Friday, May 30, 2008

Pre K screw- up; but don't worry -- it only affects current public school parents!

Lots of news on DOE's mismanagement of the preK application process, which Tweed insisted on taking complete control of this year. Despite the headline on the NY Times, it's not that the process was "confusing to parents," it is that the DOE and their private contractor in Penn. screwed up by not honoring their agreement to give sibling preferences – so much so that many parents who have already have a child in the system got no preK placement at all.

Parents of the 20,000 children who applied for 23,000 pre-kindergarten slots began receiving letters over the weekend from the Department of Education regarding their child's placement. Many of those letters informed parents that none of the schools they had chosen were available, Ms. Gotbaum said, even in cases where there was no obvious reason for the rejection. For instance, she said, children were rejected from programs where their older siblings are enrolled, although the new process is supposed to give them priority…

In January, Mr. Klein announced that he was scrapping the patchwork of pre-kindergarten enrollment procedures, calling them "confusing, unfair and difficult to navigate," and said he would replace them with a "single, simple, fair process."

Rather than submitting applications to a single school as they had done in the past, parents this year were required to submit a single application, which was sent to a data processing center in Willow Brook, Pa.

But as the DOE spokesperson said, "the problem appeared to be affecting only families who had a child enrolled in a public school."

So obviously this is a minor problem – clearly public school parents must be used to being unfairly treated; or if they aren't by now, they should get used to it fast!

Once again, the total incompetence of this administration to get anything right cannot be underestimated.

For more on this, see the Daily News, the NY Post and especially the inside schools blog -- in which the DOE is actually trying to get away with blaming parents for filling out the forms incorrectly!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Revelations in DOE “Tell-All” Book

May 29, 2008 (GBN News): It may not be quite the bombshell that Scott McLellan's book is proving to be, but a new “tell-all” book about the inner workings of the NY City Department of Education is causing more than a little consternation at the DOE. GBN News has obtained an advance copy of, “What Hit Us: Inside the DOE’s Culture of Deception”, written under the pseudonym, “A. Source”. The author is a former DOE spokesperson, and the book could be so potentially damaging, it could pose a serious threat to the chances for renewal of mayoral control in NY City.

Among the revelations in the book:

*The obfuscation and lack of transparency in the DOE budget process arose out of Joel Klein’s ambition to be named CIA Director. The budget process was his way of demonstrating to the next President that he can keep a secret.

*The Mayor and Chancellor saw the “war on cell phones” as an integral front in the war on terror. They viewed cell phones as part of an Al-Qaida plot to distract children in school by sending incessant text messages asking children if they want beef or fish for dinner. The hiring of Emomali Rakhmon to head up DOE school security arose out of this concern. In the DOE’s haste to address the issue, Mr. Rakhmon was not fully vetted for the position. He was hired solely on the basis of his strict cell phone policy as dictator of Tajikistan and his willingness to use any and all means to enforce it. The zeal with which Mr. Rakhmon approached his job resulted in an embarrassing moment for the Chancellor, when his own Blackberry was confiscated by school security.

*Jim Leibman’s famous “run from parents” after a City Council hearing last December was not as spontaneous as it appeared. Liebman actually trained for his run for months.

*The failure of the DOE to comply with State physical education requirements was actually part of a cost saving measure recommended by the consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal. With the space no longer needed for gym, school gyms could be used as classroom space. By combining classes into the gyms and increasing class size to as many as 150 students, the DOE would save money by excessing numerous teachers, who would become part of the Absent Teacher reserve (ATR).

*Alvarez and Marsal also recommended that the DOE set up a secret disaster plan for the event of a major hurricane. Under the plan, as soon as a hurricane warning is declared, all ATR’s would be sent to schools in flood prone areas for the duration of the storm. After the storm, the flooded schools would be closed down, and the ATR’s would remain permanently assigned to those schools.

A DOE spokesperson declined to comment on the book, telling GBN News, “You’ll just have to wait for my own book to come out.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fierce budget battle at City Hall

The headlines tell the story. Chancellor Talks of Cuts for Schools, Amid Hissing; City Council spanks Chancellor Klein over school aid cuts; School Budget Cuts Controversy Boils Over; Hundreds Of Parents Ejected From City Council Hearing.

Yesterday, it was standing room only at City Hall, as Chancellor Klein and Dept. Grimm testified for nearly four hours before the City Council on the budget cuts for schools proposed for next year.

Klein was uncharacteristically subdued, as he was gently but firmly admonished by Speaker Quinn, angrily confronted by Education committee chair Robert Jackson and strongly challenged by nearly every other member of the Education and Finance Committees.

