An office inside the Department of Education improperly recruited its employees to lobby against the state’s seniority-based layoff system, city officials acknowledged today.

Staff at the city’s Office of Family Information and Action asked hundreds of parent coordinators to distribute a petition urging state lawmakers to abolish the current layoff system. In the e-mail, an OFIA staffer asked parent coordinators to gather signatures from parents and other members of their school communities and return them to the DOE. The e-mail message went out to nearly 400 of the 1,000 parent coordinators around the city.

The petition asks state lawmakers to “allow the City to keep it’s [sic] most effective teachers by ending the State’s ‘Last-In, First-Out’ policy, allowing teachers to be retained based on their performance, rather than just seniority.”

The message, which was first reported this morning by the teacher activist Norm Scott, echoes the position of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Cathie Black, who have made ending the seniority-based layoffs this year a chief political goal. The city teachers union strongly opposes ending the system and has argued that the city should instead focus its lobbying efforts on fighting budget cuts.

DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said that the petition had not been approved by top city officials.

“While we strongly encourage parents to speak out on issues concerning their children’s education, it was not appropriate for Department of Education staff to prescribe a specific solution for parent coordinators, or parents, to advocate,” Ravitz said in a statement. “Neither the Mayor, nor Chancellor Black, authorized this activity, and moving forward we will ensure that DOE staff understand their responsibilities and the appropriate standards to which we must adhere.”

Teachers union President Michael Mulgrew denounced the parent office’s push, pointing to a section of state civil service law that bans employees from using their “official authority or influences to coerce the political action of any person or body.” He also referred to a 2008 federal court ruling that upheld the city’s right to ban teachers from wearing buttons supporting political candidates while in the classroom.

“The same Department of Education, which on the pretext of sheltering students has forbidden teachers even from wearing buttons indicating support for candidates, has now embraced using students and parents in a clearly partisan legislative initiative,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a minimum these actions appear to violate state law.”

The petition was prepared in advance of next week’s “New York City Public School Lobby Week,” during which OFIA has been asking parents to visit state legislators and argue against school budget cuts. The office has planned several information sessions for parents this week to encourage them to participate in Lobby Week activities. The division’s official role is to facilitate better relationships between students’ families and their schools.

> From: Berryman Jaclyn
> Sent: Tue 3/15/2011 12:46 PM
> To: [redacted]
> Cc: Harris Melissa (OFIA); Pierre Louis Raymond; Melendez Jacqueline;
Portilla Nydia
> Subject: Final Petition: Lobby Week, March 21-25, 2011
>
>
>
> Hello again Queens Parent Coordinators,
>
> As a follow up to many of your recommendation for Lobby Week, attached
you will find the final petition to share with your school communities.
>
> These petitions serve as a way to include all school community members
who would like to make their voices heard but may be unable to
participate in the actual Senate and Assembly visits during Lobby Week,
March 21, 2011- March 25, 2011.
>
> Completed petitions will be submitted to elected officials by parents
and community members next week, during the Lobby Week visits.
>
> Please fax petitions back to: 212-374-0076 by the below listed dates.
If you have interested school community members that want to sign the
petition, but may not be able to submit by the end of the week, please
call me at 212-374-2989 and we can discuss this on a case-by-case basis.

>
> Thanks in advance for your support. Have a good afternoon
>
>
>
> Lobby Week Elected Official Visits:
>
> Borough:
>
> Submit Completed Petitions:
>
> Monday, March 21, 2011
>
> Bronx
>
> Friday, March 18,2011
>
> Tuesday , March 22, 2011
>
> Manhattan
>
> Monday, March 21, 2011
>
> Wednesday, March 23, 2011
>
> Queens & Brooklyn
>
> Tuesday, March 22, 2011
>
>
>
>
>
> Regards,
>
> Jaclyn Berryman
>
>
>
> New York City Department of Education
>
> Office for Family Information & Action
>
> 49 Chambers Street, Room 503
>
> New York, New York 10007