Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Michael Mulgrew: Governor Cuomo Is For Sale

Much of this isn't new information about how education reformers are rigging the political system, having been covered well by others including Chris Bragg in the Times Union on Sunday and Eliza Shapiro at Capital NY in February, but now the NY Times has it too.

Read the whole piece, but I just want to highlight the part that relates to the governor:

Among the backers of StudentsFirstNY are major donors to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and to the Republican majority in the State Senate, two of the three parties to all negotiations. Emails and interviews show that StudentsFirstNY has been in regular contact with the governor’s office since his re-election.

At the same time, the two groups have become a major nuisance to Mr. Bloomberg’s successor as mayor, Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, who campaigned on reversing some of his predecessor’s policies and is friendly with the city teachers’ union.

The groups have delivered a drumbeat of attacks on Mr. de Blasio’s education policies, in television advertisements, rallies where parents upbraid the mayor for not confronting what they call an education crisis, and weekly, or at times daily, emails to reporters. Amid this onslaught, Mr. Cuomo and the Senate delivered a rebuke to the mayor this year by agreeing to only a one-year extension of mayoral control of city schools. (By contrast, Mr. Bloomberg, a political independent, was initially given control for seven years, then received a renewal for six.)

In language that echoed that of important figures in both groups, Mr. Cuomo suggested that Mr. de Blasio had to earn the right to govern the city’s schools.

“Next year we can come back,” the governor said, “and if he does a good job, then we can say he should have more control.”

The governor speaking in reformyist terms with language coming straight from the reformers?

You don't say.

Here's more:

Making teacher evaluations more dependent on test scores, reforming tenure and increasing the number of charter schools in the city were all priorities of StudentsFirstNY and became significant pieces of the governor’s agenda for the 2015 legislative session, which he announced in his State of the State speech on Jan. 21.

Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Law, as well as interviews, show that Mr. Cuomo and his senior education advisers were in close touch, by email and telephone, with Ms. Sedlis and her board members in the weeks after the governor’s re-election last November.

On Dec. 9, for example, the governor met with Ms. Sedlis and several of her board members at the Harvard Club to discuss education policy issues, a spokesman for StudentsFirstNY said.

...
The governor’s proposals, particularly one that would base 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations on their students’ test scores, stirred fierce opposition from state and local teachers’ unions, as well as many principals and parents.

“If you look at the governor’s State of the State speech, it was almost taken word for word from their website,” Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said of StudentsFirstNY.

“We’re going to just tell everyone the governor is basically for sale at this point, because that’s what it is,” Mr. Mulgrew added. “It’s not a belief system.”

For once, I agree with Mulgrew.

Must be a blue moon out there.

In any case, the article details some of the money the hedge fundies have given to Cuomo and state Senate Republicans to pass their education reform agenda, covers the record "shadowy" millions Families For Excellent Schools has spent on lobbying without disclosing who's donating to them and points out that this is probably all legal because of the way the law is in New York.

If you've been following Cuomo and his hedge fundie/reformer buddies, you know they've had a close relationship for years.

As Cuomo began his run for governor, he met some hedge fund managers/education reformers at what was billed as not a "formal fundraiser," just a meet-and-greet where some hedge fund managers/education reformers could get together and talk reform with Candidate Cuomo.

Cuomo left with plenty of promises for future campaign cash:

 After hearing from Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Williams arranged an 8 a.m. meeting last month at the Regency Hotel, that favorite spot for power breakfasts, between Mr. Cuomo and supporters of his committee, Democrats for Education Reform, who include the founders of funds like Anchorage Capital Partners, with $8 billion under management; Greenlight Capital, with $6.8 billion; and Pershing Square Capital Management, with $5.5 billion.

Although the April 9 breakfast with Mr. Cuomo was not a formal fund-raiser, the hedge fund managers have been wielding their money to influence educational policy in Albany, particularly among Democrats, who control both the Senate and the Assembly but have historically been aligned with the teachers unions.
...
Mr. Cuomo also has expressed support for charter schools. A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo declined to answer questions about the breakfast at the Regency, but Mr. Williams said it had gone well.
“We said we were looking for a leader on our particular issue,” he said, and as a result, when Mr. Cuomo is next required to disclose his contributors, “You will see a bunch of our people on the filing.”

When Eva Moskowitz was playing victim for having a couple of Success Academy school co-locations turned down by the NYCDOE, it was Andrew Cuomo himself who suggested a big Albany rally to stick it to de Blasio and make sure charters got either guaranteed co-locations or rent for space paid for by NYC:

It was a frigid February day in Albany, and leaders of New York City’s charter school movement were anxious. They had gone to the capital to court lawmakers, but despite a boisterous showing by parents, there seemed to be little clarity about the future of their schools.

Then, as they were preparing to head home, an intermediary called with a message: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wanted to meet.

To their surprise, Mr. Cuomo offered them 45 minutes of his time, in a private conference room. He told them he shared their concern about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambivalence toward charter schools and offered to help, according to a person who attended but did not want to be identified as having compromised the privacy of the meeting.

In the days that followed, the governor’s interest seemed to intensify. He instructed charter advocates to organize a large rally in Albany, the person said. The advocates delivered, bringing thousands of parents and students, many of them black, Hispanic, and from low-income communities, to the capital in early March, and eclipsing a pivotal rally for Mr. de Blasio taking place at virtually the same time.

The moment proved to be a turning point, laying the groundwork for a deal reached last weekend that gave New York City charter schools some of the most sweeping protections in the nation, including a right to space inside public buildings. And interviews with state and city officials as well as education leaders make it clear that far from being a mere cheerleader, the governor was a potent force at every turn, seizing on missteps by the mayor, a fellow Democrat, and driving legislation from start to finish.

Mr. Cuomo’s office declined on Wednesday to comment on his role.

The coordination between the reformers and Cuomo was evident before he was elected and has continued to this day, with reformers and their backers spending handsomely to donate to either Cuomo or some of the shadowy groups that push his agenda (Families for Excellent Schools is one of the current groups, but let's not forget the Committee To Save New York, the PAC that pushed Cuomo's agenda with millions of dollars in ads before it shut down when the law was changed and it would have had to reveal its donor base.)

Cuomo is as corrupt as can be, completely in the pockets of the hedge fund managers and education reformers, but given the way the laws are written here in New York, much (or all) of this corruption is legal, depending upon how you parse it.

To that end, Families for Excellent Schools hired the former state regulator on lobbying to oversee their lobbying operation so that they know exactly where the line of legality and bribery is:

Families for Excellent Schools, which spent $1.6 million on New York lobbying so far this year, has an issue-oriented nonprofit arm that would have to disclose its benefactors. But the group does almost all its lobbying through its apolitical arm, which does not have to report its donors under New York lobbying laws and can take tax-deductible donations.

The apolitical arm spent a staggering $9.7 million on Albany lobbying in 2014, but did not disclose a single donor.

Such apolitical nonprofits, categorized as 501(c)3 groups, face restrictions from the Internal Revenue Service on how much they can spend on lobbying — a likely reason why such nonprofits are exempt from disclosing their donors under New York law.

The heavy lobbying spending as defined by New York law, plus the IRS restrictions on lobbying by such nonprofits, could raise potential issues regarding the group's tax status.

But David Grandeau, an attorney for Families For Excellent Schools and former top state lobbying regulator, has maintained that the IRS definition of lobbying is far narrower than the one found in New York law, a distinction that he says makes the heavy New York lobbying spending by the group permissible under federal regulations.

The group's lobbying spending has also dropped this year from its 2014 heights.

Grandeau said last year that the group had "correctly disclosed its spending in New York state, and we are confident that our activity is within the limitations allowable."

There you have it - all legal, or so says the former state lobbying regulator, now on the hedge fundie/education reformer payroll.

Corruption is endemic in New York State, as we've seen from the corruption cases taking down much of the political leadership in the state, including five former state Senate Majority Leaders, one Assembly Speaker and the state Senate Deputy Majority Leader.

But none of that has cooled the corruption going on in public education policy where the Masters of the Universe have rigged the system such that they run Albany and have a governor dangling on their strings, using their talking points as he successfully pushes for implementation of their legislative goals and public policy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Chancellor Farina Knows Teachers' Evaluation Ratings Are In Jeopardy At "Struggling" Schools

Eliza Shapiro at Capital NY sat in on a meeting between NYCDOE Chancellor Farina and the superintendent of District 8, Karen Ames.

Here's an interesting bit of that report::

30 percent of students in one of the Renewal Schools are in temporary housing. Fariña closed her eyes and inhaled sharply when Ames described the school’s challenges, and said she wanted to put an “asterisk” next to city schools with extremely high levels of student poverty and homelessness.

Fariña also said she wants to establish a so-called asterisk for highly effective teachers who move to Renewal Schools. While Fariña said “it’s been easier to recruit teachers to Renewals than ever” because of strong professional development and a sense of mission, she’s concerned that effective teachers’ ratings will drop when they move from high-achieving schools to struggling ones.

Fariña said she was planning to follow one teacher who was leaving a high-performing school to teach at a Renewal School in Ames’ Bronx district.

“She’s going to do the same assessments, she’s going to do everything she did before,” Fariña said. “But the scores are only going to go to a certain point. How is that going to affect her rating? It’s not going to make her any less of a good teacher.”

Here's a question I have:

If "effective" teachers should get asterisks next to their names because they've chosen to work in a school with high poverty, high homelessness demographics next year, is it just possible that those "ineffective" or "developing" teachers that are already there working in that school might face the same challenges the new "effective" teachers are going to face next year and deserve asterisks too?

The dirty secret of education reform is that the problems in schools and districts with high poverty/high homelessness demographics are NOT caused by "bad teachers" - they're caused by all the effects that poverty has on the psychological, emotional, physical and social development of the children in those schools and districts.

Does that mean there's not some mismanagement in schools and/or districts that are "struggling"?

Of course not.

To that end, Shapiro reports that "Fariña asked Ames to outline consistency goals for all the schools in her district by October" to address the hodgepodge of programs that may not be the most effective way to educate children in the district.

But the truth is that most of the problem are not due to mismanagement, a lack of "consistency goals," or a plethora of "ineffective" teachers at those schools/districts, they're due to the effects of what Farina winced at - high rates of poverty and high rates of homelessness.

If Farina thinks the new "effective" teachers coming in to "struggling" schools deserve asterisks next to their names, then she also knows that a hell of a lot of the teachers already there deserve the same benefit of the doubt.

Co-Dependent Albany Dems Cave To Cuomo - Again

This movie's getting old:

When the Senate Republicans made a surprise announcement of the memorandum of understanding they had signed with a top Cuomo administration aide that appeared to indefinitely delay a key provision of the SAFE Act, the Senate Democrats immediately cried foul.

The minority conference questioned the legality of the MOU, signed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and state Operations Director Jim Malatras, which seemed to derail creation of a database for ammunition sale background checks.

Deputy Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris said the Senate and Assembly Democrats were in talks about a potential legal challenge to the MOU, which he saw as a slippery slope and something that established a dangerous precedent.

Even as the Senate GOP declared victory – a claim gun rights advocates said was overblown – the Cuomo administration immediately downplayed the significance of the MOU, insisting the database would still go ahead as planned, though failing to explain exactly how and when that would occur.

Apparently, the administration’s assurances were sufficient to quell the Senate Democrats’ concerns – at least in the short term. During a CapTon interview last night, Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins revealed the conference is no longer planning to pursue legal action.

“At this point…I take him at his word that this will not stop anything,” the Yonkers Democrat said. “It will not weaken anything. And what I’m looking for is a timeline as to when we will be getting this done. That’s where we are right now.”

Leaving aside the issue of the SAFE Act (which is unworkable), since when does the state Operations Director get to sign a memorandum of understanding with just 1/4th of the state legislature - in this case, state senate Republicans - that derails some part of legislation that had been passed into law by 4/4ths of the legislature?

Senate Dems should be suing on the principle that the governor (or his state Operations Director) doesn't get to make MOU's with 1/4th of the legislature that affect legislation passed by 4/4ths of the legislature, but instead Senate Dems have caved to Cuomo and pulled back from the legal challenge threat.

You can bet there's some Quid Pro Cuomo between Senate Dems and Cuomo over the state Senate seat Tom Libous vacated after he was convicted of lying to the FBI last week.

Cuomo, who famously has promised to work for a state Senate takeover by Dems in the past, pushed former DMV commissioner Barbara Fiala for the seat.

Fiala is expected to announce that she will run for Libous' old Senate seat on Thursday.

Why Senate Dems would be bought off by Cuomo's promises is beyond me - his word is worthless, as is his backing for the Binghamton seat - it's a conservative district where Cuomo is not terribly popular.

Nonetheless we have another instance of the co-dependent Dems in Albany compliantly coming back to their abuser to give him what he wants.

Apparently the co-dependent Albany Dems will never learn.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Chris Christie's Full Of Crap When He Says He's Getting Rid Of Common Core In New Jersey

Another day, more jive from Chris Christie.

In May, the New Jersey governor running for president in the heavily anti-Common Core Republican Party, said this:

 The governor, speaking at Burlington County College in Pemberton, declared Common Core is "simply not working." Christie wants to assemble a team to develop a state-based group to develop "new standards right here in New Jersey, not 200 miles away on the banks of the Potomac River."

...

"It's now been five years since Common Core was adopted and the truth is that it's simply not working," Christie said.

"It has brought only confusion and frustration to our parents and has brought distance between our teachers and the communities where they work," he said. "Instead of solving problems in our classrooms, it is creating new ones."

About those "new standards" Christie's going to have implemented?

They're going to look a lot like the old ones:

The department announced earlier this month that it will establish a 23-member committee to oversee the Common Core review process and make final recommendations, as ordered by Gov. Chris Christie. Three subcommittees will review the math and English/language arts standards, which outline what skills students should master in grades K-12.

Any teacher can apply for the committees that review the standards, but only teachers nominated by their district can sit on the committee that makes final recommendations, according to the state.

The committees will also consist of parents, school board members, administrators, educational experts and business and industry representatives. For questions about how to apply, contact NJStandardsReview@doe.state.nj.us.

...

Department of Education officials have said the review is intended as an opportunity to build on the existing standards through clarification, addition and omission.

"We will not be tearing down and starting over," Assistant Education Commissioner Kimberly Harrington said on July 8. 

Let's see, a committee that makes final "recommendations" to the state education department which has already said that this is an exercise in building on the existing standards, "not tearing down and starting over."

That's not getting rid of Common Core in New Jersey.

That's creating an exercise in making it look like you're getting rid of Common Core in New Jersey while not really getting rid of Common Core.

I guess it's just as well since even though Christie said it was time to "move on" from the Common Core in New Jersey, he didn't think it was time to move on from the Common Core state tests, which are still going to be given.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How Education Reformers Fund Their Reform Lobbying Efforts Without Revealing Their Donors

Chris Bragg of the Times-Union with an illuminating piece about how education reform groups push their political agenda without revealing who's funding it:

Three groups pushing education reforms that spent heavily lobbying state government this year funded at least a portion of their efforts though donations whose original sources are essentially untraceable.

