Sunday, October 20, 2013

Comments on the city's Contract for Excellence plan from CEC District 2

Dear Chancellor Walcott,
We, the Community Education Council District 2, submit this letter to register, yet again, our objections on the Contracts for Excellence Proposed Plan FY14. 
We remain firmly committed to the letter and the intent of the 2007-2008 Education Budget and Reform Act, arising out of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York litigation.   We believe reducing class sizes is one of the most effective ways to improve instruction.  Much has been said about the importance of the effectiveness of teachers but anyone who has spent any time teaching in the classroom knows even the most “effective” teacher teaches better in a smaller class.   Today with the Special Education Reform that places more students with special needs in the least restrictive environment (i.e., general education classes), making individualized instruction even more critical, smaller classes are the key to successful classrooms. 
We are therefore deeply concerned that not only have class sizes not been reduced as a result of the Contracts for Excellence plans of recent years, but the NYC Department of Education has seemingly abandoned efforts to reduce class sizes.
In District 2 despite several new elementary schools coming online in the past four years, many of our schools continue to have class sizes that are higher than the target class sizes of the City’s Class Size Reduction Plan.   More alarmingly the trend appears to be upward, due largely to the series of budget cuts.  It is a travesty that schools in District 2 now have the capacity to reduce class sizes at long last but are unable to do so for lack of resources.  It is also difficult to simply blame the sluggish economy for lack of resources when we see hundreds of millions of dollars going into private hands in the name of the Common Core Standards and associated assessment tools. 
We also object again to the continued blatant disregard by the Department of Education for the legally mandated process for developing the Contracts for Excellence plan.  While the timing of the “public hearing” was earlier than the last year, it was still held after the school budgets have been allocated with much of the funds obligated, rendering any public input meaningless as in the past. 
Principals must begin the school year with a budget.  Presumably the budget in September included Contracts for Excellence funds.  We do not understand why public comments were not solicited when budgets were in development. 
Furthermore despite the fact in June 2013 Judge Moulton found your department in violation of the law, the DOE continues to substitute presentations at CEC meetings for the required borough-wide hearings.  We have objected to this practice because our meetings often have multiple agenda items and presentations at our meetings are made by a Network representative, who is not directly involved in the development or the implementation of the Contract for Excellence plan.   We again urge the DOE to hold borough-wide hearings with someone from the central DOE offices with detailed in-depth knowledge of the Contracts for Excellence. 
The CECD2 has developed a collaborative process with the DOE through our zoning efforts in the past several years.  We have honest and frank dialogues and have developed mutual trust with the staff from the Office of Portfolio Development.  We would welcome a similar collaborative effort on this important program.  In a district where overcrowding and large class sizes have been a chronic problem, we can only make improvements to our schools through collaboration. 
We hope the public hearing process for the Contracts for Excellence will be a better one for the school year 2014-2015.

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