divining the future

Guessing at size of state cuts, city plans for drastic layoffs

Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed cutting 6,400 city teaching jobs today — but he said without action from Albany, the exact number of layoffs is still anybody’s guess.

The mayor’s annual budget proposal would leave 2,000 teaching jobs unfilled and lay off another 4,400 teachers. And Chancellor Joel Klein urged principals to begin preparing for massive reductions that could cause classes to grow by nearly 20 percent.

But Bloomberg and Klein emphasized that all of the numbers could change depending on what happens in Albany, where legislators are now a month overdue in setting a budget for the state.

The city based its budget proposal on the governor’s proposed state budget, which cuts nearly $500 million from school aid to New York City and is more severe than the State Assembly’s proposed plan.

“If we don’t have any specificity in Albany, we have to act on what is a conservative best guess,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg said even if the state passes a less austere budget after teachers are already laid off, the city might not use the extra funds to hire the teachers back. “I’m not sure it’s worth a second round of disruption,” he said

In an email sent to schools today, Klein said principals would get preliminary budgets by June 1 but should start planning now for cuts that far exceed this year’s nearly 5 percent reduction. Klein told reporters today that the layoffs could mean an increase of three to four students in elementary school classes.

Bloomberg said that there is “no drop-dead date” for determining exactly how many teaching positions will eventually have to go. “We certainly don’t have to do anything before the budget is approved at the end of June,” he said.

Klein and Bloomberg used the draconian budget predictions to reiterate their wish for legislative changes to end the “last in-first out” requirement for teacher layoffs. The mayor also issued a warning that if the state budget ends up more dire than predicted, the city may have to reduce its commitment to raises for city teachers even further than it already has. In January, the city halved funds budgeted for 4 percent teacher pay raises to mitigate mid-year school budget cuts. Teacher raises are among the items at issue in the city’s current contract negotiations with the union, which are stalled.

The latest layoff estimates are lower than Bloomberg and Klein’s earlier estimates that the city would lose 8,500 teaching positions under the governor’s proposed cuts to state school aid. The reduction comes in part from more refined estimates and from a city commitment to help cover some of the DOE’s pension and benefit costs from its wider budget, spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

Here’s the full letter that Klein sent to principals today outlining the current budget plan:

From: Klein Joel I.
Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 3:08 PM
To: &All Principals
Subject: Budget Update

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier today, Mayor Bloomberg released the City’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. While the Mayor has done his best to insulate schools during these tough economic times, our Department still faces a cut in State funding as large as $500 million. As a result, we will need to absorb substantial budget cuts for the 2010-2011 school year.

OUR BUDGET SITUATION

Lawmakers in Albany have yet to pass a budget, even though their own deadline was April 1. For that reason, our fiscal picture remains uncertain. I do not yet have all the answers about how our budget will ultimately be resolved, but I do know that the coming school year will be extremely challenging for us all. We continue to have cost increases that are beyond our control for mandated special education services, contractual pay differentials for educators, facilities operations, and transportation services. As in past years, these rising costs come in addition to funding cuts from the State, and therefore make deeper school-level budget reductions unavoidable.

As you know, over the last two years, we have already endured several rounds of budget cuts. Each time, we’ve made every effort to protect schools and students. We have cut the central administrative budget by more than $116 million, or 18 percent-that’s double the percentage of cuts taken by schools. This includes headcount reductions of 550 positions in central and field offices. For the coming school year, we will cut an additional $38 million from our administrative budgets and eliminate another 5 percent of our current positions. The central budget, however, represents only three percent of the Department’s total spending. Facing a loss of $500 million from the State, we have no choice but to find significant savings in our schools and classrooms.

SCHOOL BUDGETS

We plan to send you your preliminary 2010-2011 school year budgets by June 1. Based on what we know now, which may change depending on what happens in Albany, you will likely see a budget reduction significantly greater than the 4.9 percent cut you absorbed for the current school year.

I know that a cut of this magnitude will undoubtedly be painful, but I am confident that you will make the least-harmful choices-albeit ones I wish you didn’t have to make-for your students. Even before budgets are finalized, I want you to begin planning for the coming school year. You will need to evaluate your overall expenditures, including personnel, professional development, and after-school programs, to set spending priorities that will best support your students’ academic needs. In some cases, this may mean excessing teachers to retain after-school programs or cutting school aides to save teaching positions.

STAFFING

Unfortunately, given these budgetary realities, we must assume that it will be necessary to layoff thousands of teachers. We currently anticipate that we’ll need to let go of 4,400 school-based personnel in addition to losing even more positions through attrition. No one, not you nor I, wants to lay off teachers. And, while we would prefer to do layoffs in a way that minimizes the negative consequences for our schools and students, current State law ties our hands from doing so.

