Advocates for Justice, a public interest law firm, today filed initial papers for a civil lawsuit against Mayor Michael Bloomberg on behalf of a class of all New York City public school parents . The Mayor is charged with committing "misfeasance of office" through the appointment of Ms. Cathleen P. Black as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and thereby damaging the education of public school children in the City of New York.
The 14 Claimant parents, along with the newly formed New York City Parents Union, are demanding $100 million in compensatory damages from Mr. Bloomberg personally as the individual now held accountable under New York State's education law for the performance of the public education system, as well as a public apology from the Mayor for his handling of Ms. Black's appointment and brief tenure in office.
A Notice of Claim setting forth the nature of the lawsuit was filed today by Advocates for Justice with the Office of New York City Comptroller John Liu. This legal action — possibly the first of its kind in the history of New York City — claims that the Mayor had or should have had full knowledge of Ms. Black's inability to perform at an appropriate level in the position of Chancellor.
Section 3(f) of the Notice Claim states that "Michael Bloomberg, as Mayor, has a fiduciary obligation to act with the utmost of prudence and responsibility in running the New York City school system. He either knew, or should have known, that the appointment of Black was not in the best interests of the system, but he appointed her nonetheless. By so acting, Michael Bloomberg breached his fiduciary duty to the parents of all school children in New York City public schools and is guilty of 'misfeasance of office.' "
The parents want Mayor Bloomberg to place $100 million of his own money — or approximately $1 million for each day of Ms. Black's nearly 100-day tenure — into a fund used exclusively for the training and development of teachers and supervisors as compensation for the damage to the morale and performance of staff and teachers, which therefore impaired the education of students.
Arthur Z. Schwartz, attorney for the Claimants, emphasized that the Notice of Claim was a precursor to a lawsuit against Bloomberg personally, not one against the City of New York. "The Mayor's ego, and his insistence on 'selling' the school system rather than building it from the ground up, led to this disaster. The Mayor took a lot from the City's school children with this error, and he should be required to make repairs – in a sum that he is uniquely qualified to do."
Ms. Mariama Sanoh, an active Brooklyn parent who is a Claimant and a founder of the New York City Parents Union, said that Mayor Bloomberg abused his power. "When outraged parents stated that Cathie Black was unqualified to be Chancellor, Mayor Bloomberg accused us — the real stakeholders in our children's education — of playing politics. But it was Mayor Bloomberg who abused his power by appointing someone with no education experience to lead the nations largest public school system. And it was Mayor Bloomberg who played politics with the New York State Education Commissioner to get unqualified Cathie Black approved for the job. The Mayor has committed misfeasance and our children have suffered. There have to be consequences for these bad choices."
Ms. Shino Tanikawa, a Claimant and member of Manhattan's Community Education Council 2, demanded consistency in how education matters are treated. "Accountability has been the foundation of Mayor Bloomberg's alleged "reform" agenda, yet he himself has not been accountable to us for any of his misguided decisions. Our children have suffered his arrogance and egotism enough, and we, the parents, demand that the Mayor now be held accountable."
Central Brooklyn parent Muba Yarofulani is a founding member of the New York City Parents Union, Co-President of the Coalition for Public Education (CPE), and President of the District 18 Presidents Council. She objected to Mayor Bloomberg's dominance over the public education system. "The 1.1 million students in New York City's public schools deserved a qualified Chancellor. Mayor Bloomberg refused to hear the cries of parents from communities like mine; we knew that Cathie Black should not be appointed. This Mayor's dictatorship over our education system is failing our children, and I am one of those mothers who will continue to battle his wealth and political might. Mayor Bloomberg must be held accountable for his failures. Our children must see that there are consequences for the rich just as there are for the poor."
Ms. Mona Davids, a Bronx charter school parent, and a founder of the New York City Parents Union, pronounced Mayor Bloomberg's behavior as corrupt. "Outside of New York City, when an elected official appoints a friend, family member or crony with no relevant experience to a high profile job, it is called 'graft' and an abuse of power," said Ms. Davids. "Mayor Bloomberg's appointment of his friend, Cathie Black, without first conducting a national search or ensuring that she had the qualifications to lead the nation's largest school system, was pure corruption and disrespectful to NYC parents, students and educators. Mayor Bloomberg's appointment showed our children that, even when you are not qualified for a job, it's not what you know but who you know."
Hon. Chris Owens, a Brooklyn Claimant and former Community School Board President, focused on the need for unorthodox measures. "This Mayor has bought three elections, including a third term in office! The political process has not provided recourse for concerned parents because the Mayoral elections have been corrupted by the power of money. So we have to do something to show everyone that the disastrous ramming of Cathie Black down our throats warrants more than a few days of critical media stories. The Mayor owes this City and he has the means to compensate our public education system for a portion of the harm that he inflicted upon it."
Ms. Julie Cavanagh is a teacher in Brooklyn who supports the parents' lawsuit. "I am glad to see legal action being taken directly against Mayor Bloomberg. Mayor Bloomberg speaks about accountability for schools, students and teachers, but never is he held accountable for the disastrous and devastating decisions he has made for our schools and our children. It is time for this Mayor to be held accountable. As if over-testing, overcrowding, and overtly ignoring the voices of stakeholders were not enough, Bloomberg appointed and vigorously defended a Chancellor we all knew was unqualified for our children. The Mayor's actions have caused irreparable harm to our school system, and it is time for him to answer to the people he was elected to serve."