Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Will SolarCity Implode And Burn Governor Cuomo's Administration With It?

SolarCity, the company the Cuomo administration is spending $750 million in Buffalo Billion Project funds on, had an interesting week to say the least.

The NY Times had a long piece on the risks/rewards the SolarCity deal has for New York taxpayers - here is the reward angle:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has committed up to $750 million to the project, the biggest economic development effort he has undertaken in his five years as governor.

In doing so, he has not just bet big on solar energy, a competitive and rapidly growing business, but also on the success of SolarCity, a fast-growing California company that will operate out of the factory that the New York State will own.

The potential benefits seem substantial: The state has said the 1.2 million-square-foot SolarCity factory, which is scheduled to open in early 2016, will create 5,000 jobs, with 3,000 of them in western New York.

If the demand for solar power grows, and the companies the state has attracted are able to capitalize on that, then it could be well positioned to profit. Companies lured to New York by generous state grants have created jobs, often in struggling regions or cities like Buffalo. The government hopes a virtuous cycle will follow, and public money will attract private investment.

Sounds swell, except that SolarCity hasn't turned a profit since the company was taken public in 2012, has lost money since 2008, has been plagued by short-sellers making money off its plunging stock prices, and is the target of a federal investigation.
Here's Jim Heaney of Investigative Post on the mounting losses and plunging stock prices SolarCity is enjoying these days:

The company disclosed it posted a net loss of $234 million in the third quarter. That’s the biggest quarterly loss in the history of the company and brings the year-to-date losses to a staggering $537 million.

That puts SolarCity on track to lose more than $700 million for 2015, compared with net losses of $375 million in 2014, $152 million in 2013 and $92 million in 2012.


SolarCity stock prices also took a nasty tumble Thursday, prompting Business Insider to declare “SolarCity is getting nuked.”

The bad news on earnings drove the company’s stock down to $31.15 in after-hours trading. A day earlier, the stock closed at $38.34. That’s down from a peak of $84.96 in February 2014.

Heaney writes that Solar City is also under investigation by the feds for inflating prices to max out reimbursements from the government and was caught using prison labor to make their solar panels for an Oregon installation while taking tax credits that imposed a “job creation and retention requirement" that would pump up the regional economy.

Instead of hiring workers from the region, Solar City paid prisoners 93 cents an hour to make their solar panels.

And of course SolarCity is a part of US Attorney Preet Bharara's investigation into the Buffalo Billion Project contracts, which may have been rigged to benefit Governor Cuomo's campaign donors:

In late June, federal prosecutors sent out several subpoenas for documents on how the facility’s construction contracts were awarded. One avenue of investigation, according to people briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak on the record, is whether a request for proposals was written in a way that would have favored a construction company whose chief executive had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the governor.

While it is not known if SolarCity is a focus of the investigation, the company’s chief executive officer, Lyndon Rive, said in an interview that his company had not been subpoenaed and does not believe it was a target.

The future does not get any easier for SolarCity either.  The company's tax subsidies are set to expire in 2017 and the company's CEO told investors this week that SolarCity will shift from growth to cost-cutting in order to save money in the short term. 

Bloomberg News reports on the challenges that poses:

A recurring slide in the company’s earnings presentations shows how the cost per watt of installed capacity has come down over time. In the past two years, SolarCity says, it has fallen from $3.26 per watt to $2.84, as you might expect for a company growing rapidly and achieving economies of scale.

What’s odd is that the sales and overhead piece of that has actually gone up by half in that time. In other words, while greater scale has helped cut the unit cost of actually installing panels by 28 percent, more than 40 percent of those savings have been eaten away by rising sales and back-office costs.

Fixing that is critical to SolarCity’s new strategy. Looking at its unit-cost targets for 2017, virtually all of the planned savings are in sales and overhead, effectively getting them back to where they were two years ago.

Thumbs up for the objective, especially as federal subsidies boosting demand for solar power may fall away starting in 2017. SolarCity says costs have risen due to upfront investment in anticipation of future growth and that the new strategy will help bring those unit costs down. Investors should watch closely for progress on that front.

So let's sum it all up - Solar City has lost $1.2 billion since 2008 and has seen those losses accelerate by the year, is the target of short sellers and lost a quarter of its stock value this week alone, will lose its generous tax subsidies in a couple of years which puts increasing financial pressure on the company, is the target of a federal investigation for price inflation and is caught up in another federal investigation into potential bid rigging and other corruption around Cuomo's Buffalo Billion Project.

Boy, this sounds like a mess, doesn't it?

Given the financial stake Cuomo has put into SolarCity and the Buffalo Billion Project investigation the feds have launched that appears to center around, if not target, SolarCity, there's an awful lot of downside for both SolarCity and Governor Cuomo here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Moskowitz Presser Addressing "Got To Go" List Allegations Is Theater Of The Absurd

Melodrama, Moskowitz-style, via Eliza Shapiro at Politico NY:

Eva Moskowitz said Friday that she will not fire the Success Academy principal who created the "got to go" list of struggling students he wanted to leave the school, as documented in a widely read New York Times article.

"At Success, we simply don't believe in throwing people on the trash heap for the sake of public relations," Moskowitz, the charter network's CEO, said during a press conference convened to respond to the Times piece.

Moskowitz said she had received "a lot of P.R. advice" suggesting that she fire the principal, Candido Brown.

Brown sobbed throughout the press conference, apologized for creating the note and said he was not directed to do so by any of his managers. He left before the event ended.

Brown and Moskowitz were flanked by dozens of Success principals, several of whom wept, and others who stood with their arms folded, looking stonily at the reporters before them.

While Moskowitz said she would not yield to pressure to fire Brown, reporters were handed print-outs of an email Moskowitz sent in which she describes Brown as "stubborn and somewhat dense."

"The normal intellectual explanation or boss tells [sic] to do something does not get through," Moskowitz added, in an email from December 2014.

That email was part of a thread that was meant to demonstrate to reporters that Brown was properly reprimanded after the "got to go" list was discovered by high-level Success administrators.

