frozen assets

Judge blocks Cuomo's $250M penalty on city schools, for now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo won’t be able to penalize New York City for failing to adopt teacher evaluations while a lawsuit against the penalty makes its way through the courts, a State Supreme Court judge ruled today.

The judge said Cuomo’s latest ultimatum — that the city adopt a system or have one imposed — proved that a financial penalty was not the only way to motivate districts to adopt new evaluations.

Cuomo announced last year that he would withhold increases in state school aid from districts that did not adopt new teacher evaluation systems by Jan. 17. New York City missed the deadline, and Cuomo said he would take back $250 million from the city’s schools.

But parents and advocates of equitable school funding sued, and a judge today issued an injunction against the penalty, at least until he has had more time to consider the merits of the lawsuit.

City officials praised the ruling, as did other advocates of teacher evaluations who have usually supported Cuomo’s efforts to strong-arm districts into adopting new evaluation systems.

“We’ve said all along that students should not be penalized for the UFT’s failure to negotiate, and our goal has been and continues to be a fair and effective evaluation system,” said Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson.

UFT officials declined to comment immediately but said they were reviewing the decision.

Cuomo’s office plans to appeal the ruling, according to a spokesman. The State Education Department — whose commissioner, John King, is also named in the lawsuit — declined to comment on the ruling.

To win a temporary injunction at the outset of a lawsuit, plaintiffs have to prove that allowing a process to continue while litigation is underway would cause “irreparable harm.” They also have to convince the judge that they are likely to win the case in the end.

Those requirements are why lawyers for the state and for the parents wrangled over the value of $250 million to the city’s schools , during a hearing last week. Michael Rebell, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, argued that the penalty violated students’ right to a sound basic education, which the state’s school aid formula is meant to support. But lawyers for the state argued that the size of the penalty — 4 percent of the city’s schools budget — would barely make a dent in students’ educational experiences.

Judge Manuel Mendez sided with Rebell and the parents. “Innocent students that had no influence over the legislative process or [teacher evaluation] negotiations were potentially placed at risk academically,” he wrote in his decision.

Mendez also used Cuomo’s latest strategy to get the city to adopt new teacher evaluations — seeking the right to let King impose an evaluation system if one is not agreed upon by June 1 — as evidence against the governor. Cuomo has said one reason to impose an evaluation system is to make sure the state’s federal Race to the Top funds, which were contingent on new evaluations, are not threatened.

“There are alternative means of achieving [evaluation] goals while preserving federal RTTT grant funds without the long term effects of financial sanctions on students,” Mendez wrote.

“While this is only the first round in what may be a long fight, we remain hopeful that the funds will be permanently returned to the students and teachers who need them,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence, which has strongly supported Cuomo’s push for new evaluations.

Another supporter of new evaluations, Mona Davids, founder of the New York City Parents Union, said the ruling was a vindication of parents’ ability to stand up for students.

“It’s important because parents stood up on our own and fought against the governor and have at this point stopped him from punishing our kids for the failure of the city and teachers union to reach an evaluations agreement,” said Davids, who was one of several parents to join the suit. Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council’s education committee, is also a plaintiff.

Mendez’s ruling in favor of an injunction is below.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.