Thursday, March 17, 2011

OFIAGATE: Maura Breaks the Big One - Who's Going to Jail?

OFIA staff encouraged parent coordinators to bring “Happy Harry” parents to citywide meetings, according to the parent coordinator’s notes, rather than “Angry Sally” parents.
- Maura Walz at Gotham Schools

The DOE views and uses parents the same way so many charter schools view and use parents.  Harlem Success Academies take the cake in this department.  They use them like political pawns, tell them what to say, when to say it and how to say it.  This is the corporate reformers model for parent involvement.  The more and more our schooling system becomes privatized with charters, the more we are going to see this abuse. - comment at Gotham
Soon to be new "House of Tweed"
How long have we been waiting to get the slickers at Tweed caught in an out and out illegality that if fully investigated can bring down the Bloomberg house of cards? Kudos to Gotham's Maura Walz for taking the ball and running with it.

One of the first things BloomKlein did upon taking office was to put a parent coordinator in each school. Think of the cost for 1500+ schools? Now in theory it is not a bad idea but people at the time were commenting that 1500 PCs who owe their jobs to BloomKlein could be used as a potent political force to push the Tweed agenda to parents rather than pushing the parent agenda to Tweed.

As we reported here the other day (Tweed Trying to Use Parent Coordinators As Shock Troops to End Seniority) Tweed has been caught trying to use the very same parent coordinators, who are supposed to function as liaisons between schools and parents, to get parents to sign petitions ostensible to oppose budget cuts but also to end seniority/LIFO rules. Looks like abuse of power, illegal use of personnel, etc. The UFT's Mulgrew sent a letter of complaint listing the illegalities to Investigative Commissioner Richard Condon. Naturally Tweed hitwoman Natalie Ravitz (where are you David Cantor, this woman is a zombie) foisted the blame on a lower level employee.

The story came to me first back in January from a chapter leader who reported her PC was livid after attending a borough meeting organized by the Office of Information and Action (OFIA), the parent engagement arm of Tweed - it used to be called the Office of Family Engagement (OFE - or something like that under Martine Guerrier who is now working for Bloomberg at City Hall - and hopefully hanging her head in shame for what she hath done).

They were they told to look for pro-Bloomberg parents and organize them to come to PEP meetings (where other than charter school parents bused in there is nary a parent to be found supporting them). I handed the story off but nothing came of it - until Tweed swung and missed again by sending out petitions to be signed ostensibly opposing budget cuts but slipped into the petition was a call to end seniority.

The UFT caught it right away and district reps sent out a call to chapter leaders to reach out to the PCs. One of those CLs sent me an emergency email early Tuesday morning and I got the story up right away and it caught the eye of the press and I started getting calls. (At the same time, the UFT was squawking to the press.)

What intrigued some reporters more than the petition story was the little tidbit I dropped into my story about those borough meetings (Tweed held parent coordinator borough meetings and urged them to find the parents most sympathetic to Bloomberg.) Gotham's Maura Walz wrote the petition story yesterday (City renounces effort to use DOE employees to lobby on LIFO) and actaually gave me credit for breaking the story. She wanted to dig into the borough meeting story. And so she did with this blockbuster that is a must read.
staff focused on asking the coordinators to build relationships with satisfied parents who would be willing to show support for the DOE at Panel for Educational Policy meetings. “I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, honestly, and I didn’t really trust my own ears, so I wrote things down,” the parent coordinator said.
Instead of going through this charade, Tweed should do what Khadafi does to get out supporters. Just pay people outright to attend PEP meetings to cheer for Cathie Black.

There is no question that this will go right up to Bloomberg. Out and out misuse of DOE employees for political purposes. Who knew what and when did they know it? I predicted that one day Klein would be removed from Tweed with his coat over his head. Smart guy. Got out just in time. OFIAGATE, here we come.
In honor of OFIAGATE, Lisa Donlan commented and then penned a ditty:
At the very least Ms. Hall must take responsibility for this series of inappropriate events taking place on her watch.
I say at the very least, because I have no doubt the directives at Tweed come from above. That said, under her leadership OFIA has been the most embarrassingly ineffectual and incompetent of all of the many iterations of the oxymoronic "Parent Support" functions since Mayoral control destroyed parent engagement.

Quite a hit parade that has been, too:

OFIA Mambo No 5- 

sing it with me now:

A little bit of Karen in my life
A little bit of Jemina by my side
A little bit of Tom is all I need
A little bit of Martine is what I see
A little bit of Ojeida in the sun
A little bit of Parent Support all night long
A little bit of OFEA is my refuge
A little bit of OFIA makes me your stooge!

And parent activist Noah Gotbaum added this:
OFIA, like every department of the DOE, is simply a partisan political extension of the Mayor and his Chancellor.   It has nothing at all to do with education nor with parent engagement, and everything to do with promoting the Mayor and the Mayor’s agenda, and quelling any dissenting or independent viewpoints. 

Thus, OFIA, while under contract to support parent involvement and to provide legislated training and support to the City’s elected parent representatives including CEC’s, and SLT’s, has not held a single CEC training session or meeting this year, nor provided an iota of guidance or basic information to these groups.  They also refuse to provide CEC’s the contact details of the PA and SLT’s reps that we, not they, are charged by New York State law to support and to oversee.  Kinda makes it tough to do our jobs.  And although Ojeda Hall has been in her position as head of OFIA since August, I don’t know of ANYONE who’s even MET her.  

It’s now more apparent than ever that the “O” in OFIA stands for “obstructionist.”  Neither OFIA, nor the DOE, nor the Mayor, should have anything to do with oversight or “support” of the parents and parent groups that they clearly disdain.  If our legislators truly are serious about increasing parental input and involvement in our kids’ schools, they will remove the DOE and OFIA from any formal involvement or role in “supporting” parent engagement.  Instead, and as agreed by the State Senate, they should replace OFIA with an independent parent training academy and support organization run by NYU or another credible educational institution/contractor.


Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: And make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.

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