Moskowitz noted that Brown was immediately called into a meeting and was censured for creating the list.

Shapiro goes on to report that Moskowitz canceled another appearance today and that no one in the charter world would defend her (other than James Merriman who defended her yeserday in the Times story.)

Ah, if only Arthur Miller were alive to dramatize this story for the stage.

So basically Moskowitz throws the "dense" principal under the bus for putting into writing what is Success's push-out policy, but gets him to stay around so she can say that Success doesn't "throw people onto the trash heap."

Moskowitz also claims this "Got To Go" practice at SA Fort Greene was an anomaly that only happened at that one school. 

What a show!

I have a difficult time seeing how this helps Moskowitz long-term - it simply adds to the bad reputation, with the SA staff staring stonily at the press as the sacrificial lamb/dense principal cries through a press conference while also laying down a marker for the press to follow up on.

If the push out practice was an anomaly, then it had better not show up anywhere else.

The Taylor Times story reported that the practice did indeed happen at other schools.

Other news organizations have reported the same (see here, for example.)

That's a road map for reporters to follow to prove that the push out practice was not an anomaly, that it goes to the core of what Success does.

I can't wait to see what kind of press response Eva puts on if more stories of push out follow this one.

One final thing to say about Eva - you can see why the powers that be didn't want her to run for mayor and why they're not defending her now.

Not only was this the kind of scrutiny she was going to get as a mayoral candidate, but clearly, given the insane press response she put on today, she's not exactly the best at defusing these situations.

It's not going out on too much of a limb to make a prediction that Eva gets the heave-ho from Success if this stuff continues.

Just as Michelle Rhee was dispensable to the hedge fund managers/education reformers, so is Eva Moskowitz.

She's doing more damage than good to the charter/privatization cause - don't be surprised if there's not a lot of pressure behind the scenes from the SA sugar daddies to push her out.

Cuomo Plans To Lead National Gun Control Campaign In 2016

From the "If I'm not under indictment, I have grand political plans" file:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo intends to take a lead role in a broad campaign pressing for a crackdown on the improper dealing of firearms, swerving into national politics on an issue that has caused him some political heartburn in New York but has become a defining subject of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has pledged to throw his weight behind the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the country’s most prominent gun control groups, in an as-yet-unannounced effort demanding that the Justice Department more closely scrutinize so-called bad apple gun merchants, according to people familiar with the campaign.

Mr. Cuomo, in an interview about his plans to work with the Brady Campaign, promised that his involvement in national gun politics would continue to deepen. He said he would hit the campaign trail in 2016 to emphasize the issue of gun violence, which he repeatedly called “the big issue” in national politics.

Dunno about your reading of this, but my reading is, Cuomo's trying to ride the gun control issue to national prominence to set up future political opportunities for himself.

Of course, that dream could hit this wall.

NY Post: Cuomo Corruption May Be In Bharara's Sights

Bob McManus in the NY Post on the upcoming corruption trials of Silver and Skelos and what a recent leak to the Times Union suggests:

The governor short-circuited his own earlier probe of Albany corruption — basically meant to be an attention deflector — when it began to show signs of going beyond his control. This excited Bharara’s interest, and he demanded a boxcar of relevant documents while hinting broadly that more will be heard on the topic.

Then the prosecutor took direct aim at Cuomo’s signature “Buffalo Billion” economic-development project — and seems to have extended that probe to the multibillion-dollar SUNY Poly nanotech initiative, which dates to the Mario Cuomo administration.

It’s in this context, then, that an intriguing story appearing in an upstate newspaper over the weekend should be read.

The Albany Times-Union reported that a Hudson Valley developer with millions in state contracts — and a frequent big-bucks Cuomo contributor — has benefited in spades from government decisions that placed competitors at a serious disadvantage.

The paper says that the developer, Steven L. Aaron, and some of his associates have kicked in more than $250,000 to Cuomo’s campaigns since 2010 — no small sum even by the governor’s loose-but-nominally-legal standards.

Whether Bharara has taken an interest in Aaron, et al., isn’t clear, but stories like that don’t fall out of trees — and the prosecutor is nothing if not a master of the strategic leak.

So it’s hard not to suspect that soon more will be learned of Aaron, his associates and their interests.
Certainly the details loosely parallel those in the Buffalo case that Bharara is openly pursuing — where local construction contractor Lou Ciminelli saw bidding requirements on one state project egregiously tailored to his advantage. (Presumably, the $125,000 Ciminelli and his wife contributed to Cuomo’s campaign is of some interest to the feds.)

To be sure, it’s not clear where any of this is headed. But it seems that the very best Cuomo can hope for from the upcoming trials is to come away covered in the mud that inevitably will be flung about during the proceedings.

That Times Union story about Steven Aaron and the $250K in donations to Cuomo intrigued me when I read it as well because of the parallels to the Buffalo Billion donor stories.

As McManus writes, these stories just don't fall out of trees - they come from somewhere and Bharara has use strategic leaking before to lay the groundwork for future criminal charges.

These days, we're getting leaks about Cuomo donors getting all kinds of goodies in exchange for cash to Cuomo.

I would add the Kiryas Joel story to the Buffalo Billion and Aaron pieces in that vein.

Now all this might be nothing significant -  just intrepid reporters doing some investigative reporting.

But given how Bharara has worked in the past, it's possible these are leaks that add up to something significant in the tea leaves.

As the cliche goes, time will tell.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

NY Times Exposes The "Got To Go" List At Success Academies

It's interesting to see how the press coverage of Eva Moskowitz and Success Academies has changed in the past couple of years.

For a long time, the press dutifully covered whatever Eva wanted covered and mostly treated her and her schools with kid gloves.

But not anymore.

Kate Taylor of the NY Times had the "Kids are too scared to go to the bathroom during test prep so they soil themselves instead" story about Success Academies in the NY Times and she follows that up with an expose on the Success Academy "Got To Go" list:

Success Academy, the high-performing charter school network in New York City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.

Taylor goes on to report that 16 students were on the "Got To Go" list at SA Fort Greene and staff worked to get the parents of these students to pull them out of school - an endeavor that worked with over half:

Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere.