Quinn began by saying that the Council “cannot in good faith support” the amount of cuts to the classroom proposed by the administration. “We are going to work hard to find other places to cut to get monies back to the classroom” she said; “we have no more important job.” She asked Klein, “Aren’t there choices to be made that would have less impact on schools?” and suggested reductions in the private contracts budget, which is slated to rise another $250 million next year. Several members said testing might be another place to look. At one point, Kathleen Grimm admitted that the city's “diagnostic assessments” were costing $24.1 million a year.

Robert Jackson said the actual hit to schools was “more than $180 million” rather than the $99 million as first suggested in news accounts, and that the schools actually need $200 million just to keep services level, given increased costs. And why, he asked, did the city need to go back on its promise made last year to fully fund the CFE decision, given a city budget surplus of $4-5 billion– while the State fulfilled its promise, despite a large deficit?

Several members echoed these concerns, pointing out how difficult it would be to go back to Albany next year, and demand another funding increase when the city had reneged on its side of the bargain. John Liu also mentioned the possibility of tinkering with the property tax rebate of $400, which will cost the city another $250 million. (Not to mention the planned reductions in the property tax rate, which will cost another $1 billion in revenues.)

Many were critical of the way in which the Chancellor appeared to be manipulating the situation, pitting parents against each other by threatening to cut high performing, mostly white schools by a large percentage if Albany didn’t give him more “flexibility” with the Contract for Excellence funding meant to go primarily to low-performing schools.

Jackson said Klein was “holding a gun up to Albany’s head” and called it a "divide and conquer" strategy: "Some people would say rich versus poor...those that are white majority versus minority."

The Chancellor’s presentation (in pdf) showed increased funding for schools from the city in past years; a point he returned to several times in trying to justify the cuts for next year. (This excuse is a little like a student saying, “I did my homework last year; why should I have to do it this year?”) Needless to say, the Council wasn’t buying his line.

Speaker Quinn asked Klein directly what extra funding would be needed to avoid any cuts to schools – the $99 million he says he is taking directly from school budgets, or the $190 million that the Council analysis shows is actually being imposed in “back door” cuts, as new expenses are going to be shifted to the school level, such as computer repairs and the food consumed by students whose parents don’t fill out free lunch forms.

The Chancellor replied he would need an extra $400 million to avoid any cuts to schools– a figure that made no sense to any one. In fact, Council Member Oliver Koppel said at one point, "To tell you the truth, I don't believe you…You should hire a new accountant.”

There were a lot of other discrepancies in the accounting. Instead of the $200 million in cuts Klein claimed to be taking “centrally and in other non-school budgets”, the analysis by the City Council staff posted here shows that only about $12 million is to be cut directly from Tweed, primarily through a hiring freeze. (Meanwhile, see this blog posting from Eduwonkette which shows a steady increase in the headcount at Tweed over the last four years.)

Klein also admitted that his personal staff of 8 was costing $968,000 – averaging $121,000 each, rather than the $1,117 total claimed in the budget submitted to the Council, and that the accountability office now has a head count of 97, rather than only 18 staffers, as was in the same document.

The Chancellor added that there would be a substantial increase next year -- $154 million – in the so-called “indispensable initiatives” of the administration, most of which were unspecified, but include even more new small schools, the Leadership Academy, etc. (By the way, this does not include the increased payments to charter schools – which have totaled nearly $100 million more in funding over the last two years.)

It was a difficult day for the Klein, who usually likes to wrap himself in the mantle of Martin Luther King and Brown Vs. Board of Education, as he tried to explain why he wants to change the rules so that the portion of state aid allocated through the Contracts for Excellence should be allotted to high-performing schools in the exact same ratio as struggling schools. He seemed to claim that with his highly-flawed “Fair student funding” formula he’s done everything necessary to help these schools -- and to narrow the achievement gap.

Clearly this is an administration that has run out of new ideas – and run out of excuses.

There were hisses and boos from the audience throughout, and at one point, a large contingent of parents in the balcony started chanting “Chancellor Klein, don’t cut a dime” and was ejected by the guards.

See NY Times, Daily News, CBS news, NY1 and video clips from ABC news.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Check out your school's budget cuts here!

Please attend the budget hearings tomorrow morning (Tuesday, May 27), when the Chancellor is due to appear before the Council at City Hall to testify about his proposed cuts to our schools . Keep the Promises Coalition and Class Size Matters need enough parents to fill the room at 9:30 AM when the Council hearings begin; then we plan to march to Tweed at noon. Public testimony starts at 4 PM.

There will also be a rally/press conference on Wed. May 28 at 1 PM – around the time of the stated Council meeting.

A list (in excel) with the amount of cuts for every school and expected final budget (if DOE gets its way) is posted here. The amounts range from slashing 6.2% for the American Sign Language school (!!) and the Professional Performing Arts HS, to cuts of 1.4% for about 700 schools. The rationale for how these reductions were distributed has not been offered by DOE; moreover, there’s no need for any school to suffer cuts next year, given nearly $600 million more in state dollars and a projected city surplus of more than $4 billion.

Chancellor Klein has said that if only the state had let him have more “flexibility” with the Contract for excellence funding, he could cut all school budgets more “equitably” at 1.4%; but that makes no sense either – since averaged out, the amount would have to lie somewhere between 1.4% and 6.2%.

For the egregious way in which the administration appears to be trying to pit parents against each other (so far unsuccessfully), see the NY Times and CBS news.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The results of our principal survey on school overcrowding

Last week, Prof. Emily Horowitz and I released the results of our principal survey on school overcrowding.

It's based on the responses of nearly 500 school leaders --over one third of all NYC public school principals. I thought I was unshockable -- but the results disturbed even me. As I said to the NY Post, in the richest city in the world, after three years of $4-5 billion surpluses in a row, our students are still learning in third world conditions. Every right-thinking New Yorker with a conscience should be ashamed.

Fifty-four percent say that the enrollment at their own school is not capped at a level to prevent overcrowding. Half say that overcrowding sometimes leads to unsafe conditions for students or staff; 43% observe that overcrowding makes it difficult for students and/or staff to get to class on time.

Nearly half (48%) of respondents believe that the official DOE utilization rate for their own schools is inaccurate and underestimates the actual amount of overcrowding; more than half (51%) of principals at schools officially reported as underutilized say that the rate is incorrect.

Eighty six percent believe that class sizes at their schools are too large to provide a quality education – and that what prevents them from reducing class size is primarily a lack of control over enrollment and space.

More than one fourth (26%) of all middle and high school principals say that overcrowding makes it difficult for their students to receive the credits and/or courses needed to graduate on time.

At 25% of schools, art, music or dance rooms have been lost to academic classrooms; 20% of computer rooms have been given up; 18% of science rooms; 14% of reading enrichment rooms, and 10% of libraries have been converted to classroom space -- and this process is still ongoing.

27% said that specific DOE policies had led to more overcrowding at their schools -- including the insistence at putting new charter schools and small schools in existing school buildings.

At 29% of schools, lunch starts at 10:30 AM or earlier; and at 16% of schools, students have no regular access to the school’s library.

18% of principals reported that their schools have classrooms with no windows. Many say that special education classes and services are given in inadequate spaces, including closets.

Principals also report ongoing battles with DOE over their schools’ capacity ratings, and many expressed resentment at being sent excessive numbers of students, particularly after they have tried to use available funding to reduce class size.

The thrust of the DOE's current ideology assumes that the educators at each school are primarily responsible for the success or failure of their students. Accordingly, the administration has devolved more responsibility and autonomy to principals to improve academic results, with the presumption that they have at their disposal the tools they need to succeed.

Yet as these principals say, they have no control over some of the most important factors determining the quality of their schools: the allocation of space and the number of students assigned to their schools. These remain entirely within the control of the DOE. In the view of an overwhelming majority of principals, the resulting overcrowding prevents them from reducing class size to appropriate levels and being able to provide critical programs

The full report is here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Paterson Rebukes Bloomberg Over Budget Cuts

Following the Chancellor's press conference and letter to principals where he attempted to shift blame to the state for the city's education budget shortfall, Governor David Paterson issued this statement through his press secretary, Errol Cockfield:

"The lack of flexibility in State funding reflects the State's policy that Contract for Excellence funding should go disproportionately to schools with the greatest needs. If the City were not reducing its own promised spending for schools, it would have sufficient money to balance funds for other schools if it chose to do so."

Clearly, this governor is not falling for DOE spin.

Last week the Bloomberg administration was blaming teachers for the cuts they were about to force on schools, this week the state is at fault. So much for "accountability".

School Budget Update

The press is being briefed today and principals will hear tomorrow at a 5:00 pm meeting. A letter released to principals had lots of spin but a few details:
  • $99 million in cuts will be passed on to schools.
  • $200 million will be cut centrally. While that sounds good, keep in mind that "central" cuts may mean in-school programs or services may be cut if schools don't pick up the costs.
  • Fair Student Funding will be used to allocate funds. The hold harmless provisions which prevented dramatic cuts to some schools will be maintained.
  • Nevertheless, cuts to some schools could be up to 6%.
No word on when schools can see their actual budgets.

The mayor has been heavily criticized from across the political spectrum for failing to keep his commitments to the schools. It looks like the Bloomberg administration's current PR position will be to deflect criticism by saying the state has tied DOE's hands through the Contracts for Excellence process.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The End of Mayoral Control

May 19, 2008 (GBN News): Mayor Michael Bloomberg today engaged in his second run-in with the press in the past week, this time involving a GBN News reporter. At a City Hall news conference this morning, GBN News attempted to ask the Mayor a question about the impending sunset of Mayoral control of the City schools in 2009.

