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Thursday, October 6, 2016

State Senator Jeffrey Dinowitz and His Chief of Staff Allegedly Blocked Minority Out-of-Zone Students From Enrolling in Riverdale's PS 24

Jeffrey Dinowitz
AP Verdi says that Dinowitz wanted to keep black and hispanic kids out.

PS 24 AP Manny Verdi Sued Melodie Mashel, Superintendent of District 10; Mashel Quits

State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz Is Accused of Blocking Minority Students From Enrolling at PS 24 in Riverdale

Betsy Combier

Racial Bias Claim Looms Over Bronx School as Administrators Exit
PS 24
So far, the turmoil at a public school in the Bronx has cost two principals and a district superintendent their jobs, has sparked a lawsuit and has a local assemblyman defending himself against claims that he is trying to keep minority children out of the school. And it’s not over yet.
At the heart of the dispute at Public School 24, the Spuyten Duyvil School, are assertions by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and others that administrators — specifically a former principal, Donna Connelly, and the current assistant principal, Manuele Verdi — have allowed hundreds of students who live outside the school’s zone to enroll, causing overcrowding.
Last spring, Mr. Dinowitz sent his chief of staff to participate in the kindergarten registration process at the school and to scrutinize parents’ proofs of residence, in an effort to block out-of-zone students from enrolling. After an investigation, the city’s Education Department found fault with the superintendent, Melodie Mashel, and the then interim principal, Andrea Feldman, for letting the assemblyman’s chief of staff take part in the process and review parents’ and students’ personal information. In recent weeks, Ms. Mashel resigned, and Ms. Feldman was demoted and removed from the school. Their departures were previously reported by The Daily News.
In the meantime, Mr. Verdi, the assistant principal, has filed a complaint in federal court against the Education Department, claiming that Mr. Dinowitz’s real purpose was to prevent minorities and low-income children from enrolling in the school. P.S. 24 serves the Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil neighborhoods, which are whiter and wealthier than the immediately adjoining Kingsbridge and Marble Hill neighborhoods.
The complaint does not present evidence that anyone who lives in the school zone has been prevented from enrolling, but it portrays Mr. Dinowitz’s focus on enrollment as tinged with bias.

It cites a meeting in November 2009 between Mr. Dinowitz, Mr. Verdi and Dr. Connelly, the former principal, who had recently arrived at the school. According to the complaint, Mr. Dinowitz said that people were misrepresenting their addresses to get into P.S. 24 and that he could tell which children were not from Riverdale “by the way they walk, talk and wear their pants.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Dinowitz said he “never said anything like that,” and he characterized Mr. Verdi’s complaint as “lie after lie.”
“This is about overcrowding, period,” he said. “That’s it. That’s what this is all about.”
Dr. Connelly, however, said that she recalled Mr. Dinowitz using those words.
“He was referring to kids who were not from the community and kids that were black or Hispanic,” she said.
P.S. 24 enrolls children from kindergarten through fifth grade. The school’s population is 42 percent white, 41 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian and 7 percent black. Twenty-seven percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch. On the most recent round of state tests, 57 percent of third through fifth graders were proficient in reading, while 62 percent were proficient in math, compared with 38 percent and 36 percent citywide.
The elementary schools in nearby Kingsbridge are all largely Hispanic, and the vast percentage of their students receive free or reduced-price lunch. One, P.S. 207, which serves prekindergarten through second grade, is on the state’s list of persistently dangerous schools. While one of the schools, the Milton Fein School, also does well on annual state tests, the other school with children of test-taking age lags.
P.S. 24’s enrollment has increased dramatically in the past decade, rising to 1,030 students this year from 715 students in 2006-7. The department said the building was now at 122 percent capacity.
Dr. Connelly said that the increase, which began before she arrived, was caused by population growth, not a rise in the number of non-zoned students being enrolled.
According to the Education Department, the percentage of non-zoned children enrolled in kindergarten at P.S. 24 fell to about 10 percent in 2015-16 from 13 percent in 2010-11 (not counting the gifted and talented program), while the number of zoned students in kindergarten has grown by 36 percent.
Dr. Connelly said that some non-zoned students were assigned to P.S. 24 by the department. In other cases a parent might come into the school around November, hoping to transfer a child from a low-performing school. If there were seats available in the student’s grade, Dr. Connelly said, she would sometimes let the student in.
She said that accounted for only a small number of children.
“But it was still looked upon as some kind of a threat that I was letting children into the school that don’t belong at P.S. 24,” she said.
Mr. Dinowitz disagreed that population growth could account for the increase in enrollment.
“There has not been a population boom in the neighborhood,” he said.
Mr. Dinowitz’s own two children attended P.S. 24 in the 1990s, even though he lived outside the school zone.
Asked about that, he said it was irrelevant to the present situation, because the school was underused at the time.
“If the school had empty seats, fine, but the school doesn’t have empty seats,” he said.
In the 2015-16 school year, the debate over P.S. 24’s enrollment increase reached a crisis when the school lost its lease on an annex that housed fifth graders. Amid finger-pointing and a dispute about whether Dr. Connelly threw out teachers’ desks, she abruptly announced that she was retiring in October last year.
After her departure, Mr. Dinowitz and others, including the district superintendent, Ms. Mashel, and Ms. Feldman, the interim principal, met at the school in January this year, according to Mr. Verdi’s complaint and a report from the Education Department’s Office of Special Investigations. Mr. Dinowitz again complained about out-of-zone students.
It was then suggested that someone from Mr. Dinowitz’s office could go to the school during the registration process in late March and early April.
Randi Martos, Mr. Dinowitz’s chief of staff, ended up taking part and reviewed families’ documents. Department policy requires parents to provide two documents showing proof of residence, but parents were told they needed three, according to Mr. Verdi’s lawsuit and the Education Department’s investigative report. There is no evidence any zoned families were turned away.
The department’s investigation determined that Ms. Mashel had shown poor judgment and that Ms. Feldman had failed to supervise the registration process and allowed Ms. Martos to review parents’ and students’ personal information. Neither woman responded to a phone call requesting comment.
Despite his concerns about overcrowding, Mr. Dinowitz has opposed calls to build an addition to the school. In the interview, he said the overcrowding problem could be solved simply by enforcing enrollment policies.
The battles have left parents frustrated. Bob Heisler, a former president of the parent association, said he did not believe Mr. Verdi’s charges of racial bias, but he criticized Mr. Dinowitz and other local politicians for showing “no leadership over the years” in dealing with the increased demand for school seats.
“I personally feel that some of the local politicians want to keep Riverdale as they have seen it — the way they remember it from their own childhood — and they’re not open to the changes in the demographics that are going on in that community,” he said.