...

StudentsFirstNY Advocacy, the Coalition for Opportunity in Education and Families for Excellent Schools spent more than $8.3 million during the 2015 legislative session lobbying state government to promote charter schools and other issues, according to recent lobbying disclosure filings.

Here is one of the games the education reformers play to hide where the money's coming from:

Manhattan-based group StudentsFirstNY Advocacy, which pushes for charter schools and other causes, spent $2 million this year, but the sources behind roughly half that spending are unclear..

One million dollars were donated to StudentsFirst NY Advocacy by another nonprofit, StudentsFirst NY Inc., that heavily overlaps with it: The two groups share an office suite and staff.

Both StudentsFirst NY Advocacy and StudentsFirst NY Inc. are issue-oriented nonprofits that must disclose their donors if they engage in substantial lobbying spending. If StudentsFirst NY Inc. had itself spent its $1 million on lobbying, it would have had to disclose the sources behind the funds.

But because the $1 million passed from StudentsFirst NY to StudentsFirst NY Advocacy, which then spent heavily on lobbying, only the name of StudentsFirst NY Inc. appears on the lobbying disclosure filing submitted by the Advocacy arm in July.

How did StudentsFirstNY explain the interesting arrangement of having one wing of StudentsFirstNY write the other wing a check, have that second wing do the lobbying and thereby hide where the money was coming from?

 StudentsFirstNY responded with this:

Asked if the money transfer was meant to obscure the identity of donors, a StudentsFirst NY spokesman maintained the $1 million came from pre-existing StudentsFirst NY funds — not from new donations funneled through the group.

Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirst NY, added in a statement that "StudentsFirst NY is proud of the campaign we ran to increase high quality school choices for kids." Sedlis is also listed as a lobbyist for StudentsFirstNY Advocacy.

In short, the ends justify the means and that's that.

But wait, it gets better.

The StudentsFirstNY suite must be a pretty big place because it turns out the education reformers at Families For Excellent Schools also list the StudentsFirstNY suite as their base of operations - and boy do they drop some murkily-sourced cash on political lobbying:

Families for Excellent Schools, another Manhattan group that also lists the same address as StudentsFirst NY but says it operates separately, has taken a much more direct approach that has allowed its donors to remain anonymous.

Families for Excellent Schools, which spent $1.6 million on New York lobbying so far this year, has an issue-oriented nonprofit arm that would have to disclose its benefactors. But the group does almost all its lobbying through its apolitical arm, which does not have to report its donors under New York lobbying laws and can take tax-deductible donations.

The apolitical arm spent a staggering $9.7 million on Albany lobbying in 2014, but did not disclose a single donor.

Such apolitical nonprofits, categorized as 501(c)3 groups, face restrictions from the Internal Revenue Service on how much they can spend on lobbying — a likely reason why such nonprofits are exempt from disclosing their donors under New York law.

The heavy lobbying spending as defined by New York law, plus the IRS restrictions on lobbying by such nonprofits, could raise potential issues regarding the group's tax status.

But David Grandeau, an attorney for Families For Excellent Schools and former top state lobbying regulator, has maintained that the IRS definition of lobbying is far narrower than the one found in New York law, a distinction that he says makes the heavy New York lobbying spending by the group permissible under federal regulations.

The shell games the charter school advocates, hedge fundies and education reformers are playing are similar to the games Governor Cuomo plays with the LLC loophole - it's all about funding a political agenda with a lot of cash, doing it murkily but legally and ensuring that a small segment of the population (i.e., really, really wealthy interests)  can impose most of their political agenda on the rest of the state.

The corruption in this state is endemic and so deep-rooted that the US attorney can literally cart out most of the political leadership in Albany on corruption charges but the bribery, kickbacks and larceny continue apace like nothing's happened.

The Goal Of Education Reform Is To Exert Power And Control Over All

Education reformers love adding stress and pressure to the education system, ensuring people's livelihoods and reputations are tied to the high stakes testing scores.

Given the stress and pressure people are under, this kind of thing was inevitable:

The principal of an innovative West Harlem public school killed herself the day after her students took the state Common Core exams — which were later tossed out because she cheated, The Post has learned.

Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, 49, of Teachers College Community School, jumped in front of a B train in the 135th Street station on St. Nicholas Avenue on April 17, police said.

She was pulled out from under the train and taken to Harlem Hospital, where she died eight days later. The city Medical Examiner’s Office ruled it a suicide.

The leap came at 9:20 a.m., less than 24 hours after her 47 third-graders wrapped up three days sweating over the high-stakes English exam — the first ever given at the fledgling school.

It was also the same day a whistleblower reported the cheating to DOE officials.

Parents were shocked and saddened to learn Worrell-Breeden died but were given no details at the time. It was rumored she was killed in a car crash.

Parents were in for another shock in June. Superintendent Gale Reeves told them in a meeting that all the third-grade English exams had been “red-flagged” and “invalidated.”

Worrell-Breeden had some challenges outside of her work life according to the Post, including the death of a parent and a marriage break-up.

And there is some funkiness around the way the story was released - with details of the death dribbling out over time - to make you wonder if the DOE isn't just scapegoating Worrell-Breeden now that's she dead and can't defend herself.

To that end, the Post makes sure they get in how Worrell-Breeden had been caught falsifying her time cards in a previous gig before the Teachers College Community School and docked two weeks pay for those actions.

Nonetheless, the stress and pressure educators in public education are under these days is real, which even the Post article acknowledges:

The tough Common Core exams have raised anxiety. In 2014, only 34.5 percent of city students passed the math tests, and 29.4 percent passed English tests.

“A lot of people are getting sick and leaving the system because of the pressure the high-stakes tests are putting on them,” a veteran educator said.

It's not just the high stakes testing, it's the constant concern over drive-by Danielson observations, the micromanaging that's going on in many schools, the despair many feel as they see their autonomy torn from them and replaced with EngageNY scripts.

All these stresses and pressures are real, here for good and getting worse by the year.

And that's the way the education reformers want it.

The goal of education reform is FEAR.

They want a system in which everybody, from the students to the teachers to the administrators to the district officials are in constant FEAR, worried about grades, test scores, observations, and the myriad other accountability measures used to gauge so-called student, teacher, school  and district performance and they do not care about the human cost of any of this.

When the USDOE tells NY State it must test every student, even students with severe disabilities who have no chance to pass the high stakes exams, and count every test score in the accountability measures for teachers, schools and districts, you know the message is "We do not care about children or you, we care only about our political agenda!"

When Governor Cuomo imposes an evaluation system that ties 50% of a teacher's rating to test scores of students they don't teach in classes they don't teach, you know the message is "We do not care about children or you, we care only about our political agenda!"

When NYSED rigs the Common Core tests for 70% failure rates in order to prove how "failing" schools and teachers in this state are, you know the message is "We do not care about children or you, we care only about our political agenda!"

When the Board of Regents hires a new "reformy" NYSED commissioner whose callousness and incompetence led to the deaths of three children in her former school district, you know the message is "We do not care about children or you, we care only about our political agenda!"

I don't know whether this principal from the Teachers College Community School killed herself because she was worried she had been caught trying to cheat on the ELA Common Core exams or not, but I do know that given the stresses and pressure in the system, it's quite possible that's what happened and moreover, the education reformers who have imposed their reform agenda, the Endless Testing regime onto the system, want it that way.

If there are sick children throwing up on exams, teachers smeared as "ineffective" based upon similar test scores results that declared them "effective" the previous year, educators at all levels of the system in constant FEAR and anxiety over the data - well, that's exactly the point of education reform.

