The Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the Education Law Center have filed a lawsuit on behalf of New York City parents against the NYC Department of Education for failing to hold the Contracts for Excellence borough hearings required by law, and for scheduling the Community Education Council presentations late in the year after much of the C4E funding has been spent. Here’s an article in the Daily News about the lawsuit; the legal papers are posted at the Albany Times Union website.
The CEC meetings that the DOE claims as substitutes (though both borough hearings and CEC meetings are required by law) are often scheduled at the last minute, are scantily attended, and feature sketchy presentations by District and network staff who are unable to answer questions. This year many of the CEC meetings are being held after the deadline for public comment is past, which is March 18.
Several New York City public school parents have filed suit against Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott and the NYC Department of Education (DOE) for ongoing and persistent violations of New York’s Contract for Excellence Law (C4E). The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), a project of Education Law Center, is representing the parents.
The goal of the C4E law is to promote public transparency and accountability by requiring districts receiving additional funding under the State Foundation formula to spend the money on programs to improve student learning, such as small class size, full-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten.
A key component of the law is the mandate that districts develop an annual C4E spending plan through a public process. The law requires districts to publish their proposed plans for comment and hold public hearings. In New York City, those hearings must take place in each borough.
Parents have long charged the DOE with engaging in a pattern of flagrant violation of the C4E law, most notably the failure to hold public hearings for years.
“The State intended meaningful public engagement as part of its Contracts for Excellence. The DOE evades both the spirit and the letter of the law – by failing to hold borough hearings, by scheduling hearings long after budgets are allocated and spent so that public comment has no impact whatsoever on the allocation of resources, by failing to respond to or answer points raised in the hearing process, by omitting the detail level specified in the law and showing the public only generic power points. The audience at the hearing for my local school district was even told that no questions could be posed – only comments were permitted. This is simply wrong,” said NYC Council Member Robert Jackson, Chair of the Council Education Committee.
“Clearly, the DOE does not want a true dialogue to improve a student’s education,” Councilman Jackson added. “I’m grateful that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity is taking legal action that would hold DOE accountable in getting meaningful public input. Enough is enough!”
The lawsuit filed by CFE charges that the DOE, in the current 2012-13 school year, posted its C4E plan five months late, in mid-February, well after much of the C4E money was spent. The lawsuit also claims that DOE has still not scheduled any borough-wide hearings, even though it has set a March 18 deadline for public comment.
“The DOE’s failure to hold borough hearings for their C4E proposal is an example of their fundamental disregard for the views of parents and the law,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters. “The mandated borough hearings have not occurred since 2008, despite the fact that the C4E law requires this as part of a rigorous process of public feedback.”
“The fact that the DOE hasn’t held any of the required C4E hearings since 2008 is an example of how they continue to dismiss parent input when formulating their policies and violate their commitments to our children,” said public school parent Karen Sprowal, who is a petitioner in the lawsuit.
CFE is asking the court to compel the DOE to schedule borough-wide hearings and extend the deadline for public comment to give parents a genuine opportunity to participate in the C4E process.
“The DOE’s actions with regard to the Contract for Excellence make a mockery of the public process provision of this important law,” said Wendy Lecker, CFE senior attorney. “Parents and community members have no opportunity to provide meaningful input on how these vital education dollars are being spent and no ability to track where the money is going.”