By Phil Corso
City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has had his hands full since union bus drivers went on strike just days before Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed to reach a deal with the teachers’ union, leading to the loss of nearly $450 million in state and federal assistance.
And while delivering a keynote address at a leadership conference over the weekend, the chancellor pledged he would keep up the fight on behalf of city parents.
“Thank you very much for your perseverance. Thank you very much for your patience,” Walcott said as he opened his speech in the Saturday morning conference at the Queens High School of Teaching in Bellerose. “Whether you are understanding of us or not, I understand the challenges that you face.”
Students, teachers and parents filled the high school for what Principal Jae Hyun Cho said was their first parent leadership conference with the goal of empowering and informing the district. After an opening ceremony filled with student performances and elected officials’ well-wishes, parents and students passed through various workshops on subjects such as bullying and college prep.
State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) was one of many elected officials to speak at the event.
“You’re doing your job as parents,” he said. “In Albany, we are increasing funding for education and will continue to do what we can to get you the money you need.”
Walcott could not escape the controversies swirling through the city over recent weeks and jumped right to the recent bus strike and botched teacher evaluations deal.
In the middle of January, a labor dispute over job protections in new union contracts came to a head when city bus drivers from Amalgamated Transit Union 1181 went on strike, leaving more than 150,000 students without rides to school.
By Tuesday, workers from Local 355, a non-striking union, took to the bus depots as temporary replacements, sparking an uproar throughout the picket lines.
In his keynote address, Walcott acknowledged the struggles parents might have been forced to face since the strike, which has not yet been resolved.
To remedy the strike, the chancellor said the city Department of Education had arranged different methods for parents to get their kids to school, including complementary MetroCards and auto travel reimbursement.
Additionally, Walcott promised to continue fighting to assure the city does not balk on receiving more than $450 million in state and federal aid after the United Federation of Teachers failed to come to an agreement with the mayor on a new evaluation system.
The impasse cost the city roughly $250 million in education aid appropriated from Albany in June and an additional $200 million in state and federal grants.
Since then, Gov. Andrew Cuomo put $224 million of the planned state aid back on the table with a renewed Sept. 1 deadline with hopes of coaxing both sides into cutting a deal.
“Our goal is to sit down with the union to resolve these issues,” Walcott said. “We cannot leave $250 million in Albany, and I pledge to sit down with the teachers’ union, put our issues on the table and resolve them.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.