A day after the New York City Parents Union last week sent out a media alert inviting reporters to attend a press conference outside the Staten Island courthouse where their lawsuit to reform teacher tenure is being heard, the group’s executive board went radio silent when a reporter requested evidence of the group’s membership roll and information on its funding.
Reached by phone while on vacation in Florida, the Union’s founder and president Mona Davids acknowledged that the four-year-old advocacy group was not listed on Guidestar, an online public register of nonprofits and advocacy groups, nor at CharitiesNYC.org, the New York State Attorney General’s website of state nonprofits.
Davids suggested that her organization’s lack of an online paper trail made it more authentic. Her group’s 9,000 members, a figure whose provenance Davids said she could not explain at that moment, were “unbought and unbossed,” “parents on the ground.”
Davids continued: “We are not listed on any charity, we are grassroots. We are not affiliated with anybody or the charter lobby or education reformers, or teachers, or the teacher unions that they support.”
Given the lack of public information about the group, it’s hard to confirm anything about its finances. Last September, as State Supreme Court Justice Philip Minardo consolidated Parents Union’s lawsuit with a similar tenure reform lawsuit filed by the conservative Partnership for Educational Justice, Politico reported that Davids had been funded by the New York City teachers unions in the past. A UFT spokesman confirmed that the organization had financially supported Davids’ group, but could not supply the details by deadline. A spokesman for DC 37 declined to comment on reports that that organization had also financially supported Davids in the past.
In the pages of the city’s tabloids, however, the Parents Union has created an extensive paper trail. Davids earlier this year told the Daily News she gave schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña an “F” on her performance to date. Last week she wrote in the Post about “de Blasio and Fariña’s corrupt management of the school system.”
While Davids and Parents Union vice president Sam Pirozzolo were both once opponents of charter schools, both of them have changed their mind on the issue. A quick survey of the Parents Union website credits the organization with a host of successes. Davids credits her group with being instrumental in the passage of Avonte’s Law, a bill requiring schools to install alarms on doors, passed in the wake of the disappearance and death of autistic teenager Avonte Oquenodo in 2013.
The group is also part of lawsuits suing to recoup federal money for New York City school children lost after the city and UFT failed to create a timely teacher evaluation system in 2013, as well as monies owed city school children under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a long-standing effort by education advocates to bring fiscal parity to school children in New York. According to the Post, the Union joined Public Advocate Letitia James’s 2013 lawsuit protesting the co-location of charter schools in public schools. The suit was dismissed in May of 2014.
While Davids cut short efforts to discuss her organization and her background, a LinkedIn profile page lists a business background including communications and marketing companies; education advocacy dates to 2009, where, Davids writes, she began her stint as president of the New York Charter Parents Association, “fighting for the rights of parents and students in charter schools.” Davids’ oldest child is at LaGuardia High School and her youngest is in public school in the Bronx.
“Talk to Sam,” Davids told a reporter when asked for more specifics about her work, referring to the Parents Union vice president, but phone calls, emails and messages through Twitter to Pirozzolo were not returned.
Pirozzolo did tweet a photo of himself outside Minardo’s court room on Tuesday, and tweeted thanks to WNYW-Fox5 executive Lew Leone for supporting Pirozzolo’s Aug. 10 Post op-ed calling for Albany to mandate the participation of the New York City Parents Union in negotiating teacher contracts. Telling Post readers that he could no longer support the “corruption” in the public schools, Pirozzolo, an optician at Steinway Eye Care in Queens, wrote that only the presence of the “independent” New York Parents Union would assure that students needs were met during teacher contract negotiations.
In 2012, Pirozzolo, president of his local Community Education Council, challenged state Assembly member Michael Cusik for the 63rd district seat in Staten Island. Running on a platform as an education advocate with strong ties to the Staten Island community, Pirozzolo denounced Cusik as someone “bought” by Albany and unable to fight for his district’s needs. Pirozzolo also went after the city departments of education and health for offering pregnancy testing and distributing condoms or the morning-after pill to high-school students. Charging the city agencies with “immorality,” Pirozzolo accused the agencies of operating without parental consent, a charge the city denied.