Voter Turnout

Surprise ‘no’ vote at PEP muddles de Blasio’s mayoral control position

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
From left, mayoral appointees Ben Shuldiner, Lori Podvesker and Vanessa Leung at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in April. All three voted in favor of all of the city's colocation proposals this week.

A surprise no vote by the city’s education policy-making panel on Wednesday night highlights the fine line that Mayor Bill de Blasio must walk while lobbying lawmakers to keep control of the school system.

Roberto Soto-Carrión, a consistent supporter of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposals since the mayor appointed him to the panel 14 months ago, cast the decisive vote against the city’s plan for where to open Success Academy Midwood, a charter school, in 2016.

The vote surprised other panel members and even seemed to catch the de Blasio administration off guard. It marked only the second time in the 13-year history of mayoral control that the panel, whose 13 members include eight chosen by the mayor, rejected a city proposal. (The first rejection happened last year, just months into de Blasio’s tenure, and was reversed a month later.)

“I was a little shocked,” said Isaac Carmignani, a mayoral appointee who voted for the proposal.

The six yeas for the proposal were Staten Island Borough President representative Kamillah Payne-Hanks and mayoral appointees Vanessa Leung, Ben Shuldiner, Miguelina Zorilla-Aristy, Lori Podvesker and Carmignani. The four nays were Soto-Carrión, Robert Powell, the Bronx representative, Laura Zingmond, the Manhattan representative, and Elzora Cleveland, a mayoral appointee; Fred Baptiste, the Brooklyn representative. Two member, Norm Fruchter and Queens’ Deborah Dillingham were not there.

The rejection comes at a time when legislators are scrutinizing de Blasio’s control of the school system, and it suggests the delicacy of the mayor’s position in lobbying to keep control while also distancing himself from criticism leveled at his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

The law authorizing mayoral control expires at the end of June, and state lawmakers are considering whether to renew it for as many as three years, as de Blasio would like, or as little as one year.

On the one hand, the no vote undermines de Blasio’s argument — which he has been making strenuously to legislators — that mayoral control allows city policies to be made quickly and efficiently.

Success CEO Eva Moskowitz took aim at that claim in her reaction to the vote. “If Mayor de Blasio wants mayoral control, he should show he’s willing to use it,” she said in a statement. “If he won’t use it, then someone else needs to take control of the city’s schools.”

On the other hand, the no vote offers de Blasio ammunition to counter criticism that mayoral control means there are no checks on the mayor’s power. While that has not been a substantial theme of school governance talks in Albany this spring, it was a major line of attack on how Bloomberg ran the school system the last time mayoral control was renewed, in 2009. Bloomberg famously fired three panel members in 2004 the night before they planned to vote against a proposal to impose stricter promotion standards based on state test scores.

“I don’t think this is an indication that the mayor has no control,” said Laura Zingmond, a panel member appointed by the Manhattan borough president who also voted against Success co-location on Wednesday. “You don’t want a tyrant.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the city was “disappointed in the vote” but emphasized the value of listening to the public on education issues, something de Blasio promised in his campaign to do. The Success co-location proposal had received sharp criticism from representatives of the middle school that had been slated to share space.

“Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor [Carmen] Fariña are committed to meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders when making important decisions that impact the education of our city’s students and lead to improved student outcomes,” the spokeswoman, Devora Kaye, said in a statement. She pointed out that two other space plans involving Success Academy were approved, as was a co-location involving a new Icahn charter school in the Bronx.

How the panel’s power dynamics might affect the legislature’s mayoral control negotiations is not clear. The legislative session officially ends next Wednesday, but officials in Albany said they’re likely to stay longer because talks between the state’s leaders have moved slowly.

At least one lawmaker praised the panel’s vote. Rodneyse Bichotte, an assemblywoman whose district includes Andries Hudde Junior High School, where Success Academy Midwood had been proposed to open, said she discussed the vote with lawmakers on Thursday.

Bichotte, a Hudde graduate, said she was “partially surprised” to hear that the proposal was rejected but said she agreed with the decision. “It was a great thing,” she said.

One remaining mystery is what caused Soto-Carrión, the son of Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner Gladys Carrión who has been a staunch supporter of city proposals, to turn against the proposal.

He had not previously expressed concerns about the proposal during briefings with city officials, other members said. At the meeting, Soto-Carrión, who did not respond emails seeking comment, said he was voting against it because had safety concerns about the co-location.

Elzora Cleveland, the other mayoral appointee who voted against the proposal, said she had not spoken to Soto-Carrión since the vote but thought he might have changed his mind once he learned more about the proposal during the meeting.

“In many instances hearing what’s presented to us at that time can change someone’s opinion,” Cleveland said. “It really can.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”