Friday, August 6, 2021

My comments last night on the sham C4E process and proposed "plan", and what Lindsey Oates of DOE said in response

 Below are the comments I delivered last night at the last of the DOE's Contracts for Excellence  borough hearings  in Manhattan. There were only about 15 people there,  and the only two people to provide comments were Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, the President of the Community Education Council for District 4, and me.  

Lindsey Oates, the DOE finance director who delivered the powerpoint presentation of the DOE's proposed plan, said the turnout was the highest at any of the borough hearings, which is not surprising, because as Kaliris pointed out, none of the CECs received any notification of these hearings, and the only way she found out about them was through the Class Size Matters newsletter.  

DOE didn't bother to inform any elected officials or parent or community groups either as far I as I know, which violates the intent of the C4E law which says the district's final adopted plan for these funds is supposed to be developed in conjunction with public input.  

Lindsey said CEC hearings would be held later, but as I pointed out, every year they hold those hearings in the fall or winter, too late to have any impact on their plan, since the money has long been spent.  

I also said that the law and regulations were written to try to ensure that the DOE would notify the public in advance, hold timely hearings where they would actual listened to parent input, post an assessment of the public comments as well as the "district's response to each substantive comment, including a statement of any changes made to the contract for excellence as a result of such comment, or an explanation of why the comment's suggestions were not incorporated into the contract for excellence.

Yet the DOE has NEVER listened to parents or the public since the C4E law was passed in 2007; nor have they ever revised their proposal according to their suggestions.  It been many years since they even posted a summary of public comments and/or explained why they accepted or rejected them, as the regs require.  Lindsey did not dispute any of these points.  

I also asked Lindsey why the DOE claims in their plan that there are no more C4E funds than in FY 2010 (on another page they say FY 2012), given the fact that our schools are receiving $530 million  in additional state Foundation Aid in fulfillment of the CFE lawsuit.  The C4E law was passed to ensure that these funds went towards addressing the specific deficiencies outlined in the case, including excessive class sizes.

Lindsey said the amount had not changed because this is under the control of the State Education Department, who had not told them they had to increase the C4E funds, and  that the NYSED C4E website had not been updated in many years.  (This point about the website is true, as we along with AQE and the Ed Law Center pointed out in a memo to the Commissioner Rosa and Regents Chancellor Young last week.

I asked Lindsey specifically if NYSED were to tell DOE to increase the C4E amounts, would DOE comply?  She said yes. 

Finally, I asked Lindsey to explain the DOE's claim, as expressed on p. 4 of their C4E proposal, that while they acknowledge the law specifically prohibits supplanting, the state has "provided guidance" saying  these funds can be spent to replace funds cut by DOE, which seems absurd on the face of it, since that is the definition of supplanting:


I asked Lindsey if she had a different definition of supplanting, and she said she agreed with my definition. I then asked her if she would send me the SED guidance on this, and she said yes.  I emailed her today asking for this, and I'll let you know if I hear back.

In her comments, Kaliris also pointed out that principals are told that if they hire additional staff to lower class size with the C4E funds, they have to carry the fringe and benefit costs on their school budgets.  These amounts can cost up to 40% of the teachers' salaries.  This burden is unlike the process of all other teachers schools may hire, in which DOE covers the fringe cost centrally.  Yet another poison pill meant to discourage principals to lower class size, even if they would wanted to and had the space.

Meanwhile, if you want to send your own comments, please do so in the next week or so, to (The DOE website says the deadline for comments is Sept. 3, but we have asked SED to make this date sooner, or else the final plan will  be submitted to the State after the funds have already been spent, making the process even more of an obvious sham than it already is.)   Feel free to copy any of the points below or add your own.  Thanks!

August 5, 2021 

Comments on the DOE's failure to do right by NYC children in their C4E proposed "plan"


Hello. my name is Leonie Haimson, I’m the Executive Director of Class Size Matters.

First of all, I have to question DOE’s failure to allocate a single penny to class size reduction in this proposed plan, even though In 2003, the State’s highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case said that class sizes in our schools were a systemic problem that robbed NYC students of their constitutional right to a sound, basic education.  And  yet class sizes in our schools have increased since then, especially in the early grades. Why is the DOE refusing to follow through on the court’s decision, by declining to allocate a single penny of these funds in a targeted manner towards lowering class size?

