war of attrition

Walcott: Projected $64 million cut to schools only temporary

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott repeated a promise not to touch principals’ budgets next year, saying that a proposed cut in school funding that would cost the city more than 1,100 teaching positions would likely disappear once the city finalizes its budget later this spring.

Of the 5,000 teachers who typically leave the system each year, the preliminary 2013 budget projects that only about 4,000 would be replaced, which would save about $64 million, according to the city’s preliminary budget . But Walcott said that funding would likely be restored in time for the final budget and that principals would be able to hire for any vacated positions.

City Council members pestered Walcott about that and much more at a hearing this afternoon on the agency’s $19.6 billion budget, a 1 percent increase that won’t cover the added expenses the department expects. While last year’s hearings focused almost solely on opposition to a proposal to layoff thousands of teachers, the concerns raised by elected officials today spanned a range of the city’s education policies, including increased class sizes, the small schools initiative, spending on technology and contracts, and Medicaid collection.

But they reserved most of their early criticism on the $64 million cut in areas that directly fund schools. The decreased sum represents a headcount reduction of 1,117 teacher positions, according to the city’s projections.

“Year after year the DOE has made cuts to school budgets,” said Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson. “How are schools supposed to make do next year given the loss of funding proposed in the budget?”

Walcott warned that preliminary projections were just that and insisted that principals would not have their budgets slashed for a fifth straight year.

“It’s my goal and our hope to make sure that the budget stay flat without having any cuts to our schools,” Walcott said. “We’re going to work very hard within the system that any type of absorptions be done centrally.”

It’s a brighter fiscal situation this year, thanks to funding that is being restored at the state level. Last year, the city lost a total of $1.7 billion in state and federal aid.

This year, the city is getting back $224 million back from state aid, a figure that was locked down today when the state legislature and Gov. Cuomo signed off on a final budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

“These funds will begin to provide some much needed breathing room for our principals and school communities who have been forced to make tough decisions with regard to school staffing and programming over the past several years,” Walcott said in his testimony.

It’s a pledge that Walcott has made several times since the end of last year’s budget cycle, when the education department slashed $189 million out of individual schools’ budgets, a 2.4 percent decline that resulted in the reduction of more than 2,000 teaching positions and hundreds of school aide layoffs.

Mulgrew criticized the projected cuts and attrition, saying that was another example of misplaced priorities on the part of the DOE.

“All this is part of the larger disinvestment in our public institutions and our communities,” Mulgrew said in his testimony.

Brad Lander, who released a report yesterday that found class sizes have risen in already large elementary classrooms, said he wants the department to study the effect that class sizes were having on academic achievement, an idea that Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky welcomed.

“I agree that teacher quality matters enormously, but parents don’t want their kids in classrooms of 30 or more,” Lander said.

Other Council members used the opportunity to plug schools in their district. Bedford-Stuyesant’s Al Vann outlined Boys & Girls High School’s recent athletic championships – city, state and national championships for the boys track and field and and basketball teams – and then promised that academic progress would soon follow. “Mark my word, within a few years, Boys & Girls will be one of the highest-rated schools in the city.”

In a heated exchange about college readiness for black and Latino students, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams said the city’s policies had failed that segment of the population.

“They’re either too dumb to get educated, too dumb to be able to get a job, deserve what they get when they’re in the hands of police or something is wrong and we’re not addressing it,” Williams said. “We get teflon commissioners or teflon chancellors who say all the right things, but time and time again, things are not changing.”

Walcott took issue with Williams’ characterization. He said his work on education in the Bloomberg administration, which launched the $127 million Young Men’s Initiative last year, has focused on that student population.

“I will never ever be lectured by any individual as far as my role, our role, in trying to improve the outcomes for black and Latino students,” Walcott said.


Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.