And if someone takes her life because of the stress and pressure in the system, you can bet reformers see that as a small price to pay for so-called accountability as well.

This is a toxic system devised by toxic people who do not care about anything other than power and control over others - and FEAR is the primary tool they use to exert power and control over all.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cuomo Said To Cancel Appearance To Avoid Protesters

From WWNY TV:

Governer Cuomo won't be coming to Massena Sunday after all, but Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will.

A source told 7 News Friday that Cuomo was expected to be in Massena Sunday to help promote the Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmasters Elite Tournament, which kicks off July 30 in Waddington.

On Saturday, Cuomo's office said the governor is not coming, but Lt. Gov. Hochul will be instead. No additional explanation was offered.

Hochul is expected to do some ceremonial fishing as part of the visit.

The New York Power Authority Hawkins Point Visitor Center and Boat Launch is closed Sunday until 6 p.m., in connection with the visit, according to a source.

Why the sudden cancellation on Cuomo's part?

Well, there's this:


If true, this wouldn't be the first time Cuomo has tried to avoid protesters by canceling an appearance.

There was that whole Lake Placid charter school thing a while back, where Cuomo "apologized" to his charter school donors who had made him honorary chairman of their conference.

Cuomo had cancelled, claiming he was stuck in Albany, but the real reason was, an anti-Cuomo protest was planned for outside the conference.

Cuomo, like all bullies, is a coward.

The Chutzpah Of Criminal Politicians Pushing Teacher Accountability

Rich Karlin in the Times Union runs down some of the week's criminal politician news:

Former Brooklyn Democratic Senator and one-time majority co-leader John L. Sampson has just been convicted on three of nine counts, including two counts of making a false statement and one count of obstruction of justice.

Being felonies, Sampson is out of office immediately.

...

Sampson, 50, was elected to the Senate in 1996 and came to statewide prominence in 2009 when he became Democratic Senate conference leader, sharing the top job with Malcolm Smith for the brief time the Democrats held a majority in the Senate.

Smith was convicted in February of bribery charges in an unrelated scandal. He had been voted out of office in November.

Sampson’s conviction was the second senatorial felony conviction this week.

On Wednesday former Republican Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous of Binghamton was convicted of lying to an FBI agent. And the convictions come as the former leaders of the Senate and Assembly majorities, Republican Dean Skelos and Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, also face federal corruption charges. Both men were removed from their leadership roles last session but remain in office and are awaiting trial.

In addition to the convictions of Libous and Sampson on felony charges, US Attorney Preet Bharara added two criminal charges to the indictments against former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, this week:

State Senator Dean Skelos and his son Adam had two new federal-bribery and extortion charges added to the buffet of corruption charges they were already facing this week. Adam Skelos was hired by a medical malpractice insurance firm that was then lobbying his father. A week after the new gig started, his supervisor wanted to set up a meeting to discuss the fact that "Adam Skelos had not reported for work for more than one hour during the previous four days," according to an updated indictment released on Tuesday.

Skelos called his supervisor back and allegedly threatened to "smash in" his head, adding that "guys like" him "couldn’t shine [Adam Skelos's] shoes." In case his desire to get paid without attending work was not yet clear, Adam allegedly ended by noting that he didn't have to go to work because his father was Dean Skelos. He then called up his father to complain that he was being harassed at work.

The company allegedly kept Adam Skelos employed because it was afraid of losing access to the state senator, according to the court documents. 

Skelos has set up a website where you can donate to the criminal defense funds for both himself and his son because, you know, they're innocent and are just having their reputations dragged through the mud by an overly zealous, overly ambitious U.S. attorney:

The purpose of this Fund is to assist in providing the financial resources required to mount an effective legal defense for Dean and Adam Skelos in recognition that a central strategy of the prosecution is to place the Skelos family in severe financial hardship and thereby put them at a strategic disadvantage in the courtroom.

Those who support the Fund believe in the personal integrity of Dean and Adam Skelos but, equally important, in the belief that this calculated and cynical prosecutorial strategy of breaking a defendant financially and manipulating media leaks must be confronted, and the only means of doing so is by providing financial support that allows for the retention of a strong defense team.

The Skelos Family Legal Defense Fund is inclusive, welcoming those who not only know, respect and admire the Skelos family, but understand that the basic principle of presumed innocence is being destroyed by deliberately seeking to force the defendants into bankruptcy and thereby prevent an effective defense. The courthouse steps are littered with the reputations of men and women who were indicted, then vindicated by a jury, only to find that a verdict of innocence left them destitute and broken.

Those who are part of the Skelos Family Legal Defense Fund will not let that happen to Dean and Adam Skelos.

Heartwarming, isn't it?

I don't know about you, but when I think personal integrity, I think of Adam Skelos and his patron dad, Dean.

A couple of years ago, I called Dean Skelos's office to lodge a complaint about the APPR teacher evaluation system and find out if Skelos supported a system where teachers were evaluated using test scores from tests that were rigged for high failures rates or a system where teachers were rated using scores from tests in subjects they don't teach or scores from students they don't teach.

The hack who answered the phone read off some boiler plate about state Senator Skelos supporting the accountability of teachers and schools, thus supporting the use of the APPR teacher evaluation system because it held teachers (and by extension, schools) accountable for student achievement.

Ironic that Skeos, who supported a rigged system of evaluation against teachers and a system that unfairly rates teachers using test scores from subjects they don't teach or students they don't teach, is now whining about having his reputation and career destroyed by an overly zealous, overly ambitious prosecutor unfairly targeting him, since he didn't seem to have much concern about any unfairness in APPR.

For years now, Albany politicians have been happy to use the language and rhetoric of the education reform movement to claim teachers are lazy, incompetent sots and/or outright criminals who need to be "held accountable" for their performances or fired.

Many of these Albany politicians are themselves lazy, incompetent sots and/or outright criminals, as the track record of the political leadership in this state shows:

For those keeping score of the Rogue’s Gallery:
Pedro Espada – arrested, found guilty, serving 5 years
Malcolm Smith – arrested, found guilty, serving 7 years
Tom Libous – arrested, found guilty, sentence pending
John Sampson – arrested, found guilty, sentence pending
Sheldon Silver – arrested, trial pending
Dean Skelos – arrested, trial pending
Andrew Cuomo – pending
“New York is Open For Business”

There has been a host of lower level Albany pols arrested, tried and convicted on corruption charges these past years as well, but I give you the above list to show you how rotten to the core the political leadership in this state is.

On that list you will find the last four state senate majority leaders and the assembly speaker either in jail, waiting to be tried or waiting to be sentenced.

The only pol on that list not yet arrested is Andrew Cuomo, the governor, but there's a theory out there, a pretty good one, that US Attorney Preet Bharara is working his way up the depth chart with Cuomo as his ultimate target:

These new charges (against Skelos) seem to be perfectly in line with Preet Bharara’s history of turning the screws hard on those he’s already busted. He gave disgraced former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver new charges with a superseding indictment and then indicted his son-in-law for running a $7 million Ponzi scheme (his son-in-law recently copped a plea to those charges) just to make sure he got the message. When the formal criminal indictment against Skelos and his son was submitted, it also included a new charge that Adam Skelos had accepted $100,000 in salary and benefits for another no-show job arranged by his father.

Preet Bharara is not conducting a bunch of separate, unrelated investigations. He’s conducting a big one and he’s going about it much the same way he would prosecute a mob case. He’s working his way up the food chain as he busts and pressures the folks under the kingpin, flipping cooperating witnesses along the way. Now he’s indicted two of the infamous “three men in a room” and there’s only one guy left.