The "Got To Go" practice is rife throughout the Success network:

The current and former employees said they had observed similar practices at other Success schools. According to those employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs or their relationships with people still at the network, school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.

Success Academies claims the "Got To Go" list was a "mistake," that the principal that created it was "reprimanded."

Eva Moskowitz demanded an apology from PBS over a report by John Merrow on the Newshour about SA and their suspension rate.

In an interview Merrow asked Eva directly if she juiced her test stats through suspensions and push-outs.

Moskowitz turned red and sputtered a response, then quickly wrote an attack letter to PBS demanding the apology.

But now, just a few days later, we get a Times story that confirms what Merrow was getting at in his report for the Newshour - Success Academy indeed does seek to make life hell for students who they want out in order to get them to leave on their own.

Will Eva demand an apology from the Times too?

Moskowitz was going on the attack today against Bill de Blasio over pre-K funding, claiming the city was wrongly keeping money from charters to hold pre-K.

But instead of being on the attack all day, Moskowitz is instead going to be on the defensive, responding to another damaging report about Success Academies and their suspension/attrition rates.

How the media coverage has turned for Eva and Success these days.

Cuomo Decides Scalping World Series Tickets For Campaign Donations Not Such A Great Idea After All

From the Buffalo News:

ALBANY – Facing mounting criticism for mixing politics and the World Series, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo canceled plans Wednesday night to hold a $5,500 per person fundraiser during two games this weekend at Citi Field when the New York Mets return to Queens for the start of their home stand.

The governor, who took a private jet on a Long Island-based charter service with the owners of the Mets to the first game of the World Series Tuesday night in Kansas City, said he was canceling the Friday and Saturday night fundraisers because of an “overwhelming demand for tickets” to the games. His campaign on Monday sent email invitations to donors asking for contributions of $5,500 apiece to attend a pregame reception and seats for either Game Three or Four or the World Series when it returns to New York this weekend. 
Government reform groups this week criticized Cuomo for the timing of the events, saying they showed how deep-pocket contributors could gain access to New York government’s chief executive in ways ordinary New Yorkers could not. New York Post editorial writers Wednesday likened Cuomo to a ticket scalper.

As attorney general, Cuomo had gone after people who waited on line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets, then sold them on Craigslist.

But the only thing that stopped him from scalping World Series tickets for campaign dough was a public shaming.

Why Wasn't Michelle Rhee Investigated For Assault And Endangering The Welfare Of Children?

From the NY Times:

The popular leader of an after-school band program in Brooklyn has been charged with assault after putting duct tape over the mouth of a 9-year-old student, the police said on Wednesday.
The program leader, Kenyatte Hughes, 39, revived the Soul Tigers Marching Band, based at Intermediate School 292 in the East New York neighborhood, more than a decade ago with the goal of steering children away from violence by teaching them music.

Mr. Hughes, whom officials said was a volunteer, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal possession of a weapon (the duct tape), the police said. He was arraigned in Criminal Court in Brooklyn on Wednesday and released without having to post bail, despite prosecutors’ request that bail be set at $20,000.

Law enforcement officials said Mr. Hughes put tape over a male student’s mouth on Monday, and that after it was removed, the boy’s lip was cracked and bloody and his face was swollen.

Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, called the charges “deeply troubling” and said, “Mr. Hughes will no longer be allowed in I.S. 292 or any of our schools.” The school principal, Evelyn Maxfield, declined to comment.

Bill Turque in the Washington Post in August 2010:

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's talk to the new DCPS teachers Wednesday included two anecdotes I had not heard before -- one remarkable for its content, the other for its delivery. They described her struggles 18 years ago as a fledgling second grade teacher at Baltimore's Harlem Park Elementary.
"The worst and in many ways definitely the toughest year of my entire life," she said.

Rhee had poor class management skills, she said, recalling that her class "was very well known in the school because you could hear them traveling anywhere because they were so out of control." On one particularly rowdy day, she said she decided to place little pieces of masking tape on their lips for the trip to the school cafeteria for lunch.

"OK kids, we're going to do something special today!" she said she told them.

Rhee said it worked well until they actually arrived at the cafeteria. "I was like, 'OK, take the tape off. I realized I had not told the kids to lick their lips beforehand...The skin is coming off their lips and they're bleeding. Thirty-five kids were crying."

Hughes arrested for taping child's mouth shut, Rhee tells the mouth tape story for laughs.

She ought to be investigated for assault and endangerment of children's welfare as well.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cuomo Brings Critic Of State Education Policy Into His Administration

Cuomo feeling the heat from parents and teachers?

ALBANY - Bedford schools Superintendent Jere Hochman is joining Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet as his top education aide.

Hochman, who has headed the Bedford school district since 2008, will leave to become Cuomo’s deputy secretary for education, Gannett’s Albany Bureau has learned.

“Dr. Hochman brings tremendous experience and an in-depth knowledge of the public education system to his new role,” Cuomo said in a statement. “He has spent his career working to strengthen learning environments and make schools a better place for all, and he will be a valuable member of our policy team.”

A former English teacher and school principal, Hochman will become the Democratic governor’s top education adviser at a time when the state’s implementation of the Common Core education standards continues to receive criticism from parents and teachers.


Hochman has been critical of state education policies in the past. Last year, he said the Common Core has become too tied to a “culture of testing” and questioned whether it would need to be revamped.

“The whole accountability, ‘gotcha’ culture is so out of control that we need a fresh start,” Hochman told The Journal News in September of last year. “The standards are OK, but every problem is connected to the Common Core. New York needs to take a bold stance so we can focus on educating kids.”

It's an interesting appointment, that's for sure.

But I'm not ready to believe this means a real change in policy is coming from Andrew "I will break the public schools" Cuomo, even if he's promised "a lot of changes" to education policy coming up.

As Nate said on twitter:

There's still a lot of campaign donations in Cuomo's coffers, with more promised, if he continues to push a privatization agenda.

One thing is certain though - Cuomo is clearly worried about his polling numbers, which are dismal overall and especially dismal on education.

