rolling back

After backlash, city tweaks new special education funding rules

The Department of Education is rolling back some special education policies that drew sharp criticism last week from many principals.

The principals were alarmed by a deadline, originally set for today, to “clean up” data about students with disabilities. The deadline raised concerns that the department would take back funds from schools whose students fell into lower-than-anticipated funding tiers.

“The last-minute data capture has left us scrambling to account for potentially massive cuts to our budgets halfway through the school year,” 20 principals wrote Thursday in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

In an email sent late Friday, the department’s chief financial officer, Michael Tragale, told principals that the department would push back the deadline and relax a particularly anxiety-inducing rule so schools could retain their special education funds.

“If your school operates on a seven period day (eight periods minus lunch), students that receive special education services in their four core classes (English, Math, Science and History) will be identified for funding purposes as students who receive full-time special education services,” he wrote, noting that the policy could change again next year.

Under the arrangement, students technically spend 57 percent of their time in special education classes, narrowly missing a 60 percent cutoff to draw extra funding. Some principals said they had so many students falling just below the threshold that they faced having to return more than $100,000 to the department.

Tragale also assured principals that reclassifying some students who receive special education services as “general education” in the department’s attendance and budgeting data system, as the department is asking them to do, would not lower the schools’ annual grades, which some principals had feared. The department will still count the students as having disabilities when awarding extra credit to schools whose highest-need students make academic progress.

And Tragale said all schools would have an extra week to check data about students with special needs. The extra time will increase the likelihood that schools’ data — and funding — are accurate. But it also means additional time away from students for special education teachers charged with resolving more than 50,000 discrepancies between two data systems.

A high school principal said he was relieved to learn that he would not lose funding because of the way his school schedules students with disabilities. But he said the department would be better off rolling new policies out slowly than scaling them back after drawing protest.

“I compare it to the academic policy changes that were done last year,” said the principal, referring to new policies announced in February 2012. “I don’t agree with all of those, but they certainly gave time and plenty of notice so that schools couldn’t say they’re changing the game on us in the middle. I don’t know why this isn’t the same way.”

Mark Anderson, a teacher who heads the special education department at Jonas Bronck Academy in the Bronx, said he thought that, even addressed, the situation reflected broader problems in the way the city is implementing special education policy changes.

“It just doesn’t seem like there’s someone in charge directing things, from central,” Anderson said. “Sometimes it seems like there’s as much confusion at the upper level as there is at the lower level. And that’s ultimately reflected on the ground level. Because there’s a lack of clarity on how things should be done.”

Tragale’s complete message to principals about the special education data concerns is below:

From: “Tragale Michael”
Date: January 11, 2013, 7:51:38 PM EST
To: “&All Principals”
Subject: Update on Midyear Adjustment Reconciliation

Dear Colleagues:

I understand that our shared effort to provide increased access to students with disabilities has raised a lot of questions regarding the mid-year budget adjustment process. I’m writing to provide additional guidance and clarification for your immediate use.

As you know, the Fair Student Funding formula for students with disabilities was adjusted this year as part of our work to educate students in their least restrictive environment and to provide funds needed for part-time (single and multiple) services. In response to principal concerns regarding the funding formula:

  • We will adjust the formula for schools with a seven period day (eight periods minus lunch), detailed in the Adjustment section below.
  • We will extend the deadline by which you must reconcile student data in ATS to January 23, detailed in the Next Steps section below.
  • We will honor appeals for data discrepancies, detailed in the Next Steps section below.

Please review the information below for immediate next steps and for a summary of these issues.

Sincerely,

Michael Tragale
Chief Financial Officer, New York City Department of Education

Adjustment to Fair Student Funding Formula

If your school operates on a seven period day (eight periods minus lunch), students that receive special education services in their four core classes (English, Math, Science and History) will be identified for funding purposes as students who receive full-time special education services. This adjustment is only applicable for these core classes and will be reviewed for FY 2014.