The pressure for one of these men to cut a deal just got ratcheted up a few more notches. Soon, there will be one fewer “get of jail free” musical chairs to land on. My money has always been on Skelos to flip first. (Silver isn’t likely spending $1.5 million on lawyers to cut a deal) These new charges just up the pressure on Skelos even more.

I wonder how well Andrew Cuomo is sleeping these days.

I have no problem being "held accountable" for my performance as a teacher so long as the measure of that accountability is transparent and fair.

I do have a problem when the accountability system is so complex and convoluted that nobody can explain it to me, when it is devised not as a true accountability measure but as a punitive measure to target teachers and help districts shed them quicker and easier.

I have an even bigger problem when the politicians passing this system into law and/or imposing it from the governor's mansion are criminals like Espada, Smith, Libous, Sampson, Silver, Skelos and, criminal of criminals, Andrew Cuomo.

It take a lot of chutzpah to push accountability for others when you're as corrupt and criminal as these Albany pols pushing teacher accountability.

But one thing we don't have a shortage of in Albany, other than corruption of course, is chutzpah.

Friday, July 24, 2015

State Senator John Sampson Found Guilty of Three Felony Counts

What a week in New York:




If you're thinking, well, Sampson's making out here because he walked on six of the counts, don't bet on it:
Finally, the lesson for the week?


Indeed, so often it isn't the initial crime that gets people, it's the lying and covering it up.

More as it comes in.

Chris Christie Says As President He'd Build Hudson Tunnel He Canceled As Governor

The "You Can't Handle The Truth" tour continues from Chris Christie.

Following yesterday's refusal to respond to a NY Times reporter who asked if Christie cares about NJ Transit riders after numerous delays on the transit system this week comes this news:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who killed a plan to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River several years ago, said that if elected president, he'd make sure the tunnel is built.

"If I am President of the United States, I call a meeting [with] my secretary of transportation, the governor of New York, and the governor of New Jersey and say, ‘Listen if we are all in this even steven, if we are all going to put in an equal share, then let’s go build these tunnels under the Hudson River,'" he said during a taped interview with host Larry Kudlow that will air on WABC on Saturday.

The existing tunnels, operated by Amtrak, are not only near capacity but were flooded and severely damaged during Hurrican Sandy. Amtrak C.E.O. Joseph Boardman said in 2014 that the tunnels were good for "something less than 20 years." NJ Transit riders faced delays Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday because of problems with the tunnels.

An $8.7 billion project, called Access to the Region's Core, would have doubled the number of cross-Hudson rail tunnels using federal and state funds. Christie's predecessor, Jon Corzine, had broken ground on it in 2009. In 2010, however, Christie made the unilateral decision to shut it down.

Add today to the list of days with delays on NJ Transit this week.

Hey, that's only four out of five days of nightmarish rush hour commuting under Christie.

What's four out of five bad days when we have one good one?

And now Christie promises to push for the tunnel, so long as the funding scheme is to his satisfaction and he's, you know, elected president.

Given that it will take about 20 years to complete a tunnel, that should be swell for New Jersey commuters facing four out of five nightmarish commutes a week.

How MaryEllen Elia Fools Some Critics (But Not All)

I've been writing for a few weeks now that new NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is engaging in a "rebrand" effort for New York's education reform agenda, but underneath the "repainting" we see the same old same old reforms - the Endless Testing regime, a pro-Common Core push, and a Blame Teachers attitude toward educators.

Jessica Bakeman writes that Elia comes at this agenda with a more deft touch than her predecessor, John King, and has managed to fool many critics so far that her agenda is different - even though it isn't:

ALBANY—New York’s new education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, and her predecessor, John King, both support the state’s controversial reform agenda, including implementing the Common Core standards, testing students on the more difficult material and evaluating teachers using students’ exam scores.

But it’s what makes her different from the former chief that state education officials have highlighted.
Elia is seasoned at 66, compared to King, who at 36 became the youngest education commissioner in the state’s history. Elia spent more than four decades working in traditional public schools, as a teacher, an administrator and a superintendent, while King had relatively limited experience in schools before founding a prominent charter school network. She has been described as a skilled listener, communicator and collaborator, while he was often criticized as being out of touch and tone deaf.

In hopes of turning King’s critics into Elia’s supporters without reversing course on the reform agenda they’ve pursued for five years, the new commissioner, her communications staff and the State Board of Regents, which appointed her in May, have pitched her as his opposite.

 So far—and granted, it’s still early—the strategy seems to be working.
...
Elia’s record, like King's, is that of an aggressive reformer. In her last position as superintendent of a large, diverse school district in central Florida, she implemented teacher evaluations before the rest of the state with a $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and negotiated with teachers a merit-pay system. Since coming to New York, she has repeatedly described herself as a believer in “accountability.” She supports Governor Andrew Cuomo's receivership model to turn around struggling schools, a plan that could lead to the firing of principals and teachers, and she stressed just giving schools more money isn't the answer.

Bakeman has two pretty good examples of how Elia isn't doing anything different than what came before at SED, but is getting credit for "change" from her critics.

The first is when she said she was instituting a review of the Common Core standards.

That review is in state law as passed this year but Elia broached it as if it were her idea.

The second was in the new testing contract with Questar that "Elia emphasized that the new contract specifically requires teachers’ input in the tests’ content."

Her PR on this:

“New York State teachers will be involved in every step of the test development process,” Elia said in a statement. “Teacher input is critical to building a successful state test.”

But a former NYSED functionary points out that stipulation was in the Pearson contract too:

What’s not in her statement: The contract with Pearson, which ultimately totaled $38 million over five years, also required input from educators. Education officials for years stressed to critics that every question on the exams had been vetted by New York teachers.

Ken Slentz, former deputy education commissioner who now leads a small district in the Finger Lakes, said the department’s messaging suggested the new contract offered something the old one didn’t, which he called “disingenuous.”

“The Questar contract calls for the role of teachers; the Pearson contract had that as well,” he said. “Instead of going out and having these fact-based conversations, we’re being a little bit disingenuous about how we do business. That doesn’t help us in terms of overcoming these misinformed conversations.”

There has been no change to the state's education reform agenda under MaryEllen Elia, but that hasn't stopped critics of NYSED and John King from falling all over themselves to praise Elia.

Take NYSUT, for example.

NYSUT President Karen Magee declared Elia's appointment a victory for NYSUT.

Then there are the nice things NYSUT said about the Questar contract.

Bakeman reports how Assembly Dems like Patrica Fahy are saying nice things about Elia too.

But make no mistake, there are no changes to the state's reform agenda under Elia, as members of the Board of Regents acknowledge:

Board of Regents member Roger Tilles, who represents Long Island on the board, said he believes Elia will be better suited to convince Cuomo and lawmakers to increase state aid to the department.

“The new commissioner is in a much better position to ask for that than the previous commissioner,” he said. “She’s not tainted. There’s not the baggage. And maybe she’ll make exactly the same pitch that John King made. I’ve already seen it when she’s talked to the public in general. She could [talk about] the same issues, and the public will buy it, as opposed to John, when there was immediate antagonism.”

Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch said Elia's long career in public education has helped her gain the respect of skeptics.

“She has been very well received by all constituent groups,” Tisch said, referring to Elia. “She’s got 40 years of experience, so when she says something, people can’t just say to her, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ She speaks with authority. She speaks from experience. She speaks with conviction, and she speaks with deep knowledge. And that is important.”

Bakeman reports that NYSAPE are not fooled by MaryEllen Elia and see the Endless Testing regime continuing under her despite the new PR efforts.

