information office has been releasing the footage of police involved shootings to the media on a regular basis over the objections of the PBA.
The head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association was also critical of the Walzak move.
“I’m sure Mr. Walzak is experienced,” said SBA President Ed Mullins. “However, this is an interesting selection. Of the many highly talented media personalities in the selection pool, it seems the Commissioner expects us all to believe the Mayor’s Office had the best people. I guess we will see if the NYPDs communications are separate from City Hall and this was in fact the Commissioner’s choice as claimed.”
Head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association Michael Palladino said the move had his “antennas up.”
“Despite a new community policing model and record low crime rates, cops have not been appreciated as of late and he will now be in a position to change that,” he said. “I hope he is prepared”.
A police source said several members of O’Neill’s top staff went to him last week to oppose Walzak’s appointment when they heard whispers of it.
“They like Phil,” the source said. “They think he’s a smart guy, but they don’t think that it’s acceptable for a political press person, the mayor’s former right hand guy, to be sent over to run communications for the police department.”
But the head of the Captains Endowment Association called Walzak a “voice of reason.”
“He cares deeply about the NYPD and appreciates the risk and sacrifice cops make every day,” tweeted president Roy Richter.
Walzak worked as de Blasio’s press secretary from 2014 to 2015, and as senior adviser for Strategic Planning in his office from 2015 to 2016.
“The NYPD and New York City have set the standard for American policing, and are again raising the bar,” Walzak said. “I am honored and humbled to be part of this incredibly important mission.”
Walzak also served as Director of Strategic Communications at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2009 and 2010.
Davis, who has been in DCPI since 1987 and held the top job there for four years, will serve his last official day on March 30.
He was an NYPD member and retired from that role as a captain in 1992.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Mark Peters, NYC's Commissioner For the Department of Investigation, Fires Anastasia Coleman, Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI)

There is disarray at the New York City SCI Office,  now called "Squad 11/DOE", that's for sure.  Commissioner Anastasia Coleman was fired on March 28 2018 by Department of Investigation Chief Mark Peters. We already know about the OSI mess with Wei Liu.

How this will all iron out is unknown at this point, but I would love to have a one-to-one chat with Ms. Coleman! Is there a coverup of someone or something?

Just askin'.

Betsy Combier
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials 
Mark Peters

Seeking Control, Investigation Chief Fires Schools’ Special Commissioner
The commissioner of New York City’s Department of Investigation, who recently tried to seize control of the agency that polices corruption in the school system, has taken another step in asserting his power, firing the new head of the schools' investigation office less than two months into her tenure.

The office, known as the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City School District, investigates allegations of corruption, criminal activity, conflicts of interest and unethical conduct in the 1.1 million-student school system. Though it reports to the investigations department, the agency has largely operated independently since its inception in 1990.

But the investigations commissioner, Mark G. Peters, sought to change that last month, saying the schools' office was under his authority. Mr. Peters has also subsumed three other offices into the Department of Investigation: the inspectors general for the New York Police Department, the School Construction Authority and the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

Mr. Peters last month appointed Anastasia Coleman, a former senior assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, to take over the schools' investigation office from Special Commissioner Richard J. Condon, who retired late last year. She objected to Mr. Peters’s efforts to restructure the office and eliminate its independence, and had told him and his senior staff that she believed his efforts violated the law, based on the municipal documents that created the office, according to memos, emails, and other documents.

On Wednesday, Mr. Peters fired her during a brief meeting, at which he was accompanied by five senior staff members. She was escorted to her office and then out of the building by one of the agency’s armed officers, people briefed on the matter said. He later demoted her top deputy.

On Thursday, Mr. Peters announced her removal to her staff of roughly 60 lawyers, investigators and other employees in a conference room at the special commissioner’s offices. The meeting lasted less than two minutes.

Mr. Peters spoke for less than a minute, according to a recording of the session provided to The New York Times, saying that Ms. Coleman no longer worked for the agency and that he had named one of his deputy commissioners, Susan Lambiase, as the acting head of the office.

