Saturday, December 29, 2012

The real issues behind the looming bus strike by Sara Catalinotto of PIST

The Chancellor has warned of a possible school bus strike shortly after students return from the Xmas vacation.  The issues are not obvious to most parents; here is an explanation by Sara Catalinotto of Parents to ImproveSchool Transportation [PIST].  She adds:
1)  Next step in bidding on our kids' buses for next year is Thurs. Jan 3 at 1:00 p.m. at 30-30 Thomson Ave, LIC (next door to OPT). Of course this is a tricky time of day for parents who have to meet the bus.  Please let us know if you would consider going there to observe.  
credit: WCBS news
2)  Please stay tuned for a petition from parents to the Mayor based on the statement below, and other updates, in the next day or two. 

3)  Please tell us whether or not your child's school has held any bus evacuation drills this year.

4)  Here and attached is PIST Statement to parents at this critical moment for NYC school busing. 

Please feel free to comment, post, forward, print & share.

We are parents who organize other parents to demand better conditions for the education and transportation of students with and without disabilities.
           We do not accept “cost cutting” as a reason to force children onto long, twisted bus routes that stop at too many schools; routes that make many children miss school breakfast, classes, Related Services and/or Extended Day.  We are sick and tired of violations of legally mandated transportation accommodations—such as limited time travel and climate control—that cause kids with special needs to arrive physically and mentally drained to school and home.
           We are fearful of inadequate equipment on wheelchair buses.  We want more, not less training for bus crews.  We are angry at the lack of policies for separating teens from little kids on specialized transportation.   We think it’s hypocrisy for the DOE to suddenly start documenting bus evacuation drills that we have been demanding for two years but have yet to witness. 
            At this time the authorities, from Governor Cuomo to Mayor Bloomberg to Chancellor Walcott—who have never reached out to parents like us about the above concerns—are speaking and acting in favor of more “cost cutting” in the yellow bus system. 
They are attempting to establish contracts now for more than a thousand of the Fall 2013 routes, without the job protection and related benefits that all bus workers in K-12 have had for more than thirty years, known as Employee Protection Provisions or EPP.  This would set a precedent for other routes to eventually lose these protections also.
We disagree because the working conditions of bus drivers, escorts, and mechanics are the riding conditions of our children. 
EPP = SAFETY!  Having people with industry-wide seniority follow the work when different companies win bids means that the adults on the bus know what they are doing, are trained in emergency first aid, and are less afraid to point out potential safety hazards to their boss.  School bus drivers should be able to support themselves without a second job, and to retire before their reflexes slow down.
EPP = STABILITY because a decent wage and benefits package means lower turnover and less burnout.  Children who see familiar adults on the bus over the years feel safer and behave better. 
EPP = BEST PRACTICES.  School bus companies are in business to make money, so a contract without enough funding for training, dry runs, equipment, repairs and maintenance will pressure them to lower standards.  Don’t our children deserve safe, quality service? 
When we read NYCDOE messages, we remember their record of downplaying the importance of school bus conditions to ensure these rights. 
In September, when autistic three-year-olds had three- and four-hour bus rides with inexperienced ‘competitive bid’ companies, Bloomberg said, “My understanding is they’re actually doing a pretty good job.”
            In October, when parents, Deaf students and educators, and school bus union leaders began to testify at Council Member Robert Jackson’s Oversight Hearing on School Busing, the DOE officials walked out.
            In November after Sandy, authorities rushed to reopen schools—even those without heat or with mental health shelters inside.  Following Cuomo’s executive order to drop regulations on vehicles and drivers, they placed students from the hard-hit areas on casino-style buses.             
With the NYSED regulations gone until further notice, EPP may be the only regulation on busing services that is in effect at this time!
In December, with families still reeling from Sandy and Sandy Hook about to begin winter break, the NYCDOE admitted in writing that they want to cut the cost of employing people who provide a vital service to 15% of schoolchildren: yellow school bus drivers, matrons/attendants, and mechanics.   The authorities appear willing to risk a legal strike at the cost of our children’s ability to get to school. UNACCEPTABLE!
The new bid proposal even recommends busing general and special education students together in 2015, despite the concerns of parent leaders.
            Of the two parties to the union contract, we have found that it is the union who agrees with parents on not wanting to throw away standards, while the authorities seek to sell our children’s safety to the lowest bidder.
            Please contact us for more on how and where to protest this type of bidding. Parents should not be the last to know what goes on in bid meetings that involve children’s lives.  You can also call 311 today and tell the mayor you support EPP.  [email: , phone: 347-504-3310 (se habla español)]  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Carol Burris on the Regents proposal for three different kinds of diplomas