If you're a reader of Perdido Street School blog, NYC Educator's blog, ICEUFT blog or Ed Notes Online, you know we're not fooled by the PR either.

MaryEllen Elia's reform agenda is the same as John King' reform agenda was and Andrew Cuomo's reform agenda is.

At the core is a "Blame Teachers" mentality, an attitude that accountability is for individual schools and teachers, perhaps for districts, but never for the geniuses in Albany who make the policy or put it into action, and a love of the Endless Testing regime and the Common Core.

Elia is pursuing that agenda right now in the receivership push, talking tough to officials and administrators in districts with "struggling" schools while dismissing funding inequity or any other issues other than mismanagement.

I'm not exactly sure what John King's critics who've become MaryEllen Elia's fans are watching with Elia - it's pretty obvious that her game is the same as John King's game (and the same as Andrew Cuomo's game.)

Nonetheless, I will continue to point out over and over that the state's reform agenda has no changed under MaryEllen Elia, I will continue to illuminate Elia's track record in Hillsborough which was abysmal bordering on the criminal, and do my best, in my little corner of the Internet, to get people to see MaryEllen Elia for the corporate reformer and jive artist she is.

Chris Christie Could Care Less About The Mess He's Made Of Public Transportation In New Jersey

Hey, America, vote for Chris Christie so you can have this problem too:

Facing growing anger from commuters over systemic and lengthy delays on New Jersey Transit trains, Gov. Chris Christie refused to answer a question on Thursday about the state’s rail service before he left for a campaign trip to Iowa.

Asked by a New York Times reporter whether he cared about New Jersey Transit riders, Mr. Christie did not reply or acknowledge the question. 

Electrical problems under the Hudson River have caused three days of delays for commuters this week, raising fresh questions about the region’s languishing infrastructure and Mr. Christie’s move to abort plans for a new rail tunnel under the river. Critics have accused Mr. Christie of abandoning the tunnel partly to solve the state’s budget woes and to earn more credibility with fiscal conservatives as he prepared for a presidential run.

Mr. Christie, along with state and local officials, spoke at a small gathering in front of the Spring Lake Fire Company No. 1 in Spring Lake, N.J., to announce a grant toward flood and storm resilience efforts in the area.

As soon as the governor closed the event by thanking everyone for coming, he headed toward the firehouse while the audience applauded. Once the applause quieted down he was asked by a reporter, “Do you care about New Jersey Transit riders?” The governor did not respond or turn to see where the question had come from as he continued walking into the firehouse.

For a campaign that is based on Mr. Christie’s penchant for candor, his silence on the issue is somewhat contradictory.

So much for the "Tell It Like It Is" tour.

And here's the clincher:

After three days of delays on NJ Transit, Monday - Wednesday, there are delays again this morning:

After a one-day reprieve, New Jersey Transit train riders are dealing with delays again this morning.
Trains into and out of New York Penn Station are running 30 minute behind schedule as of 7:20 a.m. due to power problems, NJ Transit said on its website and via Twitter.

Rail passes will be honored on NJ Transit and private buses as well as on PATH trains.

"We have a problem again with the overhead power system in the NY terminal area," said Craig Schulz, an Amtrak spokesman. "We"re restricted to operating three trains at a time through the Hudson River Tunnel, which will mean some delays (up to about 30 minutes) for Amtrak and NJT customers."

The overhead wire system on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor through New Jersey and into New York is about 80-years old. The cash starved railroad doesn't have the funds to replace aging wires and signals.

"Our engineering folks are working to isolate and rectify the problem as we speak," Schulz said.

Christie of course killed the ARC tunnel project when he became governor:

In 2009, Chris Christie’s predecessor broke ground on a fully funded, $8.7-billion project that would have created a new tunnel under the Hudson River to connect the commuter-rich suburbs of northern New Jersey with job-rich midtown Manhattan.
There were strong arguments in favor of the tunnel's necessity. The two existing rail tubes connecting north Jersey to Midtown were nearing capacity—they comprise the most serious bottleneck on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The corridor provides 260 million trips a year, and that number is growing.

"The importance of the connection to New York City to the state of New Jersey is almost impossible to overstate," said Tom Wright, executive director of the Regional Plan Association. "Literally the most important industry for the state of New Jersey is commuting to New York City."

But Christie, in an early assertion of his intention to redefine the relationship between New Jersey and New York, argued that the project was too risky and cancelled it, and redirected much of its funding to road repairs within his own state.

New York senator Chuck Schumer—who had worked to line up federal funding for the project which the region was now going to lose—called Christie's decision "one of the worst decisions that any governmental leader has made in the 20th century, or the 21st century."

If Amtrak’s century-old tunnels were decrepit and nearing capacity then, they’re in worse shape now.

Indeed they are.

As New Jersey residents trying to get to New York City all this week have discovered.

Want this kind of "truth-telling" for yourself, America?

Vote for Chris Christie for president.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pearson Sells Financial Times

Pearson's having an eventful summer so far, getting passed over for testing contracts, selling newspapers, that sort of thing:


Japanese media group Nikkei has agreed to buy the Financial Times from Britain's Pearson (PSON.L) for $1.3 billion, putting one of the world's premier business newspapers in the hands of a company influential at home but little known outside Japan.

The deal, struck after Nikkei beat Germany's Axel Springer (SPRGn.DE) to the prize, marks the biggest acquisition by a Japanese media organization and is a coup for the employee-owned firm which lends its name to the main Japanese stock market index.

In the Financial Times it has acquired an authoritative global newspaper that commands strong loyalty from its readers and has coped better than others with the shift to online publishing. It was one of the first newspapers to successfully charge for access to its website.

...


Reporters at the paper told Reuters there was some apprehension, as they knew very little about their new owner, but there was also relief they had not been bought by Bloomberg - another potential buyer - which could have resulted in duplication of staff roles and more potential job cuts.

Chief Executive John Fallon told reporters he believed that like Pearson, the new owner had a commitment to the "fairness and accuracy of its reporting, and to the integrity and independence of its journalism".


Pearson still has 50% of The Economist and 47% of Penguin Random House.

Here's their public strategy around the sale:

Pearson will now be 100% focused on our global education strategy. The world of education is changing profoundly and we see huge opportunity to grow our business through increasing access to high quality education globally.

Interesting that they see this "huge opportunity" to grow the business as the anger and hostility many parents and educators feel toward Pearson has been growing to a crescendo.

NYSED Commissioner Elia Should Have Been "Intimately Involved" After Students Died During Her Tenure In Hillsborough

Jessica Bakeman at Capital NY reporting on NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia's "I'm Not Listening" tour:

Often referring to her own experience as a 45-year teacher and administrator, New York’s new education commissioner delivered a simultaneously supportive and tough message to district leaders and parents from some of New York’s worst schools on Wednesday: Fix the schools, or the state will step in and do it.

...

“One of the things that we can’t do is ignore the situation,” Elia said during a speech at the conference Wednesday evening. “We can’t go any longer—and I won't go any longer—and ignore the situation in New York, where we have persistently struggling schools or struggling schools without making the kinds of necessary changes that are allowed under this legislation.”

...


“I am going to be intimately involved in saying, I believe schools and districts are legitimately working on making these necessary changes,” she said. “But in the converse, if I don’t see that, I will be intimately involved in your school districts. Because we can’t allow students to move forward without the supports they need for success.”


This tough talk stuff is meant to make her come across as competent and in charge, it's meant to scare local districts into going to the max with what the receivership law allows, it's meant to let districts know that an activist commissioner is in Albany.