As you know, teachers have to be laid off in reverse order of seniority. According to our analysis, this seniority requirement would force us to have to lay off most of the elementary school teachers hired since the fall of 2007.

This “last in, first out” requirement fails to consider school needs as well as differences in teacher effectiveness and their real impact on the lives of our students. We all know that experience can translate into real results in the classroom-but it is not the only criterion that should be considered.

Instead, these tough decisions should be based on existing ratings from evaluations. The 1,600 teachers who received U-ratings last year should be among the first to be laid off. I also believe that teachers in the ATR pool should be let go before teachers who are currently in the classroom. Additionally, when making layoff decisions, we should consider principal observations, absentee rates, impact on student learning, and contribution to school community. If we are indeed in the unfortunate position of having to let go of teachers, I am confident that we could work together to carry out the layoffs in a manner that would be better for our schools, rather than relying on seniority alone.

I will continue to advocate for a more rational lay off system that would allow you to protect your best teachers and the best interests of our students. I remain hopeful that the State and union will come to the table with us to work out a better layoff system. As in almost every other professional organization across the country, we should base layoffs on a rigorous evaluation of performance and system needs. Our priority should be to protect our most effective teachers from layoffs.

In the meantime, our Human Resources team will be working through the layoff process. We will notify you about how layoffs will affect your individual school soon after you get your school budget.

Lastly, I want to reiterate that hiring restrictions remain in place. We could, however, be in a position this coming school year where we need to hire teachers in certain license areas, such as special education, at the same time we are laying off teachers in other areas. If you anticipate a vacancy, you can network with and screen candidates, but you should not make any offers or commitments to external candidates at this time.

NEXT STEPS

We all have many questions and concerns. I invite you to participate in an interactive Web cast about our budget situation at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 12. At that time, we will discuss how we can work together to manage challenging budget times. Please click on the following link to get the call-in information and to RSVP: http://www.learningtimes.net/chancellor.

The coming fiscal year is shaping up to be one of the most difficult our school system has ever had to endure. Our schoolchildren aren’t to blame for the financial mess we’re facing-and it’s unacceptable for them to bear the brunt of the State’s budget shortfall. As budget negotiations continue in Albany, you can be confident that I will keep fighting for more money for our schools.

I look forward to talking with you next week. And, as always, thank you for your hard work.

Sincerely,

Joel I. Klein

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”

blast from the past

Harkening back to earlier era, struggling New York City school fights closure but faces long odds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kevin Morgan, the Parent Association president at P.S./M.S. 42, is leading a fight to keep the Rockaway school open.

A decade ago, teachers picketed P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam in Rockaway, Queens and declared the campus unsafe. Parents said the building was in horrible shape — some areas reeked of urine — and they petitioned the education department to close the school and start over.

But when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, he had a different idea: Rather than shut its doors, he would revamp it. After three years in de Blasio’s “Renewal” improvement program, which injects troubled schools with academic supports and social services, P.S./M.S. 42 appeared to be making progress: Its test scores and quality reviews have steadily improved. Enrollment, while lower this year, has mostly been stable.

So when the education department announced plans last month to shutter P.S./M.S. 42 and 13 other low-performing schools, many in the school community were shocked.

“We think that this is a mistake,” said Donovan Richards, the local city councilman who said that when he met with schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña shortly before the announcement, far from declaring the school a lost cause, she praised its recent strides and discussed ways to celebrate them.

“You have this glimmer of hope and turnaround in the building,” he added, “and yet we’re reversing the progress.”

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Parents used to complain about poor conditions at P.S./M.S. 42, which has since built a new addition.

Now, parents, teachers and local political leaders are vowing to fight its closure. The coalition has launched an aggressive social media campaign, printed highlighter-yellow T-shirts declaring the school “strong and united,” and planned rallies at the school and in Albany, where the school’s supporters traveled Tuesday to make their case to state lawmakers.

On a recent morning, Kevin Morgan, the school’s parent association president, went to his local congress member’s office to appeal for help, and brought in a motivational speaker to inspire students as they drafted essays in defense of their school.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “They need to rethink what they’re about to do. How is this going to affect these children?”

The fight puts the mayor in the uncomfortable position of defending the closure of a low-performing school despite signs of improvement and vocal opposition from some parents — a scenario he railed against when running to replace then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. At the time, de Blasio blasted Bloomberg for disregarding the will of parents in his zeal to shutter and replace troubled schools without first giving them a chance to rebound.

Now, after investing $582 million in a program meant to offer bottom-ranked schools the second chance he said they had been denied, de Blasio finds himself coming to the same conclusion as his predecessor: Some underachieving schools simply can’t be resuscitated — at least not quickly enough — so better to pull the plug and start fresh.

