breaking news

Live-blogging the City Council education budget hearing

I’m at the City Council and will give updates as they happen.

4:09 p.m. Hearing is over, on a sad, mixed with let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves, note.

4:02 p.m. Another thing being cut is general maintenance. There will also be 71 skilled trades workers who are based centrally and then deployed to help with repairs — plumbers, carpenters, for instance — who will lose their jobs. And Grimm said earlier that the budgets given to custodians based in schools will be reduced by about $4 million this year.

What will that mean? Likely it will mean that some assistants to custodians will lose their jobs, Grimm said. And there’s another thing: the floors. “I always say we have the best floors in New York City; our floors sparkle,” she said. “Maybe they won’t sparkle quite as much.”

3:54 p.m. For such a big-deal kind of hearing, where the DOE is giving more details on planned cuts than ever yet, the room is shockingly empty. Guess that’s what you get for being a watchdog late on a Friday afternoon.

3:50 p.m. The DOE has already alerted principals to the cuts it expects to make during the middle of this year and then next year. But of course, those cuts aren’t real until the City Council approves them. Nevertheless, this hearing keeps sounding like it’s a done deal: Grimm was just explaining that today is the deadline for principals to submit a plan on how they’ll cut their budgets this year; then, we were told, the DOE will review those plans. Finally, Susan Olds, the department’s director of budgeting, said the process will be “complete” in just a few weeks, when the review process is through.

And what about council approval? Grimm cut in with a chuckle: “Of course, the process will not be totally complete until the council votes on the package.”

3:37 p.m. John Liu, of Queens, also asked a question about the federal No Child Left Behind law. Echoing the criticism of Democrats that the law has been an “unfunded mandate,” he asked how much un-funding is happening in New York – in other words, how much isn’t New York getting. “We need to know the number so that we know how much to ask the new president for,” Liu said.

3:27 p.m. Just want to clarify, because even City Council members keep asking: No layoffs at the schools! Teachers at schools stay at the schools, and so do guidance counselors and art teachers and parent coordinators. Only administrative personnel — bureaucrats — are being fired.

3:14 p.m. John Liu of Queens is interrogating Kathleen Grimm on the DOE’s decision not to centralize kindergarten admissions, after all. He asked Grimm how much money was “wasted” moving toward that goal before it was abandoned. “I would guess it’s a least a couple of million dollars, maybe more than that,” he said. Grimm said she would have to look into it.

3:06 p.m. A council member summarized the new “empowerment” budgeting that allows school to pick a support organization to be work with, paying a fee for each organization depending on their preference. The organizations then provide help with professional development and budgeting. The member said he likes that new setup, but wonders whether the empowerment idea could be expanded, so that schools could opt out of paying for support services altogether. “Why not really do it?” he asked, adding that he visited several schools recently that said they would rather spend the money on something else, like a new art teacher. Grimm said that is something the Department of Education is considering.

2:51 p.m. Council Member Lew Fidler said that a neighbor of his replaced all the light bulbs in hise house with energy-efficient ones — and reduced his energy bill 15%. He asked whether the Department of Education could do that in schools. Grimm said the energy budget is $202 million annually for schools and said she’d look into energy-efficient light bulbs.

2:40 p.m. Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s public advocate, stopped in and sparred with Grimm over the report she commissioned from the Independent Budget Office, asking how much accountability initiatives cost. She complained that her office requested the report in February, and it only came this month. She said disagreements with the Department of Education caused the long delay. “You all were arguing with the IBO to such an extent that we felt, I felt, from hearing from them that the things you were arguing about just weren’t making a whole lot of sense, and that you really didn’t want to show us how much money is being spent on accountability,” Gotbaum said.

2:20 p.m. Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor in charge of budgets, is testifying. She broke down the 475 personnel cuts the department has said are coming. From the central offices at Tweed Courthouse, 284 jobs will be cut. She said “every single office” is experiencing a reduction. Not all 284 cuts have been made yet, but she read off a list of sample jobs that have already been identified. I heard her list the Office of Communications three times, meaning at least three jobs cut from there. Also the Office of Portfolio Development, which manages new small schools and charter schools; a few technology office jobs, and at least one from the Office of Family Engagement.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.