Clarification on School Scheduling and Student Services

Principals have reported confusion regarding how the total number of periods a week that a student is recommended to receive services and how the total number of periods in a school’s week are reflected. The DOE is using the following determinations to calculate the total number of periods in your school’s week:

  • Middle and high school period calculations will be determined from data in STARS.
  • Elementary school period calculations will be determined using the assumption of a 30 period week.
  • Instruction includes all periods (including electives and physical education) except for lunch, extended day, and discretionary before- and after-school programs.

The DOE is using SESIS data to capture the total periods per week that a student is receiving special education services.

Immediate Next Steps and Data Appeals

Your network will receive an updated report that details the discrepancies in your school between SESIS and ATS by student. This report replaces data that was previously based on minutes of service; it now reflects periods of service.

1. You should work with your network to review your school’s data for possible discrepancies and ensure that ATS reflects each student’s services appropriately by January 23. Possible discrepancies in the data include:

  • If the number of instructional periods indicated for your school is different than displayed on the discrepancy report, you should indicate the actual number. For example, the report notes you have seven daily periods but your school has eight. Periods should not include lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs.
  • SESIS indicates that a program recommendation of ICT to be provided in the subject area, where “Other” was selected for five periods. “Other” may have been intended to represent multiple subjects (such as English and Math). The correct number of periods should be indicated in the school’s data appeal.
  • When updating grade codes or the USPE screen, ensure that the effective date is retroactive to when the service began.

2. You should work with your network if you decide that you need to appeal data discrepancies that have been reported. Possible reasons for a data appeal include:

  • If we have captured an incorrect amount of total periods per week for your school.
  • If the total number of service periods for an individual student is incorrect.
  • If the start/end dates in SESIS were entered incorrectly and not reflected in the budget report.

3. You should work with your network to determine the impact any updates will have on your mid-year adjustment.

Examples of Correct ATS Coding for Students with Disabilities:

1. Student A has an IEP that calls for one period a day of SETSS for math. The school has a total of seven instructional periods a day, not including lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs. This student is receiving services for 1/7th of the school day, which is 14.3% of the day. This student should be entered into a general education grade code with the single-service flag selected on the USPE screen. This will drive funding in the <=20% FSF category to the school.

2. Student B has an IEP that states two periods a day of ICT for English and Math, and one period a day in a self-contained classroom for Science. The school has a total of seven instructional periods a day, not including lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs. This student is receiving services for 3/7th of the school day, which is 42.9% of the day. This student should be entered into a general education grade code with the multi-service flag selected on the USPE screen. This will drive funding in the 21%-59% FSF category to the school.

3. Student C has five periods a day in a self-contained classroom for the subjects of English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Art. The school has a total of eight instructional periods a day, not including lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs. This student is receiving services for 5/8th of the school day, which is 62.5% of the day. This student should be entered into a self-contained grade code in ATS. This will drive funding in the >=60%, self-contained category to the school.

4. Student D has five periods a day in an ICT classroom for the subjects of English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Art. The school has a total of eight instructional periods a day, not including lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs. This student is receiving services for 5/8th of the school day, which is 62.5% of the day. This student should be entered into an ICT grade code in ATS. This will drive funding in the >=60%, ICT category to the school.

Context on the Fair Student Funding Formula

The Fair Student Funding rate is based on the percent of instructional time (defined by number of periods a day) that a student requires special education services during the regular school day. More information about determining this percentage is available in this chart.

In September, schools began using the USPE screen in ATS to capture information about students who require part-time special education services. Students in either self-contained or integrated co-teaching classes for 60% or more of the week continue to be coded in a full-time special education grade code in ATS. Students receiving part-time services are now indicated in ATS using a general education grade code with a flag to identify if they receive either related services only (RO REL SERVICE ONLY), services for 20% or less of the week (SG SINGLE SERVICE), or services for 21%-59% of