By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The hearing was more like a hanging, sparked by the Council's apparent perception that the tougher they were on charters, the more appreciative the UFT might be, an out-of-classroom lesson plan in negative reinforcement. The principal of the four charters schools of the Harlem Success Network, longtime UFT target and former Council Education chair Eva Moskowitz, was branded a liar by Councilmembers Maria del Carmen Arroyo and Lou Fidler and grilled about everything from where she lived to where her kids went to school.
Arroyo demanded to know Moskowitz's home street address, and openly questioned whether Moskowitz was "telling the truth" when she claimed to live in Harlem. "Take offense—it is OK," taunted Arroyo. Even after Councilman Robert Jackson, who succeeded Moskowitz as the education chair, informed Arroyo that he had been to Moskowitz's home and knew "for a fact that Eva lives in Harlem," an unapologetic Arroyo went on to accuse Moskowitz of "arrogance" and "coming into a community and setting up the dynamics for there to be conflict." Not only does Moskowitz live in Harlem, but she was raised there and one of her children attends her Harlem school, selected by lottery.
Fidler pushed Moskowitz on the funding for her schools, challenging her answers with an incredulous sneer: "Is that what you're asking me to accept?" Moskowitz—whose testimony, like all the witnesses, was unsworn—volunteered to take the oath during Fidler and Arroyo's questioning. Ironically, it was Fidler who strayed so far from the truth that he alleged that charter school students got $6,000 more per pupil than traditional schools. The committee staff report, released before the hearing, had actually already pointed out that charters "receive roughly the same operational expense funding" as regular schools, but "do not receive facilities funding," unlike the rest of public schools. Even the UFT has conceded that charters get less public money, having pushed in state legislation to exempt them from a facility allocation.
The eight-hour session also included a roasting of four members of Klein's top Department of Education (DOE) staff, led by Chris Cerf, the deputy chancellor. Jackson, who went so far as to question why the DOE was "not charging charter schools anything whatsoever" for space in public schools, conceded that almost all of the 15 Councilmembers at the hearing raised critical issues about charters, telling the Voice that, at best, there "might have been one or two good words" about them from his colleagues and him. Neither Jackson nor anyone else on the council asked the UFT's Casey so much as a single critical question, much less where his children go to school (Casey told the Voice his stepchildren attend private Brooklyn schools).
Indeed, Jackson's first public appearance as chair—on the day he was named to replace Moskowitz by Speaker Christine Quinn in 2006—was to visit the UFT with Quinn, assuring the union that he did not think he was "in a position to evaluate" their contract, a repudiation of the extensive hearings Moskowitz once held to examine them.
Weingarten still calls those contract hearings a "star chamber," and Moskowitz says she was so blackballed after them that "various candidates" for the Council speaker vacancy, which opened up in 2005, "vied to outdo others in promising they would never make me chair again," a factor in her decision not to seek re-election to her Council seat. She instead ran for Manhattan borough president, and Weingarten boasts that she did "everything in my personal power, fought day and night" to elect Scott Stringer, who defeated Moskowitz.
When Moskowitz subsequently launched her charter school career, Weingarten successfully blocked her from getting space for her first school, though the union boss eventually acquiesced to the selection of an alternative location. More recently, the UFT newspaper published a story attacking Moskowitz's school the same week as the hearing. Moskowitz hasn't tempered her tone either, condemning the "union-political complex" that wants "to shut down competition" in her Council testimony. Even after the hearing, Weingarten was blasting Moskowitz on TV as a "hypocrite." She told the Voice that Moskowitz was an example of "the hatred we have to try to overcome if you want to help all kids," while claiming she operated "without grudges."
Though Jackson said he "didn't see" the UFT cue cards distributed, his opening statement at the hearing echoed one of the canned questions on the cards. The West Harlem Councilman, who went to one Harlem charter school event last fall wearing a teachers' union pin supporting Obama, suggested that the chancellor may have "abdicated his responsibility and is giving up on improving neighborhood schools." The union script was almost a match, describing the DOE's "abdication of its most important responsibility to provide quality district schools."
Jackson and Fidler have received a combined $6,850 from union committees. Arroyo, who was elected in a largely uncontested special election in 2006, hasn't reported any UFT donations, but her mother and mentor, Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, has collected $5,150 since 2002. Richard Arroyo, the councilwoman's nephew, chairs two South Bronx charters managed by a for-profit firm run by an investment banker who, unlike Moskowitz, lives in an $8.5 million, 4,200-square-foot, Fifth Avenue apartment.