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After rueing SIG funding loss, city will give schools $18 million

A month ago, city officials said 24 struggling schools would have to miss out on costly school improvement programs because they were ineligible for federal “turnaround” grants. Now the city plans to pony up its own funds.

In a release to reporters this afternoon that was short on details, officials said the department would allocate $18 million to the schools as “one-time transitional support” to make up for the loss of $30 million School Improvement Grants.

City efforts to secure federal funding for these schools have been tense since the State Education Department yanked the funding from them and other schools late last December as a consequence for the city and union’s unresolved teacher evaluation negotiations.

To secure the funds, the city proposed to have 33 schools, later reduced to 24, undergo a stringent reform regimen called turnaround, which would have required the city to replace at least half the teachers at each school. To hit that quota, the city proposed closing the schools and re-opening them after replacing some teachers through a contractual process called 18-D.

But an independent arbitrator ruled that those plans violated the teachers’ contracts, and a court upheld the ruling in July. That ruling effectively made the city ineligible to receive the federal “turnaround” aid.

In an email message from late July, Department of Education officials lamented the funding loss, saying the ruling would cause students at the 24 schools to miss out on valuable programs and changes, including extended learning time, after-school and Saturday programs, classroom technology and upgrades such as Smartboards, iPads, laptop carts, computer labs and extra tutors.

A department spokesperson said principals at the schools would receive more details on the new funding as the school year approaches, but did not know when. The Panel for Educational Policy, which has never rejected a schools budget proposal, is slated to vote on this and other budgeting plans in October.

From there, principals receiving the funds would have discretion over how to spend them.That could mean adding back teaching positions lost with the SIG grants and more professional development, or the renewal of relationships with outside educational organizations such as the “restart” partners, which have helped some of the schools make structural changes.

In the meantime, principals have a long list of tasks to complete to help the schools ease into the new year.