“Regarding the expiration of Mayoral control …,” the questioner began. However, before the reporter could finish, Mr. Bloomberg cut him off. “That is not appropriate, sir”, the Mayor interjected. “Next time you have a question, you want to insinuate that I’m out of control, you can take it elsewhere.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the reporter responded. “I didn’t mean -”. The Mayor again interrupted: “We’ve finished it. ‘Control’ is a word that has an implication. You’re questioning the Mayor’s control. Some nerve. Next question.”

Just as the next questioner asked the Mayor when he plans to begin his anger management classes, a sudden power outage hit City Hall and the Mayor unfortunately was unable to respond.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

District 2 blueprint

Check out this document (in pdf), sent late Friday to the members of the Community Education Council in D2, and prepared by DOE to deal with the problems of overcrowding at twelve District 2 schools.

It appears that rather than calling for the construction of new schools, it relies primarily on cutting back on variances, rezoning, and at least one case, busing 5th graders from the Tribeca area to other schools one mile or more away. It also appears to rely on several quite questionable assumptions.

District 2 parents, please take a look, forward it on, and if you can, put down your comments and/or critiques in written form on the blog. It is also important that you forward the document to parents, PTAs, and SLTs in the affected areas.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

District 30's resolution on Charter Schools

WHEREAS, the Department of Education (DOE) continues to site new Charter Schools in existing school buildings throughout New York City, where they take valuable classroom and administrative space from our traditional public schools; and

WHEREAS, the state’s highest court concluded that class sizes in New York City public schools are too large to provide our children with an adequate education; and

WHEREAS, District 30 is the second most overcrowded school district within New York City, with some of the largest class sizes; and

WHEREAS, residential development is proceeding rapidly especially in the Astoria/Long Island City areas, which have not been factored into the projected student enrollment; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Education has just announced plans to hopefully move yet another Charter School into District 30; and

WHEREAS, there was no consultation with Community Education Council District 30, Presidents' Council, parents within the community and the community at large, prior to Tweed’s staff coercing a Public Hearing and Presentation, stating that if the Council does not hold it, they will direct the Superintendent to hold a Special Public Hearing and Presentation; and

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Department of Education should immediately withdraw its unilateral and indefensible offer to provide valuable city tax-funded space in public school buildings to Charter Schools and that maximum space be reserved to alleviate overcrowding in nearby schools.

--passed May 13, 2008

Keep the Promise TV ad

Check out the new TV ad -- opposing the administration's budget cuts:

DOE Executive Budget Vote Postponed for PEP

The DOE notified Panel for Educational Policy members that the review and vote on the executive budget scheduled for Monday night has been postponed. The meeting will be held and the other agenda items, updates on charter schools and translation services will be heard.

The reason cited was that the DOE continues its efforts to "minimize any negative impact to school budgets". The vote has not been rescheduled.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

PS 87 third graders write to Klein about cuts

See the Channel 7 news story about the third graders at PS 87 who brought their letters to Tweed, asking the Chancellor not to cut the budget for our schools.

“Chancellor Klein: would you like it if you were in the third grade and the chancellor was going to take money from your school? I hope this letter will change your mind.” - Sincerely, Danny

Click on the photo for a closer look.

Ongoing corruption, graft and waste at the DOE

See today’s NY Times about the federal indictments of four DOE employees as a result of the bus scandal investigation – accused of soliciting bribes for amounting to at least $1 million, in exchange for giving preferential treatment on safety inspections to companies that provide transportation to thousands of special ed students.

These indictments result from a terrific investigative series of reports last summer by the Daily News– not anything uncovered by DOE itself or by Richard Condon, the school special investigator. See our blog for links to these stories. In fact, the News reporters complained of stonewalling by the DOE in the process of researching the safety problems and abusive behavior on the part of these companies.

In addition, the NY Post reveals a list of community groups that received money through the Mayor’s “own secret taxpayer-funded cash stash” in the reporter’s words, amounting last year to $4.5 million, which the Mayor used “to reward favored lawmakers” like Councilman Simcha Felder (who got $1.9 million for his favorite community groups), Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz ($900,000) and others.

Also on the list is Councilman Erik Dilan – who coincidentally or not, along with Felder is one of only four Council members who have refused to sign the resolution opposing budget cuts to schools. The Mayor’s office supplied $60,000 to a community group that happens to be run by Dilan’s wife.

Unlike those groups allocated discretionary funds directly from the Council, “Bloomberg's slush funds were channeled through various city agencies to 45 groups and weren't listed on the document released each year by the council …”

See also today’s oped in Daily News by Andrew Stengel of the Brennan Center– suggesting that the recent naming of a Queens campus of public schools for Senator Padavan might be considered a form of graft:

The state's Public Officers Law is clear on this: Elected officials cannot receive extra compensation or any gift of more than nominal value. Placing someone's name in a prominent place, whether it's an actual building or a tract of land, has monetary value. ….Naming a school after Padavan appears, at the very least, to violate the spirit of the law, which says that an elected official cannot "solicit, accept or receive any gift having a value of seventy-five dollars or more whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form ... in the performance of his official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his part.