Congratulations to Carol Burris, co-author of the principal letter critiquing the APPR, the new NY state teacher evaluation system. Her school, South Side HS in Rockville Center, was just named the second best high school in the state, according to US News and World Report, and it is one of few non-selective relatively diverse schools on the list.
Here is her explanation:  "We do great things by challenging all kids, supporting them and not sorting them."  It also can't hurt that her school has average class sizes of 17 (in math) to 23  (in social studies), according to its NYS report card.   Carol adds:

The typical class sizes for math, science and English are a bit higher than shown because we have every other day support classes in those subjects for kids who need them and those are twelve or fewer. We also keep our repeater classes (kids who failed Regents) under 12. You will never find an academic class in my school over 29 and 29 is rare.  Last year we were 16% free and reduced price lunch, and when kids have small class sizes, lots of support and high expectations they do very well.

Below, see her recent letter to the NY Board of Regents,  regarding their new proposal to create three different kinds of diplomas: CTE (vocational), regular and STEM.

Carol explains: “No matter how you cut it, it is tracking and we have a history of segregated classrooms that resulted from that practice.  This is not an argument against CTE programs or STEM programs.  This is an argument for preparing all of our children for college and career, and not watering down expectations and hope by forcing kids prematurely down different paths”

Burris Letter to Regents Tisch

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Yes, Virginia, charter school co-locations do indeed cause more overcrowding

Protesters against a charter co-location credit: Daily News
Correction:  I linked to last year's report by mistake, as the comment below from Michael Regnier points out. Here is this year's update from the NYC  Charter Center, which is only one page.  I have changed one of my critiques below accordingly. None of my other points need amending.

Today’s report from the NYC Charter Center claims that buildings where charter schools are co-located tend to be less overcrowded than average school buildings.   Our analysis of the Education Impact Statements (EIS’s) of charter co-location proposals considered by the Panel for Educational Policy between December 2010 and March 2012 finds that of the 79 charter school co-locations proposed by DOE, 22 of them, or nearly 30 percent, were projected to push the building to 100 percent utilization or more during the following year or soon thereafter.  

Moreover, in 47 of these proposals, or nearly 60 percent, the EIS projected that the charter school co-location would soon create a building utilization rate of 90 percent or more – a rate that is often experienced as significantly overcrowded, as shown in our principal survey (How Crowded are Our Schoolsand in the views of many independent observers.  Advocates, parents and elected officials have all pointed out that the DOE’s utilization formula significantly understates the actual level of overcrowding in our schools. 

Despite the claims of DOE that they only co-locate schools where there is room, the insertion of every new school within an existing school building has the effect of causing more overcrowding.  When multiple schools share a space originally intended for one organization, classroom space is lost as administrative, cluster, and specialty rooms have to be replicated for each new school.  
In the past, DOE officials estimated that each new co-location diminishes a school’s capacity by about 10 percent. (See EPP, Capital Promises.)   In a school system that is chronically overcrowded, with more than half of all elementary and high schools at or over 100 percent, the co-location of hundreds of new small schools and charter schools has significantly exacerbated the problem.   
Many parents, advocates, and teachers have seen how charter co-locations have had damaging results, causing students in the existing public schools to be squeezed out of the space they need for a quality education, resulting in loss of art rooms, science labs, libraries, and classroom space, and causing class sizes to rise, especially as there are NO class size standards in the instructional footprint used for these decisions.  It is also common for special needs students to lose their dedicated spaces for mandated services such speech or occupational therapy, and to be pushed out into hallways or closets, especially since the utilization formula does not properly account for the number of students needing these services in each school.
This new report makes another major error: it claims that the Blue Book, the annual report on school capacity and utilization, is not yet available for the 2011-2012 school year, when it was actually released months ago.[Actually, the new one-pager is based on the most recent Blue Book.]
Finally, the statement of James Merriman, the Center’s head in the press release is false: that “charter schools [are] disadvantaged in terms of funding”.  Not even counting the millions of dollars in private funding their receive, NYC charter schools in co-located buildings receive more in per-student public funds than students in public schools receive, when the provision of free space and services are counted, according to an Independent Budget Office analysis.  
The authors of the IBO analysis concluded that co-located charters received about $650 more per student in public funding during the 2009-2010 school year, and that “When complete data from 2010–2011 become available, they are almost certain to show an even greater advantage for those charters housed within public school buildings compared with traditional public schools.” 

At least one statement in the [earlier] NYC Charter Center report is true 
"…when they [charter schools]are allowed free co-location in district buildings it is without legal right to the space."
We agree.  The provision of free space to charter schools not only causes more overcrowding, but is also a violation of New York state law.  With the help of the pro-bono law firm, Advocates for Justice, we  sued in state court last year to stop this damaging and inequitable practice and the case continues.