Education

Carvalho questioned pay in days before backing out of New York schools job, texts show

School board members Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall and Dr. Lawrence S. Feldman lead a standing ovation as Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, announced his decision to stay in Miami-Dade instead of going to New York City during a packed School Board meeting on Thursday, March 1, 2018.
School board members Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall and Dr. Lawrence S. Feldman lead a standing ovation as Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, announced his decision to stay in Miami-Dade instead of going to New York City during a packed School Board meeting on Thursday, March 1, 2018. pportal@miamiherald.com

When he backed out of becoming New York City’s schools chief with a dramatic announcement on March 1, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho invoked his inability “to break a promise to a child” in announcing he would stick with Miami.

In private text messages to New York officials days earlier, Carvalho was fretting about a last-minute letdown in the compensation package awaiting him under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“I am concerned about my understanding regarding the tax deferred annuity contribution,” Carvalho wrote in a Feb. 27 text message to New York Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan. It was a reference to a $24,000 yearly retirement benefit that the Miami-Dade school system currently pays Carvalho. “I had understood, based on our conversation, that that would be the case in NY. This is important.”

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A text message from Feb. 28, 2018, between Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to Dean Fuleihan, a deputy mayor of New York City, about Carvalho’s pending appointment as head of the city’s school system. The messages were released on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, as part of New York’s response to a public records request by the Miami Herald and other media outlets.

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A text message from Feb. 28, 2018, between Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho (speaking on the left side of the exchange) and Dean Fuleihan, a deputy mayor of New York City, about Carvalho’s pending appointment as head of the city’s school system. The messages were released on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, as part of New York’s response to a public records request by the Miami Herald and other media outlets.

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A text message from Feb. 28, 2018, between Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Dean Fuleihan, a deputy mayor of New York City, about Carvalho’s pending appointment as head of the city’s school system. The messages were released on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, as part of New York’s response to a public records request by the Miami Herald and other media outlets.

Fuleihan wrote back with bad news. “We cannot provide the contribution,” he said. Carvalho makes about $350,000 a year in Miami, and New York offered to match his pay. In the text exchange, Carvalho explained his $352,000 compensation doesn’t include the $24,000 retirement contribution or a $12,000 expense account.

New York had already denied the expense account, but Carvalho reacted to the lack of a $24,000 compensation boost as a surprise.

“This one has caught me totally off guard,” he wrote. “I understood the expense account was not feasible but understood tax-deferred contribution to be fine.”

On Friday, de Blasio’s office released records requested by news outlets in Miami and New York seeking private correspondence related to Carvalho’s attempted hiring. The popular schools chief earned the ire of de Blasio’s staff on March 1 when he presided over a school board meeting convened in Miami for the superintendent to deliver his decision on New York’s offer to be the city’s next education chancellor.

The text messages don’t show Carvalho’s hinting he was going to turn down the job, or offer a direct reason for why he abandoned his chance to run the largest school system in the country. The compensation exchanges fell at the end of what was supposed to be Carvalho’s accepting the six-figure job, and could represent a final effort to nail down some stray pay elements before he moved to the most expensive housing market in the country.

The compensation at issue would have amounted to less than a 10 percent pay cut from his Miami position. Though his public comments focused on a job unfinished in Miami, he has also pointed to last-minute concerns about switching from a superintendent very much in charge in Miami to a mayoral appointee having to defer to de Blasio’s staff for key hiring decisions within the New York school system.

A Carvalho spokeswoman issued a statement Friday describing compensation issues as brief concerns for Carvalho in the final talks with de Blasio aides after “tentatively accepting the Mayor’s offer.”

Carvalho’s decision to stay “came as a result of the school board and community’s overwhelming support and insistence that he remain superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools,” read the statement from chief communications officer Daisy Gonzalez-Diego after the release of the text messages. “Additionally, there were perceived limitations associated with the position in New York. Discussions regarding compensation were limited to minutes at most, never a priority, and readily settled.”

Carvalho had already accepted the New York offer when that Miami meeting began on March 1. Hours into the proceedings, Carvalho announced he was staying.

“I just don’t know how to break a promise to a child,” Carvalho told board members. “That has weighed on me over the last 24 hours like nothing has weighed on me before.”

The day before, on Feb. 28, Carvalho had texted Fuleihan with another compensation concern, this one about speaking fees and his ability to continue collecting them.

“I have over the past decade spoken at many events and am often offered honoraria,” Carvalho wrote. “Obviously, never accepting it from entities that could pose a conflict; i.e. vendors. I am assuming that would not be a problem correct?”

Fuleihan didn’t have an immediate answer on the fees. Gonzalez-Diego said additional information about speaking fees received by the Miami-Dade superintendent was not available Friday.

Carvalho was scheduled to board a plane for New York shortly after noon on Feb. 28, a clandestine leg in a trip that was slated to have a city driver whisk him from La Guardia airport to Gracie Mansion. A de Blasio staffer instructed him to bring old photos of himself to add to a video being prepared to introduce him to New York as the city’s next top educator.

“Down memory lane,” Carvalho texted to Rachel Lauter, then a deputy chief of staff to the New York mayor. “I am excited and honored.”

Carvalho had sent Lauter a printout of his American Airlines itinerary for the trip, which had him in New York from Feb. 28 through March 2.

He was to be in the air by 12:25 p.m. But at 1:19 p.m. on Feb. 28, the superintendent wrote Fuleihan with an alarming message.

“Hello. We’d to speak urgently,” Carvalho wrote, before quickly correcting the typo. “Need.”

“OK,” Fuleihan wrote back. “Calling. Just called. Please call .... Can you text me the problem.”

Carvalho wrote back that an emergency in Miami — a gun in a high school weeks after the Parkland massacre in the adjoining school system — had forced him to miss his “first flight.” And there was a second problem. Carvalho wrote he was “unhappy with the fact that NY media is calling my board members prior to me being able to speak with them. Will call as soon as I can.”

In their final exchange on the afternoon of Feb. 28, Fuleihan checked in to make sure all was well for a planned announcement in New York after the superintendent formalized his departure at an open session with the Miami-Dade school board.

“Perfectly poised for tomorrow’s meeting,” Carvalho wrote. Fuleihan responded: “Good, we still need you in the city after the Board meeting for a press conference...”

“Of course,” Carvalho wrote.

The news of Carvalho’s planned departure broke hours after that exchange, and The New York Times reported his planned appointment on the front page the following day.

In later public comments, Carvalho also expressed reservations about being an underling to de Blasio, who retains authority over the school system in New York and makes the kind of high-level decisions (like when to close schools during weather emergencies) that Carvalho makes in Miami.

The correspondence released Friday included a hint at some friction over New York’s organizational table, and where Carvalho might fit in it. He was forced to correspond with de Blasio deputies in the run-up to his expected announcement in New York as the mayor’s pick to manage the nation’s largest school system.

“In retrospect, I’d like to be the one to speak with the mayor about my decision,” Carvalho wrote on Feb. 20, at a time when the conversation very much had him accepting the position and preparing for a New York debut with de Blasio on March 2. “He’s the one who made the offer.”

Fuleihan wrote back: “I already reported on our conversation, your decision, time line and additional requests. And that we would set up a call between the two of you for late tomorrow ... Any concerns?”

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