Worse still, according to the chancellor's regulations, "schools may not be named after living persons." The chancellor and others worked around this rule by arguing - get this - that it doesn't apply to a campus. The naming is especially egregious in this case because Republican Sen. Padavan's district is a major battleground in the war over control of the state Senate, which is one seat from a tie and two from flipping to the Democrats.

But perhaps all this pales compared to the unfortunately legal, but incredibly wasteful spending practices of the DOE, which while proposing huge budget cuts to schools also intends to spend nearly $8 million next year on its so-called Accountability office – with only 18 staff members, averaging $432,757 per person! See this entry by the invaluable blogger, Eduwonkette:

On page 446 of New York City's FY09 budget, we learn that the Division of Assessment and Accountability is budgeted at $8,287,282. $7,789,623 will buy you 18 staff - that's $432,757 per person! What else could you buy for this money, according to Eduwonkette?

A) 3,894,812 subway rides
B) 15,579 pairs of Prada heels
C) 1812 hours with the Emperors VIP Club
D) 315 years of education at the Brearley School

I would also add a lot of smaller classes in our public schools, after school tutoring, and art programs.

Next time someone goes on about the corruption and waste that pervaded the system in the days before Mayoral control, perhaps you might mention one of the examples above.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Staten Island Rallies Against Bloomberg Budget Cuts

Parents and their elected representatives were out in force last night to protest the mayor's cuts to the education budget.

One lawmaker with a child headed to public school criticized the mayor for failing to keep his word. From the Staten Island Advance:

"Everybody understands a promise as a promise, and even if you don't like it, you've got to live with it," Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore) said last night. "When my baby girl attends PS 36, she's only going to get one chance at kindergarten, one chance at first grade."

Educators warned that the cut in the 2008-2009 school year budget would mean that schools all over the Island would have to scale back dramatically in music and arts programs; ax academic intervention services that help the students most at risk, and further swell class sizes.

See the full story in SI Advance here and great video footage from NY1 here.

sign our new petition! and hearings on the capital plan

We have a new petition online that asks the Mayor to come up with a better capital plan – urging him to build enough schools so that overcrowding can be eliminated and class sizes can be reduced, to plan for growth, and to provide incentives to developers to build schools along with residential and office space.

The petition grows out of the recent reports from the Manhattan borough president and City Comptroller, the work we’ve done on the Manhattan task force on school overcrowding, as well as the impending crisis caused by development that is facing so many neighborhoods throughout the city.

Please sign the petition and be sure to include your address and phone no. Be assured that this info won’t show up for anyone online to see, but it’s important information that elected officials like to have when we send them copies of the petition.

There will be City Council hearings at City Hall on the capital plan next week, Wed. May 21 – with testimony from the DOE starting at 10:30 AM, and from the public beginning at 3:30 PM. Please come if you can and share the story of your school and neighborhood. Just write a few paragraphs about whether you think the richest city in the world is treating its public schoolchildren right by jamming them like so many sardines .

If you can’t make it, leave comments on the petition, and we'll try to include as many of them as possible in our testimony.

Monday, May 12, 2008

latest news on Boys and Girls HS and PAVE charter school

See this NY Post article about how students who arrive late to Boys and Girls HS are turned away and sometimes suspended – leading to an absence rate of 38% -- the highest in the city. The school is already being sued by Advocates for Children, along with Chancellor Klein, for illegally “pushing out” students. Boys and Girls High is a persistently failing school with large classes; its students clearly need serious help and intervention but do not appear to be getting it under this administration.

Meanwhile, according to the Daily News, the parents at PS 15 in Red Hook have apparently lost their battle with DOE to keep out the PAVE charter school, founded by Spencer Robertson, son of billionaire hedge fund manager Julian Robertson.

The Police Athletic League with classrooms in a nearby public housing project had been approached by Councilmember Sara Gonzalez but turned the charter down; as the director of the program said, “There are charter schools trying to set up all over the city. They're coming to PAL and other organizations. We would love to help, but at what expense to the [PAL]?"

One might also ask, who’s looking out for PS 15?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

More on school overcrowding and what should be done

Yesterday, the City Comptroller’s office released an excellent report on school overcrowding, focusing on certain “hot spots” in each borough, where a boom in residential development is overtaking school capacity.

It follows an analysis put out by the Manhattan Borough President a few weeks ago,that also showed how inadequate the DOE’s planning process is when it comes to our schools.

Yesterday's NY Times ran an article that describes the crisis of overcrowding that now exists in downtown Manhattan; though the same story could be written about neighborhoods in almost every part of the city.

