In a contentious meeting that drew more than eight hours of public testimony, a city board voted early Wednesday morning to close 19 schools for poor performance, despite the protests from hundreds of observers who repeatedly drowned out the meeting with cheers, shouts and boos.
More than 300 speakers addressed the board, the Panel for Educational Policy, beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene. By the time the panel began voting at 2:40 a.m. they had heard a litany of complaints from hundreds of parents, students, teachers and administrators and just a handful of speakers who said they supported closing the schools.
But as expected, the panel overwhelmingly approved the closures recommended by the Education Department. The votes to close down the schools fell along political lines, with the appointees of the Manhattan, Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn borough presidents voting against the closings while each of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s appointees approved them without question. Nearly every school shutdown was approved with an 8 to 4 vote, while the audience shouted “shame on you” and “disgrace.”
The panel has been widely criticized as a rubber-stamp to the Bloomberg administration and has largely held an obscure role in education policy. But under new laws governing the mayor’s control of the school system, the panel was required to make the final approval of closures of low performing schools, a centerpiece of the mayor and Chancellor Joel I. Klein’s effort to overhaul the school system.
“Listening means to hear but also to digest and allow the information to have an effect on our opinion,” said Dymtro Fedkowskyi, the representative from Queens.
Patrick Sullivan, who represents Manhattan on the board and has long been one of the few dissenting voices, pressed the mayor’s appointees to explain why they approved of the policy. “Is there anyone who will defend this?” he asked. All but one of the mayor’s appointees remained silent. “I can’t see how anyone can vote in good conscious,” Mr. Sullivan said.
When the State Legislature renewed the mayor’s control over city schools last year, it gave the panel the final word on closures in an effort to increase parents’ participation in the decisions. But in practical terms, the check on mayoral authority was minimal. Eight of the 13 panel members are appointed by the mayor and can be removed at his behest.
During the long overnight session, there was anger and there was theater. Two parents broke out sock puppets in protest. “Hi everyone, I’m a concerned parent,” said Jane Hirschmann, founder of the antitesting group Time Out From Testing, as she held up one puppet. “Hi,” replied Lisa Donlan of the Lower East Side, holding up another sock. “I am a puppet from the Panel for Educational Policy, and I brought my rubber stamp.”
Some of the hundreds of parents, teachers and students in the auditorium questioned the criteria the city used in making the decisions. Officials from the city teachers’ union said they planned to sue. Others said the city did not provide enough support to the large high schools. A study released Monday by the city’s Independent Budget Office affirmed that schools on the closing list faced unusually difficult challenges posed by their demographics and performed poorly on school progress reports.
Those high schools “usually had greater concentrations of high-needs students, students from low-income households and students living in temporary housing compared to the medians for nonclosing schools in the same borough,” the report said.
Much of the anger at the gathering was directed at Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, who sat at the center of the panel and was forced to shout his opening statement over a deafening chorus of boos. “The schools are not meeting the standards we need to meet for our children,” said Mr. Klein, who does not have a vote. “My intention is to say we can do better for our children.”
Much of the criticism directed at Mr. Klein was personal. He sat quietly as speaker after speaker derided him, shouting chants like “Racist Joel Klein” and saying “Where’s Mr. Klein?" after he got up to take a phone call and go to the bathroom.
Mr. Chang, the chancellor of New York University’s Polytechnic Institute, said Monday that he had received a flood of e-mail messages in support of some of the schools. “They are all tough decisions,” Mr. Chang said.
These weren't tough decisions at all. The DOE made them in secret, began implementing them well before last night's PEP board meeting, and didn't care one bit that these schools "faced unusually difficult challenges posed by their demographics" and had been dumping grounds for at-risk students from other schools closures.
The mayor wanted them closed so he could open charter schools in the buildings that currently house these schools.
The State Legislature has not yet lifted the cap on charters, but given that whatever Bloomberg wants, Bloomberg gets, and given the power, influence and money that charter operators have these days (even Roger Ebert, after seeing Waiting for Superman, has declared teachers unions "the biggest obstacle to good teaching"), it is only a matter of time before the cap is lifted.
Since Bloomberg took office, he has closed 91 schools. The state wants 17 more closed this year and 17 others restructured, so the number will be well over 100 schools closures. June may see even more school closures when the second part of the RttT competition funds are released (Obama wants states that win the money to close 5% of their lowest performing schools and reopen them as privatized charter schools.)
With Bloomberg buying himself another four years, with his PEP board giving him whatever he wants for the school system, with Paterson ready to do his bidding, and with the rumor out there that Bloomberg plans to run for president in 2012, I think the Little Dictator will get his wish to completely privatize the New York City public school system before he moves off the scene.
Scary, but true. Doesn't seem to matter what the public thinks (hell, he bought his re-election for less than 51,000 votes but he acts like he won a million vote mandate), Bloomberg does whatever he wants.
I hope that the contention over these closures will make future closures more difficult for them. But I suspect Bloomberg, Klein and Obama don't give a shit what people think and don't give a shit whether their policies are working to better education for children.
This is about privatizing the system and breaking the union.
Bloomberg, Klien and Obama have been very successful at that.