Then, with anger rising in his voice, he said: “I expect that everyone in this room will give her their full support and cooperation. Thank you.” After he left, Ms. Lambiasi told the staff that she was looking forward to working with them and went over a few administrative matters, remarks that lasted less than a minute.
Anastasia Coleman
(Linkedin picture)

Ms. Coleman’s removal seems certain to worsen Mr. Peters’ already frayed relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, once his good friend. The mayor appointed Mr. Peters in early 2014, after he served as the treasurer for Mr. de Blasio’s first mayoral campaign. Choosing a friend and campaign treasurer to head the agency responsible for rooting out corruption, fraud and abuse in city government raised questions. The questions grew into concerns when Mr. Peters initially resisted recusing himself in 2016 when Mr. de Blasio’s campaign fund-raising activities — activities which did not involve Mr. Peters — came under scrutiny by federal and state prosecutors.

Before her firing, Ms. Coleman had sent a lengthy memo to the city’s top lawyer, Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter, detailing her legal arguments and concerns about Mr. Peters’s changes to the schools investigation office. She concluded with a blistering attack on the investigation department’s conduct.

Finally, it is shocking that an agency that prides itself on public integrity and transparency, and presents itself as the enforcer of city rules, would blatantly disregard laws, bully and retaliate against employees, and demonstrate such poor judgment,” she wrote.

“DOI has overstepped its authority by disregarding” the municipal records that created the office, she continued, “and by unilaterally dismantling the existing authority and structure of SCI.”

Her view is shared by the education department, which funds the office and has publicly resisted the changes, and, according to people familiar with the matter, senior City Hall officials.

In an email to Mr. Peters hours before she was fired, Ms. Coleman identified herself as a whistle-blower and noted that the city administrative code protects her and her deputy from adverse personnel actions for raising concerns about “the potential of criminality, wrongdoing, or mismanagement” to the Investigation Department.

Mr. Peters has steadfastly maintained that the changes he has sought to make were lawful, and he told a City Council hearing on Monday that neither he nor anyone from his staff had been contacted by anyone at the Education Department about the matter.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Peters declined to comment on Ms. Coleman’s firing and the demotion of her deputy. Spokesmen for Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Carter also declined to comment.

Some of the alterations Mr. Peters has sought could significantly change the way the office operates. He has sought the power to set salaries, hire and fire, promote and demote, discipline, and assign the duties and responsibilities of all those who work in the schools office.

He has endeavored to change the title of the head of the office from special commissioner of investigation to inspector general, a less prestigious position that is equivalent to more than a dozen other department officials. That was a sticking point for Ms. Coleman, who, according to documents and emails, was told she would hold the more prestigious title when she was interviewed for the post.

Mr. Condon had the authority to sign subpoenas, compel testimony and publish reports. Ms. Coleman was told she did not have those powers, and needed to seek approval from senior officials at the department.

Mr. Peters said the changes would ensure consistency and add little time to investigations.

When he fired her, Mr. Peters gave Ms. Coleman a letter in which he wrote that he had asked earlier in the day for her resignation because of their “intractable disagreement” over the degree of oversight his agency could exercise over the special commissioner of investigation. He disputed her legal interpretation of the municipal documents — an executive order and two Board of Education resolutions — that created the office, arguing that his changes were lawful.

He also wrote that his agency “found her performance lacking,” although that contention appeared to be something of an afterthought, limited as it was to the last two paragraphs of his two-and-a-half page letter.

Mark G. Peters, commissioner of the city Department of Investigation, has tried to take control of the office
that polices corruption in the school system. CreditKevin Hagen for The New York Times
The selection of a new chancellor has dominated education circles in New York City for the last few weeks, but behind the scenes a more prosaic bureaucratic drama was playing out over control of the office that investigates corruption in the 1.1 million-student school system.

It was a municipal scuffle: The commissioner of the city Department of Investigation tried to seize total control of the semiautonomous office that polices corruption in the school system. The Department of Education has since pushed back — hard.

The move by the investigation commissioner, Mark G. Peters, resulted in an unusual legal skirmish between the two agencies, pitting an archaic set of municipal records against a series of new documents drawn up by the investigation department.

On one side was a series of mayoral executive orders, the earliest dating back to 1990, and two Board of Education resolutions of similar vintage, which give the office its authority. On the other was paperwork prepared by Mr. Peters’ staff that would have given him full control. The outgoing schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, has refused to sign it.

The office, known as the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District, investigates allegations of corruption, criminal activity, conflicts of interest and unethical conduct in the system, the largest in the country.

Taking direct control would give Mr. Peters the power to hire and fire, set salaries, promote and demote, discipline, and assign the duties and responsibilities of the investigators and other employees of the special commissioner’s office. One of the legal documents prepared by the Department of Investigation sought Ms. Fariña’s approval for Mr. Peters’s agency to exercise those powers, as well as the authority to assign staff “consistent with the needs of D.O.I.,” according to a copy of the document.

Without her signature, those responsibilities remain with the office of the special commissioner.

Mr. Peters said his actions were prompted by the retirement late last year of Special Commissioner Richard J. Condon. A widely respected former New York Police Department commissioner, Mr. Condon was appointed special commissioner in 2002 and earned the respect of many at the education and investigation departments, and elsewhere in city government.

Mr. Peters has made additional unilateral changes that appear to run afoul of the orders and resolutions, and which, along with his other actions, would largely eliminate the autonomy that the office has had since it was created in 1990 and which has helped enable it to aggressively root out corruption.

He has changed the title of the head of the office from special commissioner of investigation to inspector general, a less prestigious position that is equivalent to more than a dozen other investigation department officials. The old executive orders provide that the special commissioner has the authority to sign subpoenas, compel testimony and publish reports. The new inspector general, Anastasia Coleman, a former senior assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, would not have those powers, and would have to seek approval from senior officials at the department.

Mr. Peters said those changes would ensure consistency and add little time to investigations.

He has also done away with the special commissioner’s separate website, consolidating it with his department’s. In addition, he has changed the reporting structure. Instead of reporting directly to the investigation commissioner, Ms. Coleman will report to an assistant commissioner, who reports to a deputy commissioner, who reports to the first deputy commissioner, who reports to Mr. Peters.

The changes were needed to create uniformity, Mr. Peters said, and so that his agency could take a more systemic look at the Department of Education, the way it has focused on the city’s Department of Correction and the New York City Housing Authority, where the investigation department has looked into on corruption, mismanagement and other problems.

He also contended that an even older executive order, from 1978, gave him the authority to make the changes he has undertaken because the city school system is now under mayoral control.

In recent weeks, the investigation agency has moved quickly to act on the new authority it has sought over the special commissioner’s office, posting a job vacancy notice for an assistant commissioner level job there, which it has attempted to fund through the education department, according to documents and emails.

But the post, chief information security officer, with a salary of $120,000 to $150,000, would serve the investigation department, according to the posting, which said the job would “increase the agency’s overall security posture.”

Mr. Peters said that the education department funding for the position was only temporary.

Toward the end of the interview, he seemed to be loosing patience with questions about his actions in connection with the special commissioner’s office.

“Either people cooperate with our investigations or they don’t,” he said. “Everything else is just noise.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dr. Marcus A. Winters Believe That Putting ATRs Back Into the Classroom Is a Terrible Thing, Worse Than a Rubber Room

Carmen Fariña, the schools chancellor, and Mayor Bill de Blasio at a hearing in Albany last year. The city is spending $150 million on salaries for employees in the Absent Teacher Reserve. CreditMike Groll/Associated Press
In the article below, Dr. Winters, the author, writes that putting the "bad" teachers who are Absent Teacher Reservists (ATRs) back into the classroom is the one thing worse than paying their salary while they sit in a rubber room.

How uninformed he is. No one can generalize about all ATRs as he did, because the individuals who are in the ATR pool are as diverse as you could make any large group. Some are not good teachers, it is true. But some are excellent teachers, the best there is, and should have the respect they deserve rather than a label that belittles decades of hard work.

Betsy Combier
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials 

There’s One Thing Worse Than Paying Bad Teachers Not to Work

Bill de Blasio’s New York has started putting them back in the classroom, especially in poor areas.