Alas, if only MaryEllen Elia had been so competent, in charge and activist when children died under her watch in the Hillsborough school district and Elia did nothing to fix the problems except try and hide them.

As such, I'm going to run a previous post from May 28 about Elia's complicity in and cover-up of the deaths of three children in the Hillsborough school district and ask our intrepid new NYSED Commissioner why she wasn't "intimately involved" in fixing the problems that led to the first student's death so that subsequent students didn't have to die too:

Complicity And Cover-Up: MaryEllen Elia's Failure Of Leadership In The Deaths Of Hillsborough Students

The tragic stories of Isabella Herrera, a 7 year old who died in 2012 while on a Hillsborough school bus, and Keith Logan Coty, a 6 year old who died of a brain hemorrhage in 2014 after getting sick at his school, suggest the kind of leadership we'll get from new NYSED commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

Then Hillsborough superintendent, Elia never took responsibility for the failure of district personnel to call 911 in a timely manner when Isabellea Herrera was found unresponsive on a Hillsborough school bus.

In fact, Elia did all she could to deflect responsibility from herself and the district and cover-up district complicity in the child's death because of an outdated policy that had school bus drivers call dispatchers instead of 911 in an emergency.

As Joe Henderson of the Tampa Tribune wrote, if not for a lawsuit from the Herrera family, the circumstances of the girl's death - a direct consequence of school district policy continued under Elia - would not have come to light:

For all the community outrage over circumstances that contributed to the death of 7-year-old special-needs student Isabella Herrera, consider this: If her parents hadn't filed a federal lawsuit over the way her case was handled, the public still wouldn't know there was ever a problem.
There wouldn't be a task force to study ongoing problems with how issues with special-needs students are addressed.
School bus drivers would continue to follow the 21-year-old policy of calling dispatchers instead of 911 in an emergency such as the one that led to Isabella's death.
Six of seven members of the Hillsborough County School Board would still be in the dark about what happened that January day on the bus taking Isabella home from classes.
Life would go on just always. Except, of course, for Isabella and her family.
She had a neuromuscular disease that made her neck muscles weak. She was supposed to have her head back as she sat in her wheelchair, but she tilted forward and it blocked her airway. When it was discovered, the driver called dispatch and the aide on board called Isabella's mother.
By the time Lisa Herrera arrived and dialed 911 herself, her daughter was blue and unresponsive. She was pronounced dead the next day.
But Superintendent MaryEllen Elia didn't make the news public. She relied on a sheriff's office investigation that she said found no criminal wrongdoing, and appeared to let it go at that. During an interview last week, I asked why she didn't release the news. She fell back on the sheriff's report.
If you're the parent of a special-needs student, though, you would have liked to know there was a problem. I should say, is a problem. There have been three other issues with special-needs kids just this year, including the recent death of a student with Down syndrome who wandered away unnoticed and drowned.
The Herrera family filed its lawsuit a few days after that — about nine months after Isabella died. Now we have a task force, and a policy change allowing bus drivers to call 911 if the situation warrants. As school board Vice Chairwoman April Griffin told The Tampa Tribune though, "It goes way, way deeper than that. But I think it's a start."
This would be a better start: Expand the task force to probe the circumstances of why it took a lawsuit to bring this to a head. This isn't a witch hunt, but there has to be accountability.
What happened in the aftermath of this tragedy was at best a case of bureaucratic bungling.
When a child dies, a leader doesn't fall back on official reports and policy excuses. A leader gets to the bottom of things and then lets everyone know what went wrong so it doesn't happen again. A leader asks uncomfortable questions about the culture in a school system that values policy and procedure over good judgment and common sense.
That didn't happen here. And if not for a lawsuit, no one would have known.

Two years later, another child died after Hillsborough school staff failed to call 911 in a timely manner:

TAMPA — Keith Logan Coty played baseball, soccer and football. He was a principal's honor roll student in the first grade at Seminole Heights Elementary School, his mother said.

He'd had a heart murmur, but the doctor had cleared him, his mother said.

He died a year ago at age 6 of a brain hemorrhage, and a lawsuit filed Friday blames staff at his school for failing to call for help quickly enough. The lapse is especially unfathomable, lawyers say, as the issue of timely 911 calls was cited in another high-profile student death in a Hillsborough public school.

"How many kids under the care of this school district must die before the district gets it right?" lawyer Steven Maher asked, announcing the federal suit in a news conference Friday.

Exactly a year ago — Jan. 17, 2014 — Keith began feeling sick after lunch, the suit says. He went back to his classroom about 12:24 p.m., complaining to his teacher about a severe headache. She told him to lie down. He did. Then he started vomiting.

About 12:51, the teacher called Keith's mother, Kaycee Teets. There was no sense of urgency in the voice mail message she left, which Maher played at the news conference. It simply asked Teets to pick up her son because he was throwing up.

Before Teets could arrive, another school employee entered the room and found Keith lying on his side, making a gurgling sound with foam streaming from his nose. "His lips were blue," the suit said. The school nurse was summoned. Although Keith was unresponsive, the suit alleges the nurse did not perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation; nor did she use the defibrillator at the school.

About 12:58 p.m., a worker in the front office called 911. The information given to the 911 operator was confusing, the suit alleges. At one point the caller said Keith was breathing. His mother insists he was not.

When an emergency vehicle arrived at 1:03 p.m., Keith was "in the corner, visibly blue, not breathing, and unresponsive." Paramedics were able to resuscitate the child, and they took him to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

A scan revealed he had a brain hemorrhage. But, according to the suit, no one told the doctors about his headache, information Teets learned hours later when she spoke with Keith's teacher. Not suspecting a neurological problem, doctors focused on possible cardiac issues instead.

Keith "went without oxygen for at least 10 minutes as a result of the delay in commencing CPR," the suit alleges. He stayed on life support long enough for his organs to be taken for donation, and he was pronounced dead later in the day.

The suit, filed days before Superintendent MaryEllen Elia could face a School Board vote on terminating her contract, is reminiscent of a suit the same firm filed in 2012, also involving a child alleged to have died after emergency treatment was delayed.

Isabella Herrera suffered a neuromuscular disability and was on a school bus when she stopped breathing. No one called 911 until Isabella's mother arrived. The school district ultimately settled that lawsuit for $800,000.

The Herrera suit was filed in federal court, alleging a civil rights violation; rather than a negligence suit in state court, where the award would have been limited under sovereign immunity. Maher was trying to prove a districtwide lack of training and care so severe, it amounted to a level of indifference toward disabled students that qualified as discrimination.

This time, Maher said, the 911 policy and procedures amount to discrimination toward all of Hillsborough's 200,000 students.

The district argued in the 2012 suit that there was no pattern of indifference. And, after the drowning death of a second special-needs child that same year, Hillsborough revamped its training of staff, particularly those who care for disabled children.

But 911 calls have remained a source of confusion. While Elia quickly stated there is no prohibition against calling 911, administrators sometimes advise staff to let the front office make the calls. Phone service is not always reliable in the classrooms, they say, and it's easier for emergency workers to find the office than a particular classroom.

Maher and Teets said that makes no sense to them.

"I would call 911. There would be no question," Teets said. "Any person would do that. I walked into a classroom and found my child, blue on the ground."

Stephen Hegarty, the district's spokesman, said, "I cannot comment on pending litigation."

Maher said his firm is asking for monetary damages, but did not specify the amount.

Where are the great leadership qualities Elia supposedly has in the aftermath of these tragedies involving Hillsborough students?