Can you imagine him appointing a critic of state education policy and testing even last year?

545 out of 674 School Districts Seek Waivers From Cuomo's APPR Teacher Evaluation System

From the Times Union:

Well over half of New York school districts may be exempt from implementing a new, controversial teacher evaluation system this year that relies heavily on student test scores. 
As of Tuesday afternoon, the State Education Department had approved hardship waivers for 420 school districts who said circumstances prevent them from putting the new system into place during the current school year. In addition, 106 districts are still awaiting approval for waivers. Nineteen districts were denied waivers. 
"The term denial may not be appropriate here, since the applications can be edited and resubmitted," a department spokeswoman wrote in an email. "We anticipate all 19 of these applications will be resubmitted." 
The deadline to submit a waiver application to the State Education Department is Friday.

Here is what Politco NY reported on October 5:

ALBANY — The vast majority of school districts and teachers' unions seem to be having difficulty coming to an agreement on a new teacher evaluation system supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

As of the end of last week, only 12 plans had been approved, with another 47 submitted for review, according to the state education department. There are 674 districts statewide.

So if my pre-Common Core math is correct, 420 + 106 = 526.

Add another 19 for districts that have to resubmit waiver paperwork and you get 545 total.

Out of 674 districts statewide, it looks like 545 will be getting waivers for the year from instituting Cuomo's vaunted new APPR teacher evaluation plan.

Think about that.

I'm an English major by trade and my math skills aren't the best, but I think that means about 80% of New York's school districts are seeked (and look to be getting) waivers from SED for the vauned new Cuomo APPR system.

NAEP Scores Fall, Arne Duncan Says Nothing To See Here

Heckuva job education reformers:

For the first time since 1990, the mathematical skills of American students have dropped, according to results of a nationwide test released by the Education Department on Wednesday.
The decline appeared in both Grades 4 and 8 in an exam administered every two years as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and sometimes called “the nation’s report card.” 
The dip in scores comes as the country’s employers demand workers with ever-stronger skills in mathematics to compete in a global economy. It also comes as states grapple with the new Common Core academic standards and a rebellion against them.
Progress in reading, which has been generally more muted than in math for decades, also stalled this year as scores among fourth graders flat-lined and eighth-grade scores decreased. The exams assess a representative sampling of students on math and reading skills in public and private schools.

 And of course reformers have all sorts of excuses for why the scores dropped:

“It’s obviously bad news,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education policy group in Washington. “We don’t want to see scores going in this direction.”

“That doesn’t mean we should completely freak out,” he added. “This could be a one-time variation, and maybe we’ll see things come back next time. But if it were the beginning of a new trend, it would be quite disappointing and disturbing.”


“It’s not unusual when you see lots of different things happening in classrooms to first see a slight decline before you see improvement,” said William J. Bushaw, the executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policies and achievement levels for the tests.

Arne Duncan claims there's nothing to worry about here, that the scores indicate nothing about the efficacy of his reform agenda, that his education reform policies will eventually show big dividends on the NAEP in the "long term," but Carol Burris says he's wrong:

It is difficult to see any real growth across the board since 2011, with math scores backsliding to 2009 levels, eighth-grade reading flat for four years, and a small uptick in fourth-grade reading that is not a significant increase from 2013, which, in turn, was not significantly different from 2011.

Considering that the rationale for the Common Core State Standards initiative was low NAEP proficiency rates, it would appear that the solution of tough standards and tough tests is not the great path forward after all. For those who say it is too early to use NAEP to judge the Common Core, I would remind them that in 2013, Education Secretary Arne Duncan used NAEP increases to do a victory dance about the states that had already implemented the Core at that time—and I never heard any reformer complain.

Two years ago, Duncan attributed  Tennessee’s, Hawaii’s and the District of Columbia’s NAEP score increases to their enthusiastic adoption of Race to the Top. Likewise, he attributed increases in Kentucky, Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi and North Carolina to their early embrace of the Common Core.

This year, the District of Columbia and Mississippi had fourth-grade score gains in mathematics, but the rest of Duncan’s superstars had mathematics scores that dropped or were flat. All of Arne’s superstar states had eighth-grade scores that dropped or did not budge.

The District of Columbia, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina had score gains in fourth-grade reading this year, but so did states like Oklahoma and Vermont that have resisted Race to the Top reforms. And in Grade 8 reading, all of Duncan’s superstars had scores that were flat or took a dive.

Colorado, a state that recently received high praise from Bill and Melinda Gates for its implementation of corporate reforms, had reading scores that were flat and math scores that significantly dropped.

NAEP scores were not the only disappointment this year. A few months ago, we saw a significant drop in SAT scores—7 points in one year alone.

Although NAEP and the SAT were not designed to align to the Common Core, they measure what the Common Core Standards were supposed to improve—the literacy and numeracy of our nation’s students. Considering the billions of dollars spent on these reforms, one would expect at least some payoff by now.

As usual with education reformers, there is no accountability for the mess.

Falling SAT and NAEP scores - but hey, it's all good.

Just wait - you'll see improvement in another ten years or so.

Sure we will.

Cuomo Scalps World Series Tickets For Campaign Donations After Going After Shakespeare In The Park Scalpers In 2010

The NY Post points out Cuomo's hypocrisy on his latest campaign donation scheme - scalping World Series tickets:

The Post reported Tuesday, Gov. Cuomo is using the Mets’ home games in the World Series to raise himself some campaign cash.

His staff picked up a “very limited number” of tickets to this week’s Games 3 and 4 at Citi Field — and is selling tickets to supporters for as much as $5,500.


Now, scalping is perfectly legal in New York; a whole secondary market exists for that purpose. But Cuomo’s charging a major markup: The average Series ticket at Citifield is going for about $1,600 on StubHub.

Worse is the unseemly air of insider access here. It’s far easier for a high-ranking official (or his flunkies) to score seats than it is for the average Joe. Did Cuomo forget the anger when Gov. David Paterson scored Yankees tickets?

And to then milk the prized passes for campaign cash . . .