Indeed, not a single school district in the city could achieve the smaller class size goals now mandated by the state and adopted by the city, calling for an average of 20 students per class in K-3 and 23 in all other grades.

This new Comptroller’s report points out that there are many policy levers that could be used to solve this problem, by providing incentives to developers to build schools along with new housing and office space. We are co-chairing a task force on school overcrowding, hosted by the Manhattan Borough president’s office – and we hope to devise some other practical solutions that can be used throughout the city.

Our experience has been that there are multiple ways of finding sites for schools and devising affordable ways to build them if people put their minds to it. By taking matters into their own hands, parents in Greenwich Village held meetings with a developer who has now offered the old Foundling Hospital on W. 17 St. for a new school in District 2.

This should not be the responsibility of parents but instead, the Mayor and the Chancellor, who have utterly failed to show leadership in this regard. Despite the fatalism often expressed, there is no reason that we could not eliminate overcrowding and reduce class size if there is the political will and commitment to do so.

Too often this administration has either claimed the problem did not exist, or said there were no good sites for schools, or, as the Mayor recently commented on his radio show, that New Yorkers didn’t want schools placed in their neighborhoods.

Rather than helping to solve the problem, the DOE has made it worse by putting new small schools and charter schools in existing school buildings; as each new small school eats up classroom space with office and cluster rooms.

See for example, the recent NY Times column by Sam Freedman about how the placement of small schools in Lafayette HS has led to an increased number of 9th graders, many of them extremely high needs, at nearby John Dewey HS, leading to safety problems and now threatening to overwhelm the school.

The administration has also been extremely slow in building new schools; see this graph of how many seats have been created over the last six years.

As a result, according to the latest Mayor’s Management Report, there has been a jump in the number of elementary schools that are overcapacity – 27% last school year, compared to 24.3% the year before.

Actually, using the DOE’s “target” definition that includes class sizes of 20 in grades K-3 and 28 in grades 4-8th (which are still much larger than the city’s adopted class size goals), 48% of our elementary school students, and 63% of our middle school students are in schools over 100% capacity.

As Comptroller Thompson and MBP Stringer have now pointed out, the city’s next five year capital plan, to be released in November, must be far more ambitious than the last, if we are serious about providing NYC children with a quality education. We will have a petition online soon, urging the administration to do so.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Charter schools: the billionaire's boys club?

There were public hearings last night about the proposed move of the PAVE charter school into the building of PS 15 in Red Hook, the Patrick Daly school – where there is much parent and staff opposition to the move, including Daly’s widow herself, who justifiably fear an increase in class sizes and a loss of cluster rooms as a result.

Emily Brown, a parent at PS 15 was told by DOE to stop blogging about the controversial move until after the hearings. Today in her blog, she describes how a bunch of people showed up last night with PAVE tee shirts, some of whom are really operators of other NYC charter schools.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned a little about the background of the charter school’s founder, Spencer Robertson. According to his wedding announcement in the NY Times, Spencer is a former program officer at the Tiger Foundation, founded by his father, the hedge-fund manager Julian Robertson. Julian Robertson’s current wealth is estimated to exceed $3 billion. (That’s Spencer on the right of the photo above, with his brothers and his mom, Josie.)

According to the PAVE charter school application,

In Year One PAVE anticipates total revenues of $1,780,819 and expenses of $1,481,626. The anticipated Year one surplus is $289,193.

· During the Start-Up phase and Year One, PAVE anticipates receipt of non per-pupil revenues from the Walton Family Foundation ($250,000), the City of New York ($124,408), Federal Charter School Program, Grant ($150,000), and fundraising/board contributions ($150,000).

· There are no loans associated with the Year One budget.

· PAVE anticipates being located in a New York City Department of Education building. The Lead Applicant is engaged in conversations with the New York City Department of Education to secure such a space.

· The School has provided a contingency plan and budget for securing a facility over the term of the charter. If space in a Department of Education building is not a viable option, PAVE has identified a 20,000 square foot facility to lease located in the target community. The applicant asserts the potential value of the site includes: proximity to public transportation, public parks and playing fields. The proposed facility is also newly constructed.

So why doesn’t Joel Klein and others at DOE encourage Robertson to lease this facility, when he clearly can afford it, rather than give him valuable space for free in the PS 15 building?

I guess it’s for the same reason they insist on giving away precious public school space to Courtney Ross, the billionaire widow of Steve Ross, for her charter school, in the middle of one of the most crowded school districts in the entire city. Just because they can.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

“Schoolhouse Walk” Program to Raise Millions for Education

May 7, 2007 (GBN News): The Madison Avenue “Gallery Walk”, an event which is expected to raise money for arts education in the NY City schools through an art gallery tour and silent auction, has generated such interest among wealthy New Yorkers that Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is already planning to expand the concept. This summer, the Department of Education will sponsor “Schoolhouse Walk”, a program which will feature tours of NY City schools and a silent auction through which individuals can buy the rights to those schools.