“After a serious effort, we do not think, with their current structures, they can make it,” de Blasio said on NY1 the day the closures were announced. Still, he defended the turnaround effort, saying that, without it, “we would have continued to see closures without an honest effort to fix the problem.”

In the case of P.S./M.S. 42, the education department is proposing to replace it with two new schools — an elementary school and a middle school — in the same building.

It’s likely they will serve many of the same students as the school they’re supplanting, though some parents worry the new schools may deploy admissions criteria that will screen out some of P.S./M.S. 42’s current students. An education department spokesman said the new schools would not turn away any P.S./M.S. 42 students. The new schools may also employ many of the same teachers, under a contract rule that says at least half the positions in replacement schools must be offered to teachers at closed schools who apply and hold the right qualifications.

P.S./M.S. 42 boosters hope the new schools never have a chance to open. But they face long odds: Under de Blasio, very few schools on the chopping block have managed to escape.

Last year, the Panel for Educational Policy — an oversight board where the majority of members are appointed by the mayor — signed off on all of the city’s proposed closures. Even when parents at J.H.S 145 in the Bronx mounted a campaign to keep the middle school open, only five of the 13 panel members voted against its closure.

The city’s plan to shutter P.S./M.S. 42 follows a yearslong, grassroots effort to save it.

Today, one of the leaders of that campaign is an unlikely champion: a parent named Queen Makkada, who called for the school’s closure in 2010 when her two children went there. At one point, her daughter was attacked by a group of boys, and students were known to roam the hallways unsupervised.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Queen Makkada says P.S./M.S. 42 has struggled in the past, but is now showing improvement.

“We literally had first graders cutting class,” Makkada said. A joint city-state report from 2011 said teachers there “demanded little” from students and parents complained about unchecked bullying among students.
Makkada says things began to turn around when the current principal, Patricia Finn, took over about seven years ago. Finn did not respond to a request for comment.

The principal smoothed over relations with teachers, who have filed far fewer grievances under her than the previous administration, according to their union. And she forged relationships with skeptical parents, Makkada said. Last year, 90 percent of parents who responded to a school survey said the principal works to build community.

“All the stakeholders had to come together and change it,” Makkada said. “These parents went through the process to improve a failing school.”

At the same time that parents were getting more involved, the school facilities were getting an upgrade. In 2011, a gleaming new addition was built onto the building, and there are plans for a new $7 million playground, according to the city councilman.

The Renewal program, which launched in 2014, marked a new wave of investment in P.S./M.S 42. A community-based nonprofit — Family Health International, which goes by FHI 360 — brought much-needed mental health supports for students, including one-on-one counseling. The school day was extended by an hour. And the school has launched several initiatives aimed at improving school culture, including training students to help resolve conflicts among their peers, parents said.

Since 2014, the school has received improved “quality review” ratings from official observers, and its test scores have ticked upwards. In fact, elementary students at P.S./M.S. 42 earned higher scores on the state English and math tests last year than the average among Renewal schools that the city is keeping open. Its middle-school students perform just below that average.

And enrollment, a key factor that chancellor Fariña says the education department considers when recommending closures, grew by dozens of students the first few years of the program. This past year, its population declined to just over 660 students — but that’s still higher than before becoming a Renewal school.

Given the progress, parents don’t understand why their school is targeted for closure.

“This is ripping everything apart,” said Morgan, the parent-association president.

But despite the recent improvements, the majority of the school’s students still are far behind where they should be.

Only 17 percent of elementary students and 14 percent of middle schoolers passed last year’s state English tests — compared with 40-41 percent of students citywide. In math, 14 percent of elementary students and 6 percent of middle schoolers passed the tests, compared with 42 percent and 33 percent citywide.

Meanwhile, a stubbornly high share of students are chronically absent, despite a major push by the city to boost attendance at Renewal schools. More than 45 percent of P.S./M.S. 42 students miss 10 percent or more of the school year, compared to 36 percent among all Renewal schools and about 26 percent among all city schools, according to the education department.

“This decision to propose a school closure was made based on a careful assessment of the school community as a whole,” Aciman, the department spokesman, said in a statement. He added that community engagement is an important part of proposed closures, and said officials will respond to parents’ questions and concerns.

Officials will hold a public hearing at the school on Jan. 10, before the Panel for Educational Policy votes Feb. 28 on whether to approve the city’s closure plans.

Among the P.S./M.S. 42 parents who will ask the panel to spare the school is Willard Price.

He said teachers have given his son, William, extra help in math and handwriting, and principal Finn has invited him to eat lunch in her office when he felt overwhelmed by the cafeteria. Now, William earns high marks on his report cards and would like to remain at P.S./M.S. 42 for middle school, his father said.

“I think that’s messed up, trying to close the school,” William said. “This school is the only school I ever liked.”