Tag Archives: NYC Department of Education

No Money for Poor Children

Sorry Mr.Gingerbread Man, Pharaoh Bloomberg has rated you ineffective.

Sorry Mr.Gingerbread Man, Pharaoh Bloomberg has rated you ineffective.

A freshman student of mine sheepishly walked into class last week holding a box over which she draped a sweater. It was obvious she was hiding something nefarious. I asked her what was in the box and she revealed one of those giant fundraiser packages of chocolate. Apparently, she was trying to raise money for some after school club in which she was involved.

Her efforts to raise money that day fell far short of her goal. This is because she was told that she could not sell chocolate in the school. Apparently, chocolate is too fattening to be sold in Pharaoh Bloomberg’s Department of Education. This was the reason she was given at least.

However, a colleague in another school ran into a similar problem when they were trying to fundraise by selling bottles of water. The excuse given this time, which is the real reason why we cannot have fundraisers in our schools anymore, is that the water was not from a DOE-approved vendor.

This is the part of mayoral control that rarely gets spoken about. The school closings, co-locations and systematic harassment of teachers are only the most visible and disruptive manifestations of mayoral control of urban school systems. However, there are the countless day-to-day reminders that our system is under the sway of one man, a man who has never been in touch with those he is controlling. The banning of school fundraisers is one of the most insidious affects of mayoral control on our schools.

Bloomberg has turned our schools into little more than conduits of money for his corporate friends. When a Pharaoh/Mayor slashes funding to public schools every year, he leaves the schools with little choice but to fundraise to support the programs they need. Yet, since the products with which they fundraise, whether they be brand-name chocolates or homemade cookies, are not on the DOE’s list of “corporate friends of Bloomberg”, they cannot be sold on school property. This amounts to a corporate levy on poor people. The worst part about this levy is that it redirects money that the community would normally use to uplift itself into the pockets of billionaires. So children of NYC, you cannot have enrichment activities because the CEO of Pepsi needs your money to buy another few yachts.

Many years ago I was the senior advisor at my previous school. My job was to handle all of the senior activities: trips, prom, graduation and yearbook. Since the poverty rate of my seniors was exactly 100%, I made a vow that I would fundraise enough money so the kids would not have to pay for any of those things. I had worked up a good relationship with the owners of the bodega across the street. Throughout the year, they purchased all types of goodies for us at wholesale prices (for which we reimbursed them) and we made more money than I could have ever imagined.

I am not going to lie, what we were selling was horrible from a health standpoint. We sold cookies, airheads, jawbreakers, Sour Patches and even sugary sodas. This was back in the days before Bloomberg was trying to get NYC on a health kick. My principal had no problem with our operation. Then, one day, she came to me and said that our operation was cutting into the profits of the lunchroom staff who were selling cookies of their own. She asked me to work things out with the cafeteria’s supervisor.

The only thing I needed to know about the cookies they were selling was whether the profits went into the staff’s pockets. While I understood my seniors needed money, I also understood that it is tough to support a family working in a school cafeteria. When I was told that none of the money went into the pockets of the hardworking people in the lunchroom, I informed them that all bets were off. I was going to continue selling our goods. If the DOE wanted to make an issue out of poverty-stricken children trying to raise money for their senior year, I would ensure that every community group and civil rights organization would hear of it. Thankfully, nobody tried to bust up our operation and we had a tremendous year.

There is something wrong with the idea that we had to look over our shoulders while raising money. At times, I felt we were treated as if we were selling illegal drugs instead of junk food. There was a sense that the system did not want us to succeed. This was many years ago when the fundraising game was wide open. I cannot imagine what things are like now after Bloomberg’s war on sugary drinks and his compiled list of corporate cronies.

If NYC had more principals like Carol Burris, the Long Island principal who has been standing up against the excessive testing of our children, they could make a concerted effort to stand against Bloomberg’s ban on fundraising. If enough principals around the city openly defied Bloomberg’s ban on homemade brownies and brand-name chocolates; if they looked into television cameras and said they are forced to do this due to budget cuts; if they frame it as an issue of doing what is right by the children in their school, there is no way that they could fail. Bloomberg certainly cannot arrest them, although administrators being led out of their schools in handcuffs for selling chocolate sadly seems like a plausible scenario in today’s DOE. He cannot fire them all, even though he could certainly make things difficult for the defiant schools. At the end of the day, there would not be much that Bloomberg could do aside from watching his approval ratings plummet some more.

It might not be the right time for NYC principals to take a stand against the evaluations but it certainly is the right time for them to take a stand against the effective ban on fundraisers. A simple bake sale where parents and children bring all of the homemade sugary sweets they can concoct to school could turn into a real media event. It cannot lose. Bloomberg trying to shut down bake sales and fundraisers would make him look ridiculous and more heavy-handed than usual. If this can be done, it might fuel more acts of civil disobedience. It would be a fitting kick in the pants to Bloomberg on his way out of the door.

Unfortunately, this is all pie-in-the-sky talk. NYC principals by and large are all too eager to enforce every little mandate coming down from Tweed. That is the other part of mayoral control. The only way to survive and progress in the system is to support the Pharaoh’s policies without question. There will not be any resistance to Danielson or MOSL or bans on innocuous fundraisers made necessary by budget cuts. It will continue to be a mindless bureaucracy until there is a changing of the guard at the top of the pyramid.

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CHRISTINE QUINN’S OPPORTUNISM

Remember when Christine Quinn flipped out on the guy who called Bloomberg "pharaoh"? We should always remember that.

Remember when Christine Quinn flipped out on the guy who called Bloomberg “pharaoh”? We should always remember that.

Christine Quinn is still the front-runner for the second toughest job in the United States according to a recent poll. Leading in the polls among the other Democratic candidates pretty much means leading in the polls overall here in NYC. The Republican Party will unlikely be a serious challenge for whomever the Democrats nominate and there are no Independents in the field with the type of name recognition Bloomberg had when he ran as one.

Make no mistake about it: Christine Quinn knows the game of politics. As City Council Speaker she paved the way for Pharaoh Bloomberg’s (illegal) third term. Her reward thus far has been a free hand in running her campaign from City Hall without interference from the Bloomberg smear machine, a machine still working on railroading John Liu.

Completely cognizant of the unpopularity of mayoral control of the school system and Bloomberg-style education reform, Quinn recently shared a vision for NYC schools which seemed to distance herself from the Bloomberg approach. For example:

“Instead of treating school closing like a goal in and of itself, we should see it as an ultimate last resort when all else has failed,” Ms. Quinn said, referring to Mr. Bloomberg’s policy of closing low-performing schools and replacing them with new ones. “And we should make fixing schools not just the responsibility of the principal and the teacher, but of all of city government and the entire community.”

Sounds good, especially if you’re one of those New Yorkers associated with a school Bloomberg has closed or is threatening to close.

Even better is Quinn’s promise to reduce the “emphasis on testing”, although this does not mean the same thing as reducing the amount of exams our students currently take. She would not have the power to do much in this area anyway.

In her peroration Quinn described how she would use the resources of municipal government to make up for some of the disadvantages of our neediest students:

Saying that students need more than just a good teacher to be in a position to learn, Ms. Quinn proposed that New York City imitate a Cincinnati program that has used Medicaid funds to establish medical clinics and even an eye clinic in schools, so that students can be treated for various ailments or get glasses without leaving the building.

Adopting that model, she said, would require better communication among city agencies. To coordinate programs across agencies that work with children — running after-school programs, providing health care and food stamps — Ms. Quinn proposed appointing a deputy mayor who would be responsible for both education and children.

This is an interesting idea, one reminiscent of the free breakfast programs the Black Panther Party funded during the 1960s. Politically speaking, this might end up backfiring on Quinn. She will get hammered as a “liberal” or even a “socialist” from the white, blue-collar part of the electorate. From the other side, it does not speak to any of the criticisms the United Federation of Teachers has had of Bloomberg’s school reform program. This just seems like a reallocation of Medicaid funds into a program where poor parents will physically see the benefits for their children.

Then there is her financially dubious proposal to save money by replacing textbooks with tablets. I smell a Bloomberg-esque no-bid contract in there somewhere.

Speaking of no-bid contracts:

The Council speaker also suggested finding savings in the $1.2 billion the department spends each year on consulting and contracts. (Her spokesman, Jamie McShane, pointed to computer services contracts, which he said in fiscal year 2013 will cost roughly $40 million, and contracts for infrastructure maintenance, which he said will cost nearly $60 million, as examples of areas where Ms. Quinn saw bloat.)

Any teacher will tell you that this is where the bulk of education funds end up going. However, the numbers her office cited barely make a dent in the overall education budget. These seem like symbolic gestures designed to placate critics of the increasing waste of Bloomberg-era education contracts.

Her stance on charter schools is that they are on a “good level” now, meaning that Bloomberg has opened a sufficient number over the past 10 years. Does this mean she promises a containment policy of sorts for charters?

So, when we take stock of what Christine Quinn is actually promising we see it is not a major divergence from Bloomberg at all. The tone of her words are certainly designed to put some distance between her and the unpopular mayor, not to mention to woo Mulgrew and the UFT, but the substance of it all is limited to say the least.

Today Quinn distanced herself even more from Bloomberg in a press conference where she touched upon the failure of the mayor and UFT to work out a new teacher evaluation deal:

“I don’t have a problem with the idea of a sunset. Most pieces of significant legislation have a sunset in them.”

The sunset clause was what sunk negotiations with the UFT last week. Michael Mulgrew was willing to agree to the longest-term evaluation deal in the entire state. This wasn’t enough for Bloomberg who said any type of sunset clause would make the evaluations “a sham”.

Smartly, Christine Quinn is verbally distancing herself from Bloomberg. However, there is little evidence that she would do much other than solidify most of Bloomberg’s failed education programs.

Although critical of school closures she never promised to end them. Although aware of the need to support schools with better resources, no plan to do so was outlined other than a reallocation of Medicaid funds. Although aware of the waste and corruption of no-bid contracts, her changes in this regard would be largely cosmetic. Claiming that charter schools were at a “good level” right now is a start but allows her the loophole that charters might need to be increased in the future.

Not to mention that she accepts the assumptions of the wider movement of education reform and the quest to tie teacher evaluations to test scores. She has continuously said that the new evaluations are “too important” for our students (they are not) and the loss of funds will hurt our schools (which they shouldn’t).

While obviously trying to pander, tepidly, to the UFT she is also attempting to pander to other elements by promising to keep Ray Kelly on as police commissioner. Kelly’s NYPD “stop-and-frisk” policy has alienated minority communities, although it plays well to the white blue-collar bloc of New York City’s electorate. Maybe Quinn is hoping to snatch the liberal bloc with education policy and the conservative bloc with law enforcement policy?

Candidates angling for public office should only be half-believed. By that equation, the half-measures she has proposed for the school system at this stage means an actual “change factor” of absolute zero if she gets elected.

Nobody can blame Quinn for playing the game. She wants power. She reads the polls. What she says and does over the next few months will be determined by these two factors.

A candidate we can believe in? Hardly.

A cookie-cutter political opportunist who embodies politics-as-usual in NYC? Absolutely.