It’s particularly tacky when Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was so tough on scalpers. Back in 2010, he went after folks who sat in line for free Shakespeare In The Park tickets, then resold them on Craigslist. Under Cuomo’s prodding, the site agreed to ban such ads.

And that was to stop some low-level types from earning a few extra bucks.

Now Cuomo is scalping to let a few fat-wallet friends catch the game with him and help out with his next re-election.

Frankly it's more than "tacky" that Cuomo's scalping Mets tickets after going after Shakespeare in the Park scalpers back in 2010.

It's hypocritical and he should be called to account for it.

Why is it not okay for people to wait on line all day for Shakespeare in the Park tickets, then resell them on Ebay, but it's okay for him to get special access to World Series tickets and then scalp them for campaign donations?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Merryl Tisch Never Wanted To Communicate With Parents In An Open Dialogue

From State of Politics:

As she departs the Board of Regents in the coming months, Chancellor Merryl Tisch says she has one regret: Not communicating better with parents when it came to the implementation of the controversial Common Core standards.
“I think that if I could go back in time and improve on something that we did, I would have the department communicate with the parents early on so that they understood why the shifts in instructional practice were important,” she said in a Capital Tonight interview. “That to me was a constituency group that should have been included in a robust way.”

Oh please.

One of the central themes of the Common Core Education Reform Era was that parents didn't know how bad their kids's schools and teachers were but reformers were going to show them this by shiving through the Common Core State (sic) Standards and linked tests.

The idea was to "Shock and Awe" parents into coming on board the "Blow Up The System" education reform agenda.

Alas, it didn't work because many parents know that their kids' schools and teachers are just fine but the Common Core State (sic) Standards and linked tests are, to put it kindly, problematic.

She can talk about wishing she had better communicated with parents all she wants - the truth is, neither she nor her fellow reformers EVER want to get parents on board the reform express.

Instead they want to run them over with it.

Cuomo Meddles With Subpoenas Again

Cuomo the control freak:

The acting head of New York’s top banking regulator and the agency’s chief spokesman are resigning from the office amid the agency’s battle with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration over the regulator’s independence, according to people familiar with the matter.

Anthony Albanese, the acting superintendent of the Department of Financial Services, and spokesman Matthew Anderson informed the governor’s office in recent weeks that they would resign, these people said.

There have been growing tensions between DFS and the office of Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, since Mr. Albanese’s predecessor, Benjamin Lawsky, left the agency in June to start his own legal and consulting firm, the people said.

Mr. Cuomo’s staff has sought in recent months to exert more control over the regulator, which has established itself as a powerful financial watchdog and brought billions of dollars in penalties to New York state’s general fund. The regulator was also unpopular on Wall Street, where some executives felt the department at times overreached on Mr. Lawsky’s watch.


Since Mr. Lawsky’s departure, Mr. Cuomo’s assistant secretary for financial services, Brendan Fitzgerald, has instructed the department that any subpoenas it intends to issue must first be approved by himself or by the governor’s office, these people said.

That practice wasn’t standard during Mr. Lawsky’s tenure, according to these people, and it provoked a backlash among department officials who felt the governor’s office was exerting too much control over the agency’s investigations. In recent months, Mr. Albanese resisted the order from the governor’s office, these people said.

Cuomo claims his Buffalo Billion Project contracts that are under scrutiny by the US attorney were handled without his office taking part in the decisions.

Yet he meddles in everything else he can - including forcing DFS to have subpoenas approved by his office first.

Sure the Buffalo Billion contracts were handled without your office approval, Andy.


Board Of Regents Will Form Panel To "Consider Improvements" To Cuomo's APPR Teacher Evaluation System

From the "Putting Lipstick On A Pig" file:

The state Board of Regents will form a panel to consider improvements to the state's new and controversial teacher evaluation system, the board announced during its Monday meeting.

The work group — whose members have not yet been named — will be similar to others empaneled by the Regents. It is separate from the task force recently convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to address issues surrounding the Common Core.

Critics of the new teacher evaluation have expressed concern about the weight it affords to the results of standardized student tests. At their September meeting, the Regents approved the evaluation system, but said the current version is in need of amendment before it can be implemented.

One possible change would be the addition of an appeals board that would let teachers contest poor ratings if they stem from standardized test scores.

A "work panel" to "consider improvements" to the fatally flawed APPR teacher evaluation system doesn't seem particularly meaningful to me.

APPR is currently being challenged in court because of wide and irrational swings in the test component part.

That iteration of APPR that is being challenged only has a teacher rated 20% based upon test scores - since then Governor Cuomo pushed through an increase in test score weight on a teacher's APPR evaluation to 50%.

Trying to improve an evaluation system that uses a flawed test score component with wide and irrational swings is, quite frankly, like putting lip stick on a pig and calling it a debutante.

This is more jive, just like the Obama administration announcing they're using the John King 2% rule for testing (I'll have more on that joke later.)

Given that so much weight is put on testing in rating schools and teachers, the 2% rule is meaningless - and until APPR is scrapped and redone completely, whatever "recommendations" the Regents work panel comes up with won't mean much in the grand scheme.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Cuomo Says "A Lot Of Changes" Are Coming To Education System

Make what you will of this:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the tenure of outgoing Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Monday, but at the same time indicated he will push for broad reforms to the state’s education curriculum and Common Core standards.


Cuomo has come under fire for his education policies from the state’s teachers unions and state lawmakers reluctantly approved the changes in part because they were tied to a boost in state education aid.

The governor’s Common Core panel expects to have recommendations for Cuomo in changing the standards by January.

“This is also a time where you are going to see a lot of changes in the education system,” Cuomo said. “The Common Core system I think almost everyone uniformly agrees needs dramatic reform.”

Asked if he believed Tisch did a good job as chancellor, Cuomo called her “an extraordinary person.”
But he added: “We have a lot of changes to make in education.”

Cuomo's got trouble on the polling front.

No matter what he does these days, his poll numbers remain underwater.

The latest Siena poll has him at 40% approval and 58% disapproval despite his push for a higher minimum wage, a move that was supposed to help bolster his support from the left.

