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State pressuring city for improvement plans, to partial response

State officials have grown anxious that the city won’t make a deadline to apply for $400 million in federal grants to improve failing schools.

Education Commissioner John King registered his anxiety in a letter last week to Marc Sternberg, head of the city Department of Education’s portfolio planning office. In an email, King wrote that the city has had months to finalize its plans for the grants, known as School Improvement Grants, and he wanted enough time to review the proposals before he approves them. That must happen before the end of the month.

King said he wanted to see the city’s plans by yesterday. The city responded by submitting a key section of the application: an explanation of how it plans to phase out 12 schools deemed “persistently lowest achieving” by the state.

According to details of the plan, released today, the city requested a total of $5.1 million to replace the schools with 17 smaller ones – or $300,000 per school. Five of the new schools opened this year and the rest are scheduled to open over the next two school years. (A list of the planned schools and their locations is below.)

The money will be used to ease the transition as low-performing schools phase out and new ones open in their place. The list includes only new schools, not schools that are already open, but will be moved into the buildings where phase-outs occur.

The plans come after months of wavering on the city’s application. “We have been limited in our ability to review NYC’s application because you have either submitted place holders for certain portions of the application or you have informed us that what you have submitted is evolving and will be resubmitted,” King wrote in his email to Sternberg.

The phase-out plans don’t entirely satisfy King’s request, however. “We have not yet received that completed application, ” said SED spokesman Jonathan Burman.

The application is to qualify for a slice of the $700 million in Race To The Top federal funds that New York State won last year. All districts in the state – especially those with low-performing schools – are required to submit detailed plans for how they would carry out reforms the state promised in its Race To The Top bid.

The city’s indecision on what to do with its “persistently lowest achieving” schools has been overshadowed by another still-up-in-the-air component of the federal grant application. The application requires the city and its teachers union to come to an agreement on teacher evaluations. Those negotiations are ongoing but neither side has signaled that an agreement is near.

Spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz acknowledged that the dwindling timeframe was “sensitive” but declined to comment further. She called the ongoing conversation with union officials “productive.”

There’s more than money on the line. The UFT and NAACP has filed a lawsuit against the DOE’s plan to close of 22 schools, including the 12 listed in the application. Union lawyers argue that without state approval, no school closures should be allowed to move forward.

Here’s the complete email from King to Sternberg:

Marc,

As you are aware, SED has been informed by USED that it is their expectation that NY will make SIG 1003(g) awards by July 31st. You also are aware that we have provided you extended time and flexibility to finalize your applications. To this point, we have been limited in our ability to review NYC’s application because you have either submitted place holders for certain portions of the application or you have informed us that what you have submitted is evolving and will be resubmitted. Accordingly, to ensure that SED has sufficient time to review your application, I am requesting that NYCDOE submit a completed application package, including your plans for the phasing in and phasing out of schools, that fully describes the intervention models that will be implemented at each school by no later than C.O.B on July 7. This submission should constitute your final application as you would like for it to be reviewed.

Please call me if you have any questions.

Thanks,

John

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