What should a city do with poor teachers who, thanks to union rules, cannot be fired? For years New York has let them linger on its Absent Teacher Reserve, where they are paid without having a permanent spot in any school. But now the city is taking the opposite approach: putting them back into classrooms.
The ATR is an example of what happens when reform runs up against inflexible labor rules. In 2005 Mayor Michael Bloomberg ended the practice of filling teaching slots in New York’s public schools by seniority. Instead, he gave principals increased power to hire the teachers they thought best. The complication was the union contract. Laid-off teachers could either look for a position elsewhere or join the ATR, where they receive full salary and benefits as they move across schools doing short-term work, often as substitutes.
The ATR differs from the notorious “rubber rooms,” or reassignment centers, where suspended teachers accused of misconduct once awaited adjudication of their cases. Teachers aren’t placed on the ATR because they are facing dismissal. They just can’t (or won’t) persuade a principal to hire them. Some have received ineffective teaching ratings. Others have records of disciplinary problems like absenteeism or sleeping on the job.
As the Bloomberg administration closed the city’s worst schools, the ATR pool grew. On the first day of school in 2013 it included 1,957 teachers. Since Bill de Blasio became mayor in 2014, his administration has offered ATR teachers buyouts and given principals an incentive to hire them by having the city cover part of their salaries for the first two to three years. By the end of the 2016-17 school year there were 822 teachers left in the pool; that year paying ATR teachers cost the city about $150 million.
Then last summer the city announced it would simply place some 400 ATR teachers into classrooms without giving principals any say. As of early December, only 41 placements had been made. Still, the administration has shown its willingness to reduce the ATR with forced teacher placements, meaning more will doubtless come as vacancies arise.
Neither the union-friendly de Blasio administration nor the antagonistic Bloomberg administration has been able to strike a deal imposing limits on how long teachers can remain on the ATR. The United Federation of Teachers opposes any deadline, even on teachers who haven’t found a principal willing to hire them after five years. Today that’s the case for one-quarter of ATR teachers.
Rather than admitting defeat, the de Blasio administration has joined with the union to spin the placements as a better way to allocate resources. The argument is that at hard-to-staff schools with high turnover, permanently hiring a teacher from the ATR is better than relying on substitutes. “What we’re trying to do is give a more stable educational environment to the students,” the union’s president, Michael Mulgrew, said last year.
The most difficult-to-staff schools are often those that serve low-income and heavily minority populations. As expected, a disproportionate number of the ATR placements have been at such schools. The city says it is holding the teachers accountable. ATR teachers have one year to show their effectiveness, after which the city says it will remove the low performers and in some cases follow the required process to fire them. But the fact that it’s nearly impossible to do so is the reason the ATR exists in the first place.
And here is where the political calculus becomes clear: Some struggling schools won’t get any ATR teachers forced on them. In 2014 the city designated 94 of the worst schools as Renewal Schools, singling them out for extra money and attention. The point was to demonstrate that with enough resources, the current system could improve. Now these Renewal Schools have been made exempt from taking ATR teachers. In other words, the de Blasio administration is perfectly willing to put poor teachers in disadvantaged schools, just not the ones in which the mayor has a political interest.
The ATR debacle is the latest illustration of how hard it is to create lasting change in urban public school systems. No wonder, then, that so many parents in struggling districts are trying to get their children admitted to charter schools. Operating outside collective-bargaining agreements, charters don’t have to hire teachers based on seniority or pay bad ones not to teach.
study last year from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that New York City’s charter students made gains equivalent to an additional 23 days of learning in reading and 63 days in math, compared with their peers in traditional public schools. The researchers have found similar results for charters in other cities. As New York puts ATR teachers back to work, it’s clearer than ever that the best hope for change in urban public schools isn’t to reform the current system, but to circumvent it.
Mr. Winters is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an associate professor at the Boston University School of Education. This essay was adapted from the winter issue of City Journal.
Appeared in the February 10, 2018, print edition.

City Will Move Sidelined Teachers From Limbo to Classrooms

Randy Asher, a senior administrator at the department of education, is behind the initiative to put teachers
from the Absent Teacher Reserve back into classrooms full time.CreditCaitlin Ochs for The New York Times
For a dozen years, hundreds of New York City teachers have been paid despite not having permanent jobs, sidelined in most cases because of disciplinary problems or bad teaching records or because they had worked in poorly performing schools that were closed or where enrollment declined.

This limbo was largely the result of a deal that the Bloomberg administration struck with the teachers’ union to give principals more control over who worked in their schools. Under the deal, teachers could not simply be fired, so they were put in a pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

But now, saying the city cannot afford expenditures like the $150 million it spent on salaries and benefits for those in the reserve in the last school year, the education department plans to place roughly 400 teachers in classrooms full time, possibly permanently. They will be placed in schools that still have jobs unfilled by mid-October. Principals will have little, if any, say in the placements. Neither will the teachers.

The department, which announced the plan in July, has in the past deflected questions about the makeup of the pool. But on Friday, it released some data. Of the 822 teachers in the reserve at the end of the last school year, 25 percent had also been in it five years earlier. Nearly half had been in it at the end of the 2014-15 school year. The average salary was $94,000 a year, $10,000 more than the average salary of teachers across the school system.

Close to a third of the teachers in the pool were there because they had faced legal or disciplinary charges. Others worked in schools that were closed for poor performance or lost their jobs because of declining enrollments. Twelve percent had received the lowest possible ratings of effectiveness in the 2015-16 school year; only 1 percent of all teachers in the system scored so low.

With the beginning of the school year weeks away, principals and others who work in education are wary.

Harry Sherman, the principal of Junior High School 127, Castle Hill Middle School, in the Bronx, said that while some teachers in the pool, often referred to as A.T.R.s, are unfairly stigmatized, “There are also A.T.R.s who are A.T.R.s because we have had the choice of whether or not we want to take them. And sometimes those people are not good fits for schools.”

Daniel Weisberg, the chief executive officer of the New Teacher Project, who worked for the education department under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said: “We’ve got this group of teachers who either can’t find a job or won’t find a job. That’s the group we’re dealing with.”

Education experts are worried that a disproportionate number of the teachers will be placed in schools in poorer areas, like the South Bronx, which have difficulty attracting and retaining teachers. Some may be placed in schools in the Renewal Schools program, one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature education initiatives, which is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to turn around low-performing schools.

The principal of a high school in Manhattan, who did not want to be named out of fear of reprisal from supervisors in the department, was blunt about the effect: “You’re going to force the worst teachers in the system into the schools that are struggling the most.”

But the city described the plan as a “common-sense solution” to the problems of both vacancies and the cost of paying unassigned teachers.

“My role is to drive down the A.T.R. and to help take these resources and put them back in schools,” said Randy Asher, the senior adviser to the chancellor for talent management and innovation, and the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School.

The number of teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve increased dramatically after the deal made in 2005 by the Bloomberg administration, which was seeking to close failing schools, and the United Federation of Teachers. Before then, teachers with seniority could claim whatever job they wanted, displacing novice teachers without so much as having to interview with a principal. And teachers without assignments were involuntarily placed in whatever positions were open.

The deal ended that system and let principals decide whom to hire. Teachers who could not find jobs or were not happy with ones available went into the A.T.R., at full salary.

Reserve teachers do monthlong rotations in schools, frequently serving as substitutes, and some get longer temporary assignments. In last few years, the department has offered principals incentives to hire teachers from the pool by picking up all or part of their salaries for the first two or three years. It has also offered teachers in the pool buyouts. As result, on the first day of school last year — traditionally the point in the year when the pool is largest — there were 1,494 teachers in the pool, down from 1,957 on the first day of school in 2013.

The department says the new policy of placing teachers in vacancies is expected to reduce the size of the pool by half.

In interviews, Mr. Asher and Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers’ union, used similar language to defend the plan, saying that it was better for students to have a permanent teacher with the appropriate license than to have a rotation of substitutes.

“We’re talking about being five, six weeks into the semester where they still don’t have a permanent teacher,” Mr. Asher said. “We need to provide stability in these learning environments.”

Mr. Mulgrew said, “What we’re trying to do is give a more stable educational environment for the students.”

A recently retired principal of a school in a hard-to-staff district disputed the idea that putting any teacher into a vacancy was better than other possible solutions. “I have had over the past five years a lot of A.T.R.s come in,” said the principal, who spoke anonymously for fear of repercussions for the school. “And I have to say, less than 10 percent of them — way less, maybe 5 percent of them — would I hire.”

Lynette Guastaferro, the executive director of Teaching Matters, said that in high-poverty schools, it was particularly important that principals be able to choose teachers carefully.

“Kids living in poverty need schools led by strong teams with shared cultures and the best teaching possible,” she wrote in an email.

Principals who are forced to take the teachers will observe them over the course of the year. Teachers who earn an “effective” rating from the principal at the end of the year will then, in most cases, be placed in their positions permanently.

Asked what would happen to teachers who at the end of the year received a less than effective rating, Mr. Asher said the department would, in some cases, start the legal process to remove them.

Nicholas Weber, a special-education teacher who has been in the Absent Teacher Reserve for three years after losing his job at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers because of declining enrollment, said he thought the policy would motivate principals to give bad ratings to teachers so as to not have to hire them permanently.

“It questions the legitimacy of the ratings,” he said.

Mr. Weisberg, who helped negotiate the 2005 deal when he was at the education department, said that one problem with the new policy was that, once principals can no longer choose their teachers, it becomes harder to hold them accountable for their school’s performance.

“The idea that principals get final say over which teachers get selected to work in their buildings should not be thought of as a crazy radical notion,” he said. “This is common sense.”