On education, he has 68% of voters in the Siena poll disapproving of his handling of education.

He's got low marks on the economy, infrastructure and corruption as well.

His poll numbers have been underwater for quite a while now too (he was at 42%-57% in last December's Siena poll, for example.)

So Cuomo's floundering, he's starting to get desperate and he doesn't know how to turn this around.

He's decided he's going to pay lip service to making changes to the Common Core with a review panel, but given that the people he appointed to his review panel are mostly pro-CCSS (and pretty much the same one's who rubberstamped what we've got now), it's hard to see how we get any substantive change from them.

In addition, he refuses to make any changes to his APPR teacher evaluation system that makes test scores 50% of a teacher's rating.

So, I dunno what changes he's talking about that are coming.

From what I can see, all we're getting is a change in rhetoric on testing and the Common Core, but not actual change to the top-down imposed policies and reform agenda.

And given that this is a guy who said he would "break" public schools, I hear "a lot of changes" from him more as a threat than anything else.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch Will Not Seek Re-Election To Board Of Regents

Nick Reisman at State of Politics:

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Monday said she would step down from her post when it ends in March.  
Tisch made the surprise announcement in Albany this morning at the board’s monthly meeting.  
She was first elected chancellor in 2009 and had served on the Regents board since 1996.

Keshia Clukey at Politico NY reports Tisch said she will spend the rest of her tenure trying to "calm the waters".

Given how polarizing Tisch has been, this statement is laughable.

In any case, your thought on Tisch's exit?

Siena Poll: New Yorkers Very Negative On Common Core

More on today's Siana poll.

Governor Cuomo's handling of education was roundly booed by New Yorkers - 68% disapprove of his work on education while 27% approve.

On Common Core, 30% say the CCSS will improve the quality of education in the state, 34% say it will make the quality worse and 20% say it will have no effect.

For those of you scoring at home, that's less than one-third of New Yorkers who think Common Core is good for schools, with 54% saying Common Core will either be bad for the quality of education or have no effect at all.

On the implementation of Common Core, the numbers are even worse for the Common Core shills:

40% say the state's implementation of Common Core has made education worse, 21% say it has had no meaningful effect and 20% say it has improved education.

So 61% say the implementation of Common Core has either made education worse or had no effect while only 20% think it's made things better.

Again, not good numbers for Common Core shills.

In addition, the familiarity of Common Core continues to rise in these polls - 63% of those polled say they are either very familiar or somewhat familiar with the Common Core.

The more people become familiar with Common Core, the less they like it and the lower the support for it goes.

Cuomo thinks he's smart with his Common Core dog and pony show that's going to "review" the standards but not make any meaningful changes to them.

Looking at the polling on Common Core, Cuomo's approval/disapproval on education and his approval/disapproval overall, I think he's going to be surprised when most people see through his Common Core sham.

Siena Poll: 68% Of New Yorker's Are Negative On Cuomo's Handling Of Public Education

A new Siena poll out this morning and the numbers are not good for Governor Cuomo.

58% of those polled disapprove of the job he is doing as governor, 40% approve.

On individual issues, the numbers are even worse.

On public education, 68% disapprove of the job he is doing, 27% approve.

On corruption, 69% disapprove of the job he is doing, 23% approve.

On the economy, 63% disapprove of the job he is doing, 35% approve.

On improving the state's infrastructure, 65% disapprove of the job he is doing, 29% approve.

This is not a popular governor.

These numbers come despite Cuomo's trying to bolster his popularity with the left through a minimum wage hike and extending protections to transgendered people.

And they come despite Cuomo's attempts to pander to parents with his sham Common Core review.

I'll have a bit more on the education numbers in another post.

Suffice to say for now, Governor Cuomo is not in a great position politically.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Fetishization Of "Assessments," Accountability And Compliance

A Perdido Street School blog reader writes the following:

Test prep for standardized tests should be abolished in schools - Our schools are turning into test prep factories. The state tests are just administered in different formats (Common formative assessments) - throughout the year. You cannot reduce testing AND require "accountability" that is based on tests. It doesn't matter what changes a "committee" makes to the test - they will still be used to measure and punish schools, students, and teachers. This in turn creates a culture of fear and school leaders react by mandating MORE practice tests. Therefore, their call for reducing testing is meaningless.

Indeed, it's been my experience that the common monthly "assessments" - coming ten times a year in every subject - are standardized tests by another name only.

These "assessments" (a euphemism for test that educrats and education reformers adopted which I refuse to use) are used for "accountability" and "compliance" - are teachers teaching what the administration wants taught, are students learning these lessons and demonstrating them via the monthly common "assessments"?

For English and math, they're EngageNY-based or CCSS Regents exam assignments while in other grades, they're Regents exam-based assignments.

They function, quite frankly, as standardized testing and compliance measures, not authentic learning.

Obama and Cuomo can talk about capping testing time in schools all they want.

The culture of schools has been infected by constant "assessment," compliance and accountability via the EngageNY curriculum, the Common Core standards, and the Danielson rubric - all of these are used as bludgeons against teachers and schools and ensure that, no matter an arbitrary cap on testing time, the Endless Testing regime will live on.

Opt Out Parents Will Not Be Fooled By Rhetoric Shifts On Testing

The Obama administration issues some meaningless rhetoric yesterday about there being too much emphasis on testing in schools, an announcement that was hailed in some quarters (e.g., the professional shill class - the unions) and met with skepticism in others (e.g., many parents and teachers in the blogosphere and twitterverse.)

Here at Perdido Street School the announcement was met with a shrug.

The testing cap the Obama administration talked about yesterday (limiting testing to 2% of school time) is meaningless so long as teachers and schools are rated and either fired or closed based upon test scores.

Educrats can put some arbitrary cap in place all they want - the insane emphasis on testing and test prep will remain so long as the tests are used as bludgeons against teachers and schools.

And in fact, the Obama administration has ensured that teachers will be rated via test scores because they threatened to take NCLB waivers away from any state that didn't follow that Obama administration dictate on test score-based teacher evaluations - and did take away Washington State's waiver for not following it.