The Teacher Pension Perk For Those Who Can Get It: Tax Deferred Annuity

What the NYPOST does not say, is that teachers approaching retirement and who have high salaries are being charged with incompetency and/or misconduct for no valid reason.

Was the non-defense of the UFT at grievances and in 3020-a a secret side-deal between the Department of Education and the UFT?

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

Teachers are juicing their pensions, and it cost you $1B

UFT President Mike Mulgrew, NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio, Chancellor Carmen Farina

A little known pension perk available only to New York City teachers cost taxpayers an astonishing 

$1.2 billion last year, a watchdog group reported Wednesday.

The sweet deal guarantees that teachers who sock away money for retirement in a special Tax Deferred Annuity (TDA) receive a 7 percent annual return. In stark contrast, banks currently pay depositors just 1 percent or less on most savings accounts.
And city taxpayers are the de facto guarantors for the high rate of return — on the hook to make up the difference if the annuity falls short of the guarantee.
Knowing a good thing when they see it, increasing numbers of teachers are stashing their cash in the no-lose annuity, the Citizens Budget Commission found.
It said that there are now 137,000 participants in the plan, including 51,000 retirees. But only 3,000 are drawing on their funds.
The rest, according to the commission, are watching their nest eggs grow at a fixed rate available to no other city employee.
And that’s over and above the teachers’ regular pensions.
“You don’t get a guaranteed rate of return with your 401(k). But teachers do” in that special annuity, said CBC research director Charles Brecher.
“It’s a good, positive math lesson for teachers. It’s a bad, negative math lesson for taxpayers. The teachers get this huge taxpayer subsidy. The city should treat the teachers like everyone else.”
Former city labor director James Hanley said the guaranteed 7 percent — which he negotiated down from 8.25 percent in 2009 — is indefensible.
“Nobody else has such a system. This is a little ridiculous. It’s tough to sustain in the long term,” Hanley warned.
The annuity is a voluntary program to supplement traditional government pensions.
Other city employees have them — without the guaranteed 7 percent return.
The sweet deal kicked in when the state Legislature in 1988 allowed teachers to designate all or part of their pension contributions to the fixed-return fund, which at that time was paying 8.25 percent, then close to the return of federal-government bonds.
After the 2008 stock-market crash, the fixed-rate option grew in popularity. In 2007, the annuity fund stood at $7.4 billion. Last year, it held $18.7 billion.
Taxpayer subsidies have also grown, from $238 million in 2007 to $1.2 billion last year.
The CBC urged the city to end the 7 percent guarantee, particularly for new hires.
The CBC pointed out that while government pensions are protected by the state Constitution, the annuity isn’t.
Any changes would require taking on the powerful teachers union.
Mike Mugrew , president of the United Federation of Teachers, argued that taxpayers have actually come out ahead.
“The CBC report neglects to mention that over the last 25 years, the city has actually made a profit from this fund, since its investment returns over that period have exceeded the guaranteed rate of return promised by the TDA,” he said.
Mayor de Blasio’s office had no immediate comment.