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Alberto Carvalho declines de Blasio offer of NYC schools chancellor job on live TV

The Miami-Dade County superintendent requested an adjournment before "breaking an agreement between adults."

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at City Hall Thursday, March 1, 2018,  said he was "surprised" to learn that his preferred chancellor pick, Alberto Carvalho, was reneging on New York City's offer to lead the municipal schools. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes)

Alberto M. Carvalho announced abruptly on live television Thursday that he would not accept Mayor Bill de Blasio’s offer to run the New York City school system, the nation’s biggest —  a week after accepting the post.

“I am breaking an agreement between adults to honor an agreement and a pact I have with the children of Miami,” Carvalho said during an emotional emergency meeting of the Miami school board, which he heads.

“I shall remain in Miami-Dade as your superintendent,” said Carvalho, to cheers.

Hours later, de Blasio expressed his shock at the about-face, stating, "I've never had a situation like this before."

He added: "It's really unusual. We can say that for a fact."

Carvalho's announcement came during a lengthy board meeting, during which Carvalho fought back tears as he listened to constituents beg him to stay in Miami.  

Then Carvalho abruptly requested an adjournment, returning about a half-hour later to say he needed to “do what is right,” and that he didn’t know how to break a promise. Later, he announced to the meeting that he would not take the New York job.

Carvalho, an immigrant who once lived in the U.S. illegally, cited in English and Spanish his inspiration: an obligation to young Miami students who are also in the country illegally.

De Blasio started a Thursday afternoon news conference by pointedly saying: "Like many of you, I was very surprised by Mr. Carvalho’s decision. I thought we had found the right candidate."

He walked through the chronology of the offer to Carvalho, including that the Miami superintendent said yes "over a week ago" and that the two had talked at 8 p.m. Wednesday, "and all systems were go."

Following Carvalho's unexpected announcement, the mayor's press secretary Eric Phillips tweeted, in succession:

“Carvalho backed out. He won’t be coming to NYC. There is never a dull moment in our great city.”

“He was a Yes for a week+, until he was a No 15 minutes ago. Bullet dodged.”

The mayor, in response, noted that while he "would not have said it that way," Phillips was responding "in the heat of the moment."

"I obviously think the world of Eric," de Blasio said. "We're all confused at what happened here."

The spectacle of a personnel decision over the fates of 1.1 million students’ educations unfolded on live television: Press aides crammed into the room where City Hall reporters work, sitting on desks to watch the drama in real time.

When Carvalho revealed he wouldn’t take the job, a de Blasio spokeswoman covered her face while a spokesman raised his hands to his head. And as the news rippled through City Hall, befuddled politicians, aides and reporters stood, jaws dropped, walking past cable crews reporting the news. 

De Blasio had announced Wednesday that he had chosen Carvalho to replace Carmen Fariña, his schools chief since he took office in 2014. Fariña announced in December that she would retire.

Carvalho was offered a salary of $353,000, to match his Miami salary — nearly $120,000 more than Fariña’s base pay.

De Blasio, a Democrat, had called Carvalho “a world-class educator with an unmatched track record of success,” a pick that he said came after an “extensive, national search.” 

Less than 24 hours later, de Blasio’s press secretary tweeted: “Who would ever hire this guy again? Who would ever vote for him?”

Carvalho is a telegenic and popular force in Miami and has been so for a decade. While he was de Blasio’s first choice, the mayor on Thursday said "we've immediately been reaching out to candidates."

Carvalho, a native of Portugal, moved to America after high school in the 1980s and, as he’s acknowledged, stayed illegally. He worked jobs in construction and slept in a friend’s truck, according to news accounts.

He attended Broward College and Barry University, both in Florida, taught high school and rose to assistant principal, administrator and superintendent. Graduation rates under his watch jumped from 60.5 percent to 80.4 percent, according to Miami New Times.

In a speech last year, he defended immigrant students living illegally in the United States.

“I came to this country at 17. I overstayed my visa. Put the label on me,” Carvalho said. “I was poor. I am an immigrant. I was undocumented. I was, in the eyes of some, illegal.”

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