If one student dies as a result of the failure of staff to call 911 in a timely manner, wouldn't you think a "great leader" would put together an effective protocol so that such a tragedy wouldn't happen a second time?

Elia instead did her best to cover up the circumstances surrounding Isabella Herrera's death - something that was noted when Elia was feted with a commendation by the Tampa Bay City Council after she was fired as Hillsborough superintendent.

Mary Mulhern, a council member who voted against the commendation for Elia, told the Tampa Tribune:

"MaryEllen Elia was fired by her employers — by her boss, the School Board," she said. "I can't think of another case where someone gets lauded and celebrated after they've been fired from a job that is a public responsibility. … When you are responsible for the lives of children, I think one strike is too many."

Elaborating, Mulhern cited the deaths of three students:

• 7-year-old disabled student Isabella Herrera, who died in January 2012 after suffering respiratory failure aboard a school bus. A bus video show that the driver and an aide did not call 911, but used a radio to try to reach their supervisor, as was protocol, then called Herrera's mother, who arrived and called 911. The School Board, most of whose members were unaware of the death until the girl's parents sued, agreed to pay $800,000 last year to settle a federal lawsuit.

• 11-year-old Jennifer Caballero, who had Down syndrome and drowned in a pond behind Rodgers Middle School after wandering away from a crowded gym class in October 2012. The school district agreed to pay a negotiated settlement estimated at more than $500,000. Investigations led to three firings and several resignations at the school. The district also took steps after the deaths to improve safety for special-needs students on buses and in school.

• 6-year-old Keith Logan Coty, who died a day after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in January 2014 at Seminole Heights Elementary School. In a lawsuit, his parents accuse the school district of being indifferent to student safety and of discouraging staffers from calling 911 in emergencies. The district denies the allegations.

"If somebody dies, it goes to the top," Mulhern said. In the Herrera case, she said, "her employers didn't know this happened for nine months. … For me, that's enough. That's three strikes."

Mulhern said she didn't "disagree that (Elia has) done very good work over 10 years," but the concerns about student safety were overriding for her.

"The powers that be in Tampa and Hillsborough County just circled the wagons around this powerful person," who, Mulhern noted, had the authority to give out contracts. 

Say what you will about former NYSED commissioner John King's flaws as a leader - covering up district complicity in the death of a student and a failure to fix emergency protocol for 911 calls involving students weren't on the list.

The more you learn about MaryEllen Elia and her "leadership," the more you see the big mistake the Board of Regents made by hiring her as NYSED commissioner.

Also, the more you learn about Elia as a person, the more you see how appropriate her nickname - MaryEllen EVILia - is.

MaryEllen Elia should have been "intimately involved" in fixing the 911 protocol after the Herrera death.

Alas, she covered up the death instead, keeping the news from six of the seven school board members, and tried to evade responsibility for the matter by relying on the sheriff's report that there was no criminal wrongdoing in the case.

Elia didn't change the protocols for how Hillsborough staff took care of the safety of special needs students until after the death of a second child, Jennifer Caballero, in the wading pool.

It took the death of a third child, Keith Logan Coty, before she finally addressed the 911 protocols.

Considering her failure of leadership and humanity in the deaths of these three children while she was superintendent of Hillsborough, how dare MaryEllen Elia lecture anybody about anything?

There were plenty of opportunities for her to be "intimately involved" in changing the way Hillsborough staff handled safety issues for special needs students or 911 protocols and Elia did nothing but hide the district's complicity in these deaths and try and evade responsibility for herself.

Finally, how dare the Board of Regents hire somebody with this kind of track record on safety issues for children under her care - not just the incompetence and bungling of the safety issues but the willful covering-up of district complicity afterwards?

New York's Rogue's Gallery Of Criminal Politicians

A commenter at Capitol Confidential runs down the Rogue's Gallery of criminal politicians we've had (or currently have) running our state:

For those keeping score of the Rogue’s Gallery:
Pedro Espada – arrested, found guilty, serving 5 years
Malcolm Smith – arrested, found guilty, serving 7 years
Tom Libous – arrested, found guilty, sentence pending
John Sampson – arrested, on trial
Sheldon Silver – arrested, trial pending
Dean Skelos – arrested, trial pending
Andrew Cuomo – pending
“New York is Open For Business”

The Samspon jury is in the fourth day of deliberations in Sampson's trial.

Quite a Rogue's Gallery in New York.

Certainly looks like Bharara's working his way up the depth chart, doesn't it?

NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia Says Money Not The Issue For Struggling Schools

NYSED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia continued her "I'm Not Listening To You" tour today, showing some "tough love" for administrators and officials of struggling schools: 

New state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia met with school adminstrators from around the state Wednesday who had gathered to discuss the new and controversial receivership program that raises the possibility that some of the state’s lowest-performing schools could end up being taken out of local district control and turned over to groups like non-profits or charter operators.

Her remarks to the at-times skeptical local officials were part pep talk and part tough love.

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Responding to the oft-voiced complaint that the state’s poor performing schools need more money, she said that she didn’t devise the funding formulas and that school improvement is about more than dollars and cents.

“Money is not the whole deal here,” she said, adding that schools need to look at, tap and coordinate all of the resources in their community including volunteer groups and others not formally part of the education system.

“There have been millions of dollars put into these schools and they are still on that list,” she said of the lowest performing schools, which are dubbed ”struggling” or “persistently struggling.”

Elia may not have devised the funding formulas for school districts but that doesn't mean they're not a huge problem.

Take this 2010 study by Rutgers about school funding in New York:

New York State ranks near the bottom of the country in how fairly it funds its schools, asserts a new Rutgers University report released Tuesday.

Only four other states have a bigger gap between how much money they send to their poorest schools compared with their wealthiest ones, researchers at Rutgers and the Education Law Center in New Jersey found.

"It really gives us pause," said Geri Palast, head of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the group that filed a successful lawsuit in the 1990s to force the state to fund poor schools more equitably.
New York spends more on education overall than most other states, but researchers call its funding methods "regressive."

Wealthy districts rely on high property taxes to fund their schools - a luxury many poor districts do not have.

As a result, in 2008, a New York school district with no poor kids received about $17,000 per student in local and state aid, while one with at least 30% of the students living in poverty got about $14,000 per student.

 Or this more recent report from January 2015:

ALBANY — In the opening salvo of what promises to be a heated battle this year over education reform, a new report says funding inequities between poor and rich school districts across the state has reached record levels under Gov. Cuomo - and has soared 43% in New York City.

Overall, schools in poorer districts spent $8,733 per pupil less in 2012 than those from wealthier ones, an inequity that grew by nearly 9% from before Cuomo took office in 2011, according to the study by a coalition of education advocacy groups opposing many of the reforms pushed by Cuomo.

While the 100 wealthiest districts spent on average more than $28,000 in state and local funding per kid in 2012, the 100 poorest districts in the state spent closer to $20,000 per student, the report found.

The report, obtained by the Daily News, is set to be released Monday. The coalition includes the Alliance for Quality Education, which is backed by the powerful teachers unions, the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York, Opportunity Action, and National Opportunity to Learn.

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The inequity gaps were made worse by nearly $400 per pupil, the report says, after Cuomo won a 2% cap on local property tax increases that made it more difficult for needy districts to raise needed money, the report says.

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The inequality has made it tougher to attack poor education results in high-need districts, where graduation rates dramatically lag behind those in richer districts, the report says.

But MaryEllen Elia says money isn't the issue with struggling schools.

You know, all the problems can be solved with a little tough love, some volunteers from the community and the firing of entire school staffs.

Hey, NYSUT, how's that collaboration and consensus thing going with MaryEllen Elia?