Well … probably not. But it’s a weird story anyway.
Joel Klein was chancellor of the New York City public school system for eight and a half years. In that time, he only declared four snow days. And — according to a speech he gave last week — one of them was because Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s son had a paper due.
At a swank benefit luncheon for a local charter school organization, Klein said that he promised Caroline’s son Jack — named for his grandfather, President Kennedy — that if Jack’s mom agreed to serve as chief fundraiser for the city’s schools, he’d call a snow day sometime on Jack’s birthday. Caroline took the job (and eventually raised half a billion dollars in donations for the schools).
I’ll let the New York Daily News take the story from here:
“Seven years later,” Klein told the crowd, he hadn’t made good on “my side of the bet,” even though Jack was “reminding me, like, all the time.”
But it would be Jack’s mother who called in the favor. On a day when it was “really snowing bad,” Klein said Caroline phoned him and said, “It’s not [Jack’s] birthday, but he’s got a paper due tomorrow. A snow day would be awfully rich right now.” He added that one of the “snow days I declared was that.”
Now, this was most likely a joke. Caroline Kennedy probably wasn’t serious when she asked for the snow day, and Klein probably wasn’t serious when he said he’d offered it. (Though it’s worth noting that none of the local news outlets that covered the speech identified the story as a joke, and one prominent schools blog went so far as to follow up with Klein about its veracity.)
Joke or not, however, it’s a telling story in a few ways.
First, this is a joke about money and access to power. Recall that Klein this was a speech to, as Klein himself put it, “some of the most fortunate and privileged people in this country,” a speech delivered at a benefit luncheon for charter schools. This isn’t a heartlifting story about the value of giving for giving’s sake. It’s a joke about return on investment, and about the access that wealth, properly deployed, brings the wealthy.
Second, it’s a story about the ways that an economic elite with no connection to the public school system shapes that system. For Kennedy’s son was not, of course, educated in the city’s public schools. (He wanted a snow day because the privates usually follow the public schedule.)
And finally, it’s a story that the vast majority of New York City public school parents wouldn’t find funny at all. For most of us, a snow day means a scramble to figure out childcare. For a lot of us it means taking a day off work — and for too many it means losing a day’s pay. There are hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers for whom a snow day falls somewhere between a pain in the ass and a crisis.
But Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg isn’t one of them. Joel Klein isn’t one of them. And neither were any of the people he regaled with this story last week.