So the Obama educrats can talk about seeing the light on testing all they want - their actions speak much differently than their words and show that the emphasis on testing is not changing at all.

Same goes with Governor Andrew "I will break the public school monopoly" Cuomo in New York State.

Cuomo hailed the announcement on testing yesterday even as has moved to increase the weight of test scores in teacher evaluations to 50% and put into place a receivership program that hands schools that are "struggling" on their test scores to charter school operators.

In addition, Cuomo refused to let his test-centric teacher evaluation system be part of his Common Core review, ensuring that no changes would come to the system (even though it's currently being challenged in court because of irrational swings in the test score component.)

Like Obama, Cuomo says one thing about testing but contradicts those words with his actions.

The Endless Testing regime lives on despite the rhetoric shifts from the Obama and Cuomo administrations.

Politicians think voters are stupid and easily misled but as Chris Cerrone pointed out yesterday, this is not so with opt out parents:

The politicians and educrats are trying to knock off the number of test opt outs by issuing some meaningless rhetoric around testing, but we will NOT be fooled by their words.

The proof will be in what happens in schools - and currently, the insane emphasis on testing remains because tests continue to be used as bludgeons against both teachers and schools.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Cuomo Hails Obama Administration's Call For Less Testing

I know, I know - you're thinking there's no way that the guy who just increased the test score component in his APPR teacher evaluation system to 50% and imposed a school receivership program on the state that will turn "struggling" and "persistently struggling" schools to charter operators if they don't turn their test scores around in either a year (for "persistently struggling schools") or two (for "struggling schools") would hail the Obama administration's "We want less testing!" PR statement today.

But that's just what Cuomo did:

Here's the Cuomo statement in full - try not to drink anything while reading it so that you don't pay homage to Danny Thomas:

“Today, the Obama administration took an important step toward improving our nation’s education system. I agree with President Obama and Secretary Duncan that we must reverse the overemphasis on testing that has become the norm in too many of our schools, and that is exactly what we have been doing in New York. In 2014, we banned standardized testing for students in pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade, capped test preparation to two percent of learning time, and required the State Education Department to help districts eliminate unnecessary standardized tests for all other students. However, I believe that we need to do more, and that is why I have asked the State’s Common Core Task Force to examine ways to reduce the anxiety of our students by reducing the number and length of tests, as well as making sure that tests are appropriate for the age and education level of all of our students. Their review will be central to how we build on our past accomplishments. I commend President Obama for this action, and I am hopeful that this lead to a higher quality education for all American children.” ​

Here was my twitter response to Cuomo:

Now for the blog response:

Cuomo's doing his best to make it look like he's listening to parents upset that so much time, energy and resources are spent on high stakes standardized tests and test prep for their children, but the reality is, this is just another education dog and pony show in a long litany of education dog and pony shows put on by Cuomo to make it look like real change is coming to education when no change is coming at all.

First, Cuomo himself was the one insisted test scores become 50% of his APPR teacher evaluation system.

Next, Cuomo himself insisted that a school receivership plan be imposed that gives NYSED the power to take over schools based, in part, upon test scores.

Both these moves came just last spring in the budget - Cuomo forced them through, saying legislators either had to take the budget whole or vote it all down.

Then he called for a Common Core Review right before school started in September, but refused to add his APPR system to the review, thus ensuring that teachers will continue to have 50% of their evaluations based upon state tests, with two years of "ineffective" ratings possibly resulting in 3020a incompetence charges and three years of "ineffective" ratings definitely resulting in 3020a incompetence charges.

In fact, in the past when Cuomo was calling public schools a "monopoly" that needed to be broken, he was claiming his APPR teacher evaluation system was the "bedrock" of his education reform agenda.

This would be the same APPR teacher evaluation system that is in the court system, btw, because one teacher's test score component went from 14 out of 20 one year to 1 out of 20 the next year even as her students got almost the same scores on their state tests (the next year, her test component jumped back to 11.)

And yet, despite the inexplicable and irrational jumps in how test scores measured, Cuomo refuses to allow the system to be a part of his Common Core Review.

Now all of a sudden he's hailing the Obama administration so-called call for less emphasis on testing even as he has imposed more and more emphasis on testing here in New York and refused to have his evaluation system that so emphasizes testing be part of his Common Core Review?

Please, governor, your statement hailing President Obama for doing nothing other than issuing some rhetoric that a testing re-do is coming (which Peter Greene points out was done last year by the Obama administration as well) is as laughable as your claim you couldn't see Zephyr Teachout at the Labor Day Parade last year.

You fool few with this jive, just as Obama, Duncan and King fool few with their empty rhetoric over a testing cap.

When parents see that, despite the call for less testing coming from the Obama DOE and you, the same amount of time, energy and resources are spent on testing in the coming years because teachers will be fired and schools closed if the scores are "bad" and you refuse to change those mandates, they'll know who is to blame.

Don't Believe The Obama Administration Jive On Capping Testing Time (UPDATED - 3:35 PM)

From the "We caused it - now we're trying to walk it back without really walking it back" file:

Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.


“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has said he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

So long as teachers and schools are rated based upon test scores, the "cap" on testing time the Obama administration educrats talk about is meaningless.

In New York State, teachers currently have 20% of their ratings based upon state test scores (even if they don't teach classes that end with state tests) and 20% based upon so-called "local assessment" measures that may be state test data crunched a different way.

Last spring Governor "I want to break the public school monopoly" Cuomo shoved through a reiteration of the evaluation system tied to school funding that increases the weight of state test scores to 50% because not enough teachers were being rated ineffective and fired under the old system.

In addition, he shoved through a school receivership plan that forces "persistently struggling schools" to increase their test scores in one year and "struggling schools" to increase their test scores in two years or be taken over by the state.

With such a test-centric environment (one that was absolutely encouraged by the Obama administration's Race to the Top program and their NCLB waiver system), the Obama educrats can call for a cap on testing time all they want - nothing about the system will change so long as the scores are used to fire teachers and close schools.

