Home News City still paying big for ex-mayor’s shortcuts

City still paying big for ex-mayor’s shortcuts

When city officials late last month settled for $2.1 million a lawsuit brought by three veteran educators alleging they were pushed from their jobs by ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s schools chancellor because they were white, it was a punctuation mark to the damage done by the two-term mayor’s penchant for racial politics rather than meaningful school reforms.

The former school executives — Laura Feijoo, Lois Herrera and Jaye Murray — alleged they were forced from high-level positions in favor of less-qualified persons of color, including one who lacked a high school diploma.

It was part of a purge overseen by de Blasio’s second chancellor, Richard Carranza, who five years ago told a gathering of Department of Education officials, “If you draw a paycheck from DOE…get on board my equity platform or leave.”

The suit filed by Feijoo, Herrera and Murray was cleared for trial early this year when a judge concluded they “offer evidence of race-based discrimination in Carranza’s DOE.”

The man who de Blasio tapped to succeed Carmen Fariña came with a spotty record in high-level assignments in the Houston and San Francisco systems. But he shared the then-mayor’s ideological leanings and was eager to be his point man in persuading state legislators to abolish the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which is used by three of the city’s elite high schools: Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant.

On average, just 10% of their attendees were Black or Latino, with Asians comprising more than 60% of the student body at all three. Soon after taking the job in the spring of 2018, Carranza parried a question about whether scrapping the exam would reduce merit in admissions by stating, “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools.”

His bluntness didn’t seem to bother de Blasio — whose son Dante had graduated from Brooklyn Tech midway through his first term. Nor did the mayor appear shocked about incendiary or insensitive statements made by consultants hired under Carranza that suggested they didn’t care who they offended in offering new guidelines for instructors.

One white teacher, asked what experiences she brought to the classroom that could help students of color, spoke of the empathy she gained as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, then was told that was irrelevant. When an Asian parent attending a training class asked why a chart used by the consultant that delineated a “racial-advantage hierarchy” did not list Asians as a group, the response was that they “benefitted from white supremacy” and “proximity to white privilege.”

De Blasio and Carranza seemed oblivious to the arrogance of such pronouncements being made on the city’s dime. But it stirred enough anger within the Asian community — which can still be seen in the rising support for Republicans in New York that played a role in House Democrats losing their majority in Congress two years ago — that bills to abolish the SHSAT floundered throughout the mayor’s second term.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, another Brooklyn Tech graduate, decried communities being “set one against another.” He said de Blasio had not spent enough on test prep to aid Black and Latino students with the SHSAT, and questioned why he hadn’t restored gifted-and-talented programs in middle schools that were eliminated under ex-Mayor Mike Bloomberg which previously offered a pathway to the specialized schools.

A leading Asian-American elected official, state Sen. John Liu — who in 2013 as city comptroller was among the candidates opposing de Blasio in the Democratic mayoral primary — accused him of making education decisions with an eye to his having far more political support in the Black and Latino communities than among Asians.

Liu also asserted that de Blasio and Carranza out of intellectual laziness devoted too much energy to lobbying against the SHSAT and too little to middle schools throughout the system, which for decades had been the weak link in city education. “He thought it would be a quick fix,” Liu said. He added, “Quick fixes by definition are not substantive.”

That assessment, given in February 2021 when Carranza announced he was quitting after less than three years in the job, echoed comments made by de Blasio’s highest-ranking Latina appointee, Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, once she quit midway through his first term. She stated that the mayor was too easily distracted by crises and “bright, shiny objects” to focus on solving long-term problems.

As shown by the recent settlement with the three educators cast out solely because they didn’t check the racial boxes he preferred, the city continues to pay for de Blasio’s short attention span.

Steier is the former editor of the civil-service newspaper The Chief.


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