March 20, 2013
Mayor Bloomberg’s latest appointments to the Panel for Educational Policy are two men with ties to charter schools that have faced panel votes.
The appointments — made without fanfare — are drawing criticism from other panel members and critics of the panel, who say the new appointees’ interests make them unable to assess proposed policies fairly. A proposal involving Success Academy Charter Schools, which one of the new board members has represented in legal proceedings, is up for a vote at tonight’s panel meeting.
Last month, Joseph Lewis, Jr., was appointed to replace Rosemarie Maldonado, an administrator at John Jay College who had been on the panel since last July. According to his biography on the PEP website, Lewis attended New York City schools; has served on the board of Leadership Prep Charter School; and is currently on the boards of several other education organizations, including NYCAN, a group that has advocated for public school parents to be able to turn their schools into charter schools.
The other new appointee is David Brown, an attorney who works at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison LLP. While he mostly focuses on business litigation, according to the firm’s website, he also does pro bono work for nonprofit clients, including the charter school network that most often seeks space in city school buildings.
“Recently, he has represented Success Academy Charter Schools in cases where plaintiffs sought to prevent the co-location of charter schools in school buildings owned by the New York City Department of Education,” Brown’s profile says.
The network, which is run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, has been the target of several lawsuits from parents who say the city has unfairly allocated space in their children’s schools to Success Academy schools. In each case, the PEP approved the co-location plans, as it has every time the city has brought a proposal to the table since it was created in 2002.
Brown’s first panel meeting was last week, when the panel voted to close 22 city schools. It also approved three different plans to install Success Academy schools in Department of Education buildings. Brown recused himself from the votes, according to a department spokeswoman.
Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s appointee to the panel, first drew attention to Brown’s ties to the schools in messages posted on Twitter Tuesday night that included a link to Brown’s profile on the law firm’s website.
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens borough president’s appointee, responded to Sullivan with a message of his own. “He is also a board trustee for another charter school (per BIO). Appears to be a conflict of interest on the #PEP,” wrote Fedkowskyj, who along with Sullivan forms one half of a bloc of borough president appointees who usually vote against city proposals.
Brown’s biography on the Department of Education’s website says that he is a board member at Harlem Link Charter School. It does not mention his work with Success Academy.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew criticized Brown’s appointment as fitting into a pattern of favoritism that he said Bloomberg had shown Success Academy.
“First Mayor Bloomberg gives Eva Moskowitz a pipeline that feeds millions of public dollars from the DOE into her operation,” Mulgrew said. “Now he gives Eva a vote on the PEP.”
A spokesman for the union said that even though Brown will recuse himself for votes involving Success Academy schools, his appointment is still a problem because he will vote on school closures and co-locations, two policies that have enabled the network’s expansion.
But a spokeswoman for Success Academy pointed out that Brown’s recusals would give the charter network a slimmer margin of support when proposals involving its schools come before the panel. “We weren’t aware of David Brown’s appointment until after the fact,” said the spokeswoman, Jenny Sedlis.
It’s not the first time that Bloomberg has picked someone with ties to Success Academy for the school board. In 2010, he chose a Goldman Sachs vice president who had been on the board of one of the network’s schools until he resigned days before the city announced his position on the PEP.
Tonight, the panel will vote on 17 additional new school and co-location proposals, including one to move the middle grades of Success Academy’s second school into a Harlem building where another school’s middle grades are being phased out. According to a city analysis of comments at a public hearing in February, which 118 people attended, every speaker opposed the plan.
This story has been updated with comment from Success Academy Charter Schools.