doomsday prophecy

Walcott outlines cuts that could take place without an eval deal

If the city and its teachers union do not agree soon on new teacher evaluations, class sizes will likely rise, teacher training suffer, after-school activities be eliminated, and guidance counselors cut, Chancellor Dennis Walcott predicted this morning.

Walcott spelled out the doomsday scenario during a brief talk about teacher evaluations at the Manhattan Institute this morning. He said he had called UFT President Michael Mulgrew — at 7:50 a.m. today — to say he wanted to conclude negotiations by Dec. 21, or two weeks from Friday and the last regular workday before Christmas.

Reaching an agreement by Dec. 21 would give state education officials, who have expressed increasing anxiety about the city’s timeline, nearly a month to review the plan and request any necessary adjustments before a deadline that Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last January.

State education law requires that districts adopt new evaluation systems when they next negotiate contracts with their teachers unions. But Cuomo vowed to withhold increases in state school aid from districts that do not have evaluation systems in place by Jan. 17, 2013.

In a statement, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said there was no need to commit to a Dec. 21 agreement and said politics were again impeding the union’s good-faith effort to negotiate new evaluations.

“Rather than establishing bogus deadlines and threatening parents with the loss of teachers and services, they should be focusing on reaching an agreement that will actually help make the schools better,” Mulgrew said about city officials.

The $250 million that Walcott said is on the line represents 4 percent of the nearly $8 billion that the city’s schools receive from the state each year. It represents a far smaller share — about 1 percent — of the city Department of Education’s total operating budget, which is about $23 billion annually.

Still, the amount is larger than in most rounds of budget cuts that the Department of Education has experienced in recent years. Those budget cuts led to a reduction in the city’s teaching force, larger classes in all grades, and cuts to extracurricular programming, according to a union survey conducted last year.

Exactly when and how deep the state’s cuts would come is not totally clear, but city Department of Education officials said the funds are already included in this year’s school budgets and would be cut midyear without a deal. Midyear budget cuts are doubly disruptive to schools because most expenses are fixed for the whole year, meaning that only certain costs, such as after-school programs or tutoring, can go on the chopping block right away.

Lawyers familiar with school funding are looking into questions about whether Cuomo can legally withhold the funds, according to David Sciarra, a lawyer who is representing city parents and advocates in a renewed push to secure funds for high-needs districts that the courts have said the state must provide.

But even if the threat turns out to be legal, it is unsavory, Sciarra said.

“At the same time that the state has walked away from its obligation to fairly fund the poorest schools in our state, including the schools here, to then turn around and use the threat of withholding funding for those very same programs that kids need — frankly it’s unconscionable,” he said.

Sciarra noted that the federal government is allowed to withhold Title I funding from states that do not comply with its mandates. But, he said, “they never do that, because they know when they cut that funding, the kids and schools that would be hurt the most are the most at-risk.”

Here’s what Walcott said in his Manhattan Institute speech about the possible consequences to city schools of losing out on the increased school aid:

While we will look for savings centrally, as we always do, we know we will not be able to absorb the entire $250 million.

If we can’t reach an agreement with the UFT, we will be forced to pass some cuts on to schools.

At this point, any cut to our schools is too much, especially when you consider the structure of our schools’ budgets.

Schools spend over 95% on personnel costs and the majority of the remainder on direct student services.

Any cuts will undermine exactly what we are trying to achieve – providing meaningful support and development opportunities to our educators and rigorous instructional programming to our students.

While principals would make final decisions about how to absorb budget reductions, we would expect that cuts would lead to fewer teachers being hired, which will probably lead to larger class sizes.

We would expect the elimination of professional development opportunities for staff and cuts to cherished after school activities such as music, art, and sports for students.

We would expect substantial reductions in guidance counselors, social workers, and other support staff who play a key role in our children’s social and emotional development.

We would expect schools to stop purchasing instructional materials such a library books and educational software.

This is an unfortunate reality and these cuts would be painful.

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.