New Schools Chancellor Quits in Middle of Acceptance Speech

“What the heck just happened?”


Not since Lebron James took his talents to South Beach have New Yorkers been rebuffed so hard and so publicly.

In what’s surely one of the most bizarre twists in mayoral appointment history, Miami-Dade schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced on Thursday that he’d decided not to take the position of New York City schools chancellor after all. Despite previously accepting the position, he appeared to change his mind midway through an emergency Miami-Dade school board meeting where he was expected to announce his departure, at which board members and students begged him to stay.

After requesting a five-minute break, and returning about thirty minutes later, Carvalho explained that “the decision that I have made about that position is however a decision I can no longer sustain. I am breaking an agreement between adults to honor an agreement and a pact I have with the children of Miami.

“I just don’t know how to break a promise to a child, how to break a promise to a community,” he added, to thunderous applause. “That has weighed on me over the past 24 hours like nothing has weighed on me before.”

It’s unclear whether Carvalho reached this decision spontaneously, or if the dramatic spectacle had been planned in advance. Despite saying on Thursday that he was “breaking an agreement,” Carvalho has reportedly told others that the job fell through because of Mayor Bill de Blasio, and that he had never officially accepted it. Yet Eric Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary, appeared to be receiving the news in real time, and with as much confusion as everyone else.

NY1’s Roma Torre was equally mystified, telling viewers, “I have never experienced anything quite like this ever.… What the heck just happened?”

The surprise ending follows a search process for the successor to outgoing chancellor Carmen Fariña that some parents had charged was equally confounding. “There was no place for the people who were the stakeholders in these schools to have any voice,” Janine Sopp, co-founder of anti–Common Core group Change the Stakes, told the Voice. “We probably wouldn’t have voted for someone who is so friendly to charter schools.”

The Miami Herald also reports that Carvalho has a “politically savvy” reputation, and a penchant for seeking out prestigious positions. He was also believed to be among the contenders for a congressional seat in Florida.

The mayor is expected to address the matter at a press conference at 3:30 p.m. This is an ongoing story and we’ll update as more information becomes available.

UPDATE #1, 2:54 p.m.: While we wait for the mayor’s press conference, there’s this from Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum:

UPDATE #2, 4:24 p.m.: NY1 now predicts the mayor will give his press statement at 4:30. We’ll see.

UPDATE #3, 4:57 p.m.: Mayor de Blasio finally takes the podium at 4:40 p.m., looking appropriately cranky. Says he was “very surprised” by Carvalho’s decision. Says he got approval from Carvalho yesterday to tip off Politico for this article revealing the appointment; he last spoke with Carvalho last night around 8 p.m. to plan next steps, so “you can imagine how surprised I was to get a phone call from him a few hours ago.” Promises “a new announcement soon,” says current chancellor Carmen Fariña will continue on the job through the end of the month.

Asked what happened, he says Carvalho called him a couple of times during the long hiatus in the Miami school board meeting — the mayor was in a meeting at Gracie Mansion about closing Rikers — and expressed “second thoughts.”

Asked about mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips’s Twitter outburst, the mayor cuts him slack: “We’re all confused at what happened here.”

Crankiness levels rising: “Look. He was offered the job. He was going to take it. He accepted it. Then he changed his mind.”

Upshot: Whether Carvalho truly decided he had to “reconsider after my heart started beating faster and louder than my mind” during the school board meeting, or had second thoughts prior to that, New York City now needs another schools chancellor candidate. Given de Blasio’s statement in the press conference that his administration has been “reconnecting with candidates,” it seems likely City Hall will be approaching some of its second choices. Hopefully this one won’t have quite such a loud heart.