 Of the $530 million in the proposal, nearly $100M will be spent on putting extra teachers in the classroom, which as any teacher or parent will tell you, does not yield the same proven benefits as smaller classes.  As Amanda Vender a Queens ESL teacher wrote,  putting an extra teacher in a class “ is not a good use of our professionals’ time” and “ students’ ability to focus in a classroom of 30 students is much less than compared to a classroom of 15 or 20 students.

I also question why the DOE claims that are no more C4E funds, given that NYC schools are due to receive $530 million in additional state foundation aid from the state, increasing to $1.3 billion annually over next three years, to fulfill of the goals of the CFE lawsuit. 

Why does DOE say that principals can use these funds to maintain or limit class size increases?  Of the funds that principals can use at their discretion, DOE claims that they can be spent to  maintain or minimize class size increases, which is not the same as lowering class size.  Maintaining or minimizing increases in class size would not  provide any progress towards the smaller classes that NYC students need and deserve, according to the state’s highest court. 

Why does DOE say these funds can be used to supplant or fill in for holes created by the city’s budget cuts, when SUPPLANTING IS SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED IN THE C4E LAW.  Again, it would make no sense to allow state funds to be used where the city itself has cut back, which would also mean no progress or improvement in terms of providing equitable learning conditions for NYC students.  


Of course, all these repeated and rampant failures of DOE are especially unacceptable, given how  smaller classes will be more important next fall,  more than ever, to help with social distancing and to strengthen the  academic support that students will need to make up for a year and half of disruptions and remote learning.  


The DOE recently claimed to the UFT that all but 50 schools can achieve social distancing, though no one believes them.  In general, of course, smaller classes lead to better outcomes for all kids – especially those who need help the most.  That’s why class  size reduction is one of only a handful of reforms proven to provide real equity by narrowing the achievement/opportunity gap between racial and economic groups. Smaller classes have also been shown to result in higher test scores, better grades, more engaged students, and fewer disciplinary referrals.  


My final question is, Why does DOE insist on ignoring the input of parents and teachers on this issue?  Every year the DOE’s school surveys have been administered, smaller classes have been the top priority of K12 parents when asked what changes they would like to see in their children’s education. According to a UFT teacher survey, 99% NYC teachers responded that class size reduction would be an effective reform to improve NYC schools, far outstripping any other proposal.  And yet year after year, the DOE refuses to do the one thing that we know for sure would lead to improve outcomes in our schools, even when provided an additional $8B in state and federal funds over the next 3 years.  


It's a crying shame, and it speaks volumes about the DOE’s profound failure to do what’s right by NYC children.

1 comment:

jake jacobs said...

At the Bronx hearing, Tom Sheppard and I were the only attendees.

I only knew about the hearing because of a Class Size Matters email.

Lindsay was very nice to hear out all of our comments, but the presentation seemed like there wasn't much the public could say or do since the C4E money sent from Albany was finite and the DOE's tiny class reduction pilot was already allocated.

Tom made the point that space is at a premium in the Bronx and so adding teachers without adding space actually makes the classrooms more crowded. When I asked about new or expanded facilities, Lindsay referred us to the construction authority.

If adding space isn't a component part of C4E, I don't see how it can work. We had overcrowded classes before the pandemic, and now have federal and state money in the pipeline, but it's not being deployed even though decreasing room density is one of the most essential virus mitigation strategies.

I also mentioned the stark differences between NYC and Westchester schools, especially as it pertains to special ed services. We have a teacher shortage and particularly in special ed. It seems that this results in understaffed schools discouraging families from seeking classification in the Bronx.

I also suggested the city expand screenings and services for autism, dyslexia and other common disabilities the city currently reimburses families private school tuition for. It could even make financial sense to open dedicated schools for them because there is an enormous backlog for these "Carter cases", and they sometimes require students to travel long distances, yet reimbursement is only available to affluent parents, so the actual need is probably many times higher and diagnoses swept under the rug.

I told them that Joan of Arc, my old Junior High in Manhattan had a full band program, separate orchestra and chorus programs, visual art, ceramics studio, a full shop class, a dance program, PE, French and Spanish all in one school, but that building today is broken up into six different schools and one is a charter. My old school launched the careers of chart-topping musicians and singers. The middle school I currently teach in only offers students one marking period of art per year (which amounts to about 16 class periods) and PE 2-3 times a week.

Why are today's kids shortchanged? If small schools were recombined, there would not just be more programming options and more flexibility for scheduling (including special ed placements) there would be less administrators, freeing up budget and office space.