In any case, the administration isn't going to put out "guidelines" until January on the testing changes, so for now all we have is some meaningless rhetoric that may excite Randi Weingarten but will have little practical effect on what happens to all the overtesting that is currently going on in schools.

In short, the Endless Testing regime continues no matter the Obama administration public relations statements.

UPDATED - 3:35 PM: Peter Greene points out in comments that the Obama administration has hawked this testing cap gambit before. 

He's got a new post analyzing today's announcement and finds they're

offering pointless PR nuggets and avoiding the real discussion, which is why, exactly, we need the BS Tests at all, and what possible justification there is for using the BS Tests to measure, rank and rate students, teachers or schools.

But the tests are a "civil right," don'tcha know?

Those Skelos Wiretaps Are Going To Be Fun To Hear

Grab some popcorn and enjoy the show:

Prosecutors in the corruption case against State Senator Dean G. Skelos and his son want to play wiretaps that offer new details about how they say the son sought to leverage his father’s influence to his own benefit, according to a government court filing on Friday.

Among the wiretaps, excerpts from which were contained in the filing, is a conversation in which the senator and his son, Adam, talk about getting the son’s wife a job on a Long Island zoning board and discussing the salary and health benefits the position would bring to the couple.

“The purpose of the appointment was to make sure that Adam Skelos received additional income and health benefits, and that Adam Skelos would be able to corruptly use his wife’s position with respect to his real estate deals,” prosecutors said in their filing.

The recordings also include “colorful language” the two men used in speaking about other politicians, the defense said in a separate filing, arguing that they should not be played to the jury.

The prosecutors hope to present the court-ordered wiretaps to the jury to bolster their charges that the two men conspired in an extortion and fraud scheme, utilizing the senator’s office to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars for his son.

Prosecutors said in the filing that Senator Skelos “repeatedly pressured the entities from which he and Adam Skelos solicited money” around the time that “the same entities were lobbying Dean Skelos to take legislative actions in the entities’ favor, and Dean Skelos then took numerous official actions in favor of the entities that agreed to pay his son.”

In the newly disclosed wiretapped conversation in which the prosecutors contend Adam Skelos invoked his father’s office, he berates a man who represents Greek restaurants, to whom he was trying to sell energy services. “Adam Skelos made clear that buying energy services from Adam Skelos included a quid pro quo for Dean Skelos’s official power,” the government said.

Apparently enraged because the man had not met with him, Adam Skelos peppered him with expletives and eventually said, “you can lose my number, though, okay?” according to a transcript of the call.

More on the Skelos wiretap transcripts:

Given what has been revealed on the wiretaps so far, you have to think that Skelos and son are going to go away for a long, long time.

These are damning transcripts - and these are just what has been revealed through the court filings.

There's more there - enough that the Skelos lawyers are trying to keep them from the jury.

This is going to be a fun, fun trial.

On a side note, Attorney General Schneiderman said yesterday there are more corruption probes that have yet to be publicly revealed.

Add that news to the ongoing Buffalo Billion Project investigation by Bharara (which gets some discussion in Buffalo at an Investigative Post event on Monday 10/26) and the coming Silver and Skelos trials in November and we're going to have a full slate of corruption news for some time to come.

How Did Mary Ellen Elia Get Hired At NYSED Given the Mess She Left In Hillsborough?

The Tampa Times has another piece about the mess former Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia left in the school district as a result of the "innovative" evaluation teacher evaluation system she pushed in partnership with the Gates Foundation.

Here's a summary of their findings:

• The Gates-funded program — which required Hillsborough to raise its own $100 million — ballooned beyond the district's ability to afford it, creating a new bureaucracy of mentors and "peer evaluators" who don't work with students.

• Nearly 3,000 employees got one-year raises of more than $8,000. Some were as high as $15,000, or 25 percent.

• Raises went to a wider group than envisioned, including close to 500 people who don't work in the classroom full time, if at all.

• The greatest share of large raises went to veteran teachers in stable suburban schools, despite the program's stated goal of channeling better and better-paid teachers into high-needs schools.

• More than $23 million of the Gates money went to consultants.

• The program's total cost has risen from $202 million to $271 million when related projects are factored in, with some of the money coming from private foundations in addition to Gates. The district's share now comes to $124 million.

• Millions of dollars were pledged to parts of the program that educators now doubt. After investing in an elaborate system of peer evaluations to improve teaching, district leaders are considering a retreat from that model. And Gates is withholding $20 million after deciding it does not, after all, favor the idea of teacher performance bonuses — a major change in philosophy.

• The end product — results in the classroom — is a mixed bag.

Hillsborough's graduation rate still lags behind other large school districts. Racial and economic achievement gaps remain pronounced, especially in middle school.

And poor schools still wind up with the newest, greenest teachers.

Financial instability and debt were not Elia's only track missteps - there were also the multiple instances of children dying under her watch without the district taking responsibility (and action) to make sure these tragedies didn't happen again.

Here's a post from May 28 that covers that:

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 contract. 

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.

Did the members of the Board of Regents talked to anybody other than reformer cheerleaders when deciding to hire Elia to replace John King King at NYSED?

Here's a "great leader" who left behind her a financial disaster in the district, three dead students (two of whom might not have died had she not covered up the district's responsibility in the first death), a lot of enemies and a "mixed" academic record at best (as the Tampa Bay Times piece on the Gates Foundation/Elia evaluation mess noted.)

Why was someone this awful hired to run the New York State Education Department?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Schneiderman Says There Are Continuing Corruption Probes Not Yet Made Public

Karen DeWitt at WXXI:

The state’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, says he’s made a decision to stay out of politics for now, due to a climate of corruption, and ongoing investigations by his office.


“I am not doing any endorsements or getting involved in any local races, because we’ve ramped up our public integrity investigations,” Schneiderman said, in an interview with public radio and television. “Since 2012 my office has gone after more than 70 public officials and their cronies.”
Schneiderman can’t talk about on going investigations, but says there are more continuing probes that have not yet been made public.


The Attorney General predicts that there will be more  indictments, arrests, and even convictions of state lawmakers, if the Senate and Assembly do not fundamentally reform their rules on outside income.

Stay tuned?