When Richard Carranza took the helm of city’s education department last April, he was handed a sprawling bureaucracy of over 1,800 schools, 1.1 million students, and 130,000 employees.
He also got at least 21 pages of documents outlining the history and current status of the city’s flagship education initiatives.
That’s according to the education department, which shared half of those pages last week in response to a 10-month-old public records request about the materials used to bring Carranza up to speed in more than a dozen areas from special education to universal pre-kindergarten.
The response came after a series of delays that the department has pledged to cease.
The documents represent just one tool officials used to help Carranza understand the nation’s largest school system, and don’t offer a complete picture of the information he received. His schedule reflects numerous meetings that likely offered more detailed briefings.
The department also withheld nearly half of the requested documents. Officials said in a letter that state law allows them to redact briefing materials that include “opinions, suggestions, recommendations, advice, ideas, plans, impressions, exhortations and other information not containing or constituting statistical or factual tabulations or data, instructions to staff that affect the public, or final agency policy or determinations.” About 10 pages of documents were redacted, said department spokesman Doug Cohen.
Much of the information the department did share is boilerplate, similar to language used in press releases and the department’s website. The documents describe efforts to include students with disabilities with peers in general education classrooms, changes to certain high school admissions procedures to promote diversity, and a program to to provide additional counselors in two needy districts.
Some of the most detailed information centered on special education, including budget breakdowns and descriptions of several different initiatives. Yet other high-profile programs received surprisingly little mention: Just two sentences of the briefing documents are devoted to the mayor’s much-debated $770 million turnaround program for struggling schools. After nine days on the job, Carranza concluded the Renewal program lacked a clear “theory of action.”
The education department took almost 10 months to give Chalkbeat the documents, issuing form letters to extend their own deadlines on three separate occasions. After ignoring an Oct. 1 deadline to provide the records, the department did not provide a new deadline, and ultimately produced the records on Feb. 14, three days after Chalkbeat filed an appeal.
Department officials promised to stop delaying records requests after a lawsuit from the New York Post. At the time, officials said they would stop repeatedly sending form letters extending their own deadlines in favor of more realistic estimates.
For years, the education department has been among the least responsive city agencies. A Chalkbeat analysis found that in the year between April 2015 and April 2016, the department’s average response time to public records requests was 103 days. By contrast, it took 296 days for officials to provide Carranza’s briefing materials.
Bob Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government, said the education department’s process in response to Chalkbeat’s request violates the state’s open records law.
“An agency cannot engage in delay after delay after delay,” he said.
Cohen, the education department spokesman, acknowledged problems with the city’s response.
“We’re committed to a transparent FOIL process that serves the public efficiently and effectively, and are working to improve timeliness of responses,” he wrote in an email. “We should’ve responded more quickly and provided more updates about this request.”
Here is the complete set of records provided by the education department: