Ed Dept Says Anti-LIFO Petition Sent by Employee 'Wasn't Appropriate'

The Department of Education said it "wasn't appropriate" for a central office staffer to send a political email to parents encouraging them to sign a petition against the last in, first out (LIFO) law protecting senior teachers in the event of layoffs.

The department said the email was sent to 385 parent coordinators on Tuesday in schools across the city by Jaclyn Berryman, who worked in the office for Family Information and Action.

It included a petition that calls for the state to "allow the city to keep its most effective teachers by ending the state's Last In, First Out policy, allowing teachers to be retained based on their performance, rather than just seniority." The petition also called for the city to receive "it's [sic] fair share of state funds" and to reject cuts in building delay "which will delay the construction of thousands of new school seats."

Berryman's email said "these petitions serve as a way to include all school community members who would like to make their voices heard but may be unable to participate in the actual Senate and Assembly visits during Lobby Week, March 21, 2011- March 25, 2011." She said completed petitions will be submitted to elected officials by parents and community members going to Albany next week.

The teachers union complained that the email and petition violated a state law against using employees โ€” in this case parent coordinators โ€” for political activity. The union opposes ending the LIFO seniority protections. But union president Michael Mulgrew said that was irrelevant because it's wrong to ask employees to work "for any specific piece of legislation."

"The idea of trying to use your employees to push your own political issue is a little bit over the top, to say the least, besides breaking the law," he said.

Berryman had no comment. But Natalie Ravitz, the Department of Education's communications director, issued the following statement shortly after the union alerted reporters about the petitions:

"While we strongly encourage parents to speak out on issues concerning their children's education, it was not appropriate for Department of Education staff to prescribe a specific solution for parent coordinators, or parents, to advocate. Neither the mayor nor Chancellor Black authorized this activity, and moving forward we will ensure that DOE staff understand their responsibilities and the appropriate standards to which we must adhere."