February 13, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
It wasn’t easy listening to the approximately 100 speakers who voiced their anger about school closings to the 13-member Panel for Educational Policy at Brooklyn Technical H.S. on Thursday, February 9 as their voices were drowned out in the cavernous auditorium by remnants of Occupy Wall Street.
Nonetheless, the anger was palpable as one speaker after another implored the panel, headed by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, to not close the approximately 33 schools the panel was about to vote on.
Mayoral control of the city’s school system was also denounced. Council Member Letitia James said, although he wasn’t present, “Mr. Mayor, in all my years of working in government, I’ve never seen anything like this. The opposition being voiced here tonight over these closings is proof that the people’s voices are not being heard.”
Council Member Robert Jackson voiced equally urgent words. “The events leading up to tonight’s panel on education policy has unified many schools and communities asking you not to close schools, but fix them.”
He cautioned, “Mayoral control is not the way to manage the city’s schools. When there’s one person in control, it’s a dictatorship. This is a democracy, not a dictatorship.”
One parent took to the microphone and directed her message directly to Mr. Walcott. “What the Department of Education is about to do is a tragedy. This process is not about parent engagement or improving educational opportunities. Rather, it’s about giving the students with the greatest needs the least opportunities available in our public school system.”
But not all parents in the auditorium were against the school closings. One parent said, to the ire of the audience who were clamoring for speakers to speak into the “people’s mic,” and not the microphone just opposite the media box, that he was in favor of the panel’s resolutions for 33 school closings because he believed the schools only had proven themselves to be dropout mills.
Santos Crespo Jr., President of Local 372, N.Y.C. Board of Education Employees, said that it’s insane that the panel was voting on school closings, especially as four schools out of the 33, improved their ratings from C and D to A and B in their evaluation reports.
“The four schools improved because of the working relationships teachers, parents and the community fostered to ensure successful student learning experiences.”
This turnaround by the four schools is noteworthy, noted Crespo, because the success could be replicated at the other schools slated for closing if DOE wasn’t interfering.
Crespo questioned, “If these four schools improved, but yet are being threatened with closing, what then is the criteria the DOE is using to determine failing schools?”
One reason Crespo believes that the DOE is setting up schools for failure is by depriving them of the critical resources they need to succeed, by shifting dollars to high-priced consultants who do work that can’t be verified because there’s no transparency.
Crespo explained that when a school is slated for closing, it doesn’t mean it’ll be completely shuttered. Rather, the school will reopen with a new name and a reshuffling of 50 percent of the staff as permanent substitute teachers.
A stipulation to receive federal Race to the Top funds requires that districts close failing schools. Crespo noted that DOE’s rationale for closing “failing schools” is that it doesn’t want to be excluded from the approximately $60 million in federal Race to the Top funds awarded to the city.
While the city has told Crespo that his members would not be adversely affected by any school closings, the city has not provided that guarantee on paper. And because relations between the union and DOE are still sour stemming from the almost 700 layoffs in October 2011, the City’s verbal promise can’t be easily accepted at face value.
After the 100 speakers spoke their peace, the panel proceeded to vote after an hour’s discussion to close 18 city schools and remove the middle school grades from five more. firstname.lastname@example.org
Students and Parents Protest School Closings
February 13, 2012