keeping control

Republicans appear likely to hold State Senate, paving way for (another) tough fight over mayoral control

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, left, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Senate leader John Flanagan.

Republicans are declaring victory in their efforts to maintain their majority in the New York State Senate, which means Mayor Bill de Blasio could be in for another testy fight over who will control New York City schools.

The Republican-controlled Senate is the main roadblock in de Blasio’s effort to secure long-term mayoral control, and some observers thought a strong Democratic showing at the polls might alter that chamber’s balance of power.

But Tuesday’s election results signal more of the same for the legislature’s education policy dynamics, and likely means that Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan — a de Blasio foe — will retain his important position in Albany.

Republican incumbents, who staved off several Democratic challenges Tuesday night, claimed victory in a statement.

“Tonight, we have grown our majority in the New York State Senate,” read the statement from Senator Flanagan’s office.

Last year, Flanagan sparred with de Blasio over who would control the nation’s largest school system. He accused de Blasio of a “a disturbing lack of personal knowledge about city schools” and helped limit the mayor to a one-year extension of control for the second year in a row. The Senate has also been friendly to charter schools, helping to raise the city’s charter school cap and push for increases in charter school funding.

Tuesday’s results earned praise from StudentsFirstNY, an education advocacy organization that opposes de Blasio.

“New Yorkers defied expectations by rejecting a State Senate that would have turned its back on the needs of all public school students across the state,” said StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis.” We congratulate Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan for his impressive stewardship.”

Still, the election results have not yet been finalized since there are outstanding absentee ballots to be counted, said Tom Connolly, spokesperson for the New York State Board of Elections.

On Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats told the Wall Street Journal that Republicans had taken a “premature victory lap” and Democrats in the Senate could still outnumber Republicans after the dust settles. Senate Democrats did not respond to Chalkbeat’s request for comment.

The GOP expects to end up with at least 31 members in the Senate, and Democrat Simcha Felder, who typically votes with the Republican conference, would give Republicans the 32 seats they need for a majority.

They are counting on a win for Senator Carl Marcellino, the Senate Education Committee chairman, who is locked in a close race with Democrat James Gaughran. The New York State School Boards Association and news outlets say it appears Marcellino has secured enough votes to win, but Connolly said the race is still too close to call and the results may not be certified for roughly two weeks.

Meanwhile, the GOP may pick up another seat in a tight race between Democrat John Brooks and Republican Michael Venditto, who were separated by only 33 votes on Wednesday afternoon.

As long as Republicans hold the Senate, New York state’s education policy is unlikely to change dramatically, said David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.

“If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, then I would say that I don’t necessarily know that there will be significant change,” he said. But the election of Donald Trump, he added, could mean bigger shifts ahead.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”