“It’s similar to the ‘Adopt-a-Highway’ program,” the Chancellor told GBN News, “But instead of just being responsible for litter pickup, they’ll actually run the entire school.” Mr. Klein went on to say, “You don’t have to be a billionaire like Eli Broad or Bill Gates to be an educational expert. We are committed to giving people of lesser means a chance as well. So for a mere 10 or 20 million, anyone can try their hand at educational reform. It’s a win-win situation for the schoolchildren of our city. Not only will this pump badly needed dollars into the schools, but with so many new leaders running the schools, it can’t help but shake up the status quo and improve test scores.”

Sources at the DOE told GBN News that Mr. Klein believes that by offering an “ownership stake” in the schools to people who by and large send their children to private schools, they can generate greater interest in public schools among the wealthy without the burden of their children actually attending them. “The Mayor and Chancellor,” one DOE staffer said on condition of anonymity, “see this as the epitome of parent involvement.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Are we seeing the death of parent involvement in NYC?

From today's NY Post: "the Department of Education's own parent engagement office found that only 51% of the schools it has looked at so far has a functioning School Leadership Team (SLT)."

Not surprising since the Chancellor seems determined to eviscerate the authority of SLTs, and take away their power to decide on their school's budget, spending priorities, and/or comprehensive education plan.

… Martine Guerrier, the city's chief of parent engagement, said her office is working to fix the problems. "SLTs have always been an issue," she said. Her office began looking into SLTs recently and found that many only existed on paper. But in district surveys, 83% of schools claimed they had SLTs.

Guerrier's office was created last year to address some of these complaints. "We just started, so there's no way to tell right now, but I'm encouraged by what I've seen," she said of the city's progress.

But William McDonald, a parent in Queens District 29 who also heads the citywide Chancellor's Parent Advisory Committee, said the effect of Bloomberg's initiatives on parent involvement has been "a mess."

"It's to the point now where SLTs don't function at all," he said, noting the problem began in 2003 when the city eliminated SLT budgets. The city instead hired "SLT coordinators" - a job that was dissolved last year.

And with the PTAs also disappearing or growing less active, McDonald sees a dim future. "As I see it, in three years, parent involvement probably won't even exist," he said.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Education Blogs Fear Censorship Threat

May 5, 2008 (GBN News): What some say is an attempt to censor the “Charter-Free PS 15” blog, which opposes the Department of Education attempt to put a charter school into PS 15 in Red Hook, may be just the tip of the iceberg. GBN News has learned exclusively that someone identifying himself as “Emomali Rakhmon” has sent the following email to a number of NY City parent and teacher blogs (Mr. Rakhmon, former dictator of Tajikistan, was named head of DOE School Security last year, and many people feel he has brought his heavy handed methods with him):

“It has come to attention of me that your critical blog of DOE is making difficulty for Supreme Great Leader Joel Klein and Even More Supreme Great Leader Michael Bloomberg to carrying out great and exalted reforms. Therefore I am asking nicely that you refrain from blogging such criticisms until such time as Mayoral Control is voted for permanency. Surely you know that Chancellor and Mayor are above such petty criticism as you put in your blog. The concerns of parents and teachers are of little matter to such high and mighty leaders, and should you persist in trying to defend status quo be assured that we will crush your blogs like so many bugs. This is asking you nicely, next time we will not be so nice. We have place we call ‘Little Gitmo’ but be assured it is not so little. Some people call it ‘Rubber Room’. Believe me, you would not want to be there.”

It was not immediately clear if the author of the emails was indeed Mr. Rakhmon or someone else purporting to be the Tajik strongman. But education bloggers reached by GBN News say they have reason for concern tonight, and are fearful that they may have to take their blogs underground.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Seven hundred teachers in the rubber room

See the latest expose from Erin Einhorn of the Daily News – the number of teachers in the “rubber room” have doubled in the past four years to 700 – and are now costing the system at least $65 million a year. (photo credit: Daily News.)

Read the profiles of three teachers in this position, and see for yourself whether they should have been consigned to this limbo.

Many spend years without being charged with any specific misconduct. Indeed, the “average accused educator waits four months as investigators interview witnesses and decide whether to bring formal charges, then nine months for a hearing and six more for a decision.”

And: Only 20 arbitrators have been jointly approved by the city and union to hear these cases, and they work just five days a month during the school year and two during summer vacation.

Between the 700 teachers sitting idly in the rubber room, and the 800 teachers in ATR, the Joel Klein and his cadre of management geniuses are spending at least $150 million to keep 1500 full-time educators idle. What a waste of money and manpower – particularly when so many schools continue to have class sizes of 30 or more.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Answer to the question: what's the difference between Joel Klein and Ray Cortines?

See this blog, set up by a parent opposing the plan to site a new charter school in the Patrick Daly school --PS 15 in Red Hook Brooklyn; she has been apparently told by DOE not to blog any more about this until after a hearing about the proposed move on May 7.

There is much resistance among the parents and staff at PS 15 against being forced to share the space. Even the widow of Daly himself, the beloved principal who was slain by gunfire, has spoken out. For more on this, see this
Daily News article.

This is not an isolated example, unfortunately. Chancellor Klein insists on cramming more and more charter schools into buildings where they undermine conditions at our existing public schools.

Meanwhile, Ray Cortines, Dept. Superintendent of the LA schools, (who was also, according to many, the best NYC Chancellor in recent history) has
now withdrawn earlier offers to charter schools to share space with existing Los Angeles public schools because of the negative effects on instruction:

"If there is no space, there is no space. How can we comply? Just because there is a room vacant, I'm not going to put students in it when it's not educationally sound," he said.

This brave action comes in face of a law in CA requiring that charters be given space in traditional public school buildings; in NYC, of course, there is no such law, but Klein seems unconcerned with the destructive impact of these moves – leading to more overcrowding, larger classes, loss of cluster rooms, and special ed children being taught in hallways.

Meanwhile, the charter schools are generally allowed to cap enrollment and class size at much lower levels than the traditional public schools with which they share space.

Despite $4 billion surplus, the education Mayor still breaks his promise to our kids

See the NY Times article about the education budget cuts for next year proposed by the Mayor. Despite an estimated $4 billion surplus, and property tax cuts amounting to $1.25 billion more, the Mayor still seems intent on cutting back education by a substantial amount – though accounts differ, by about $400 million next year. This comes after mid-year cuts of more than $100 million already.

The Mayor’s office tried to hide these cuts by claiming increased spending on education by $200 million – but this turned out to be yet more PR spin. Excerpt from the NY Times:

Mr. Bloomberg and his aides emphasized that the city was spending $243 million more on education in 2009 than it did this year. But much of that is so-called rollover money, or funds that schools have left over from this year and will keep for the next year. Roughly $100 million is to cover rising food costs, increases in charter school enrollment and tuition for special education students mandated to attend private schools.

“There’s going to have to be some cuts in the schools,” Mr. Klein said. “I’m optimistic if we continue being intelligent about this, we can navigate these waters effectively.”

Continue being intelligent about this? That assumes they ever were. Charter schools, for some reason, do not face any new cuts next year.

…In January, the department ordered a cut of 1.7 percent at schools across the city, prompting a loud outcry from principals, who said they had to reduce valued programs like after-school sports and Saturday tutoring in the middle of the year. Additional school-level cuts seem likely for next year, although Mr. Klein appeared to rule out cuts at every school in the fall, saying one of the challenges would be to tailor reductions to each school.

Tailor reductions to each school? This sounds like the Chancellor is still intent on pushing through the full implementation of his unfair “fair student funding” scheme – which he promised not to do for at least two years. The city also plans to delay payments by “stretching out its capital plan by a year” which if applied to school construction, would be disastrous.

See the NY Sun about the fact that education advocates, the teachers and the principals unions plan to fight these cuts with TV and radio ads – as well they should. I can’t remember such drastic cuts to our schools before in a time of surplus –not to mention following the decision of our state’s highest court that our kids’ education was unconstitutionally underfunded.

Please add your name to a petition in support of City Council Resolution #1302, which calls on Bloomberg to restore all cuts to education funding, co-sponsored by Council Members Robert Jackson and Bill Di Blasio.

And see this video of a rally in the Bronx protesting the cuts:

Friday, May 2, 2008

New DOE Plan to Reduce Class Size

May 2, 2008 (GBN News): Striking back at critics who say that the NY City Department of Education has failed to lower class size, the DOE announced today a new class size reduction plan. The plan is said to reduce class size by diverting students into what will be called the “Absent Student Reserve”.

According to the DOE, from now on students whose schools are closed or are taken over by small schools or charter schools will be considered “ASR’s” and will no longer automatically be placed within the school system. Instead, these students will be responsible for finding a place for themselves in what the DOE terms an “open market system”. Students will have to apply for open classroom slots, and each principal will decide which students to accept.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, at a City Hall press conference, told reporters, “This will go a long way towards lowering class size, since principals will no longer be forced to accept a child into a school with limited space just because that child may feel ‘entitled’ to an education. Children will have to show some initiative, just like the real world they’ll encounter later on in life.”

Under the new system, ASR’s will have one year to find a new school to attend, or they will be permanently dropped from the system. Asked how these children will be able to make a living if they cannot get an education, Mr. Klein responded, “Well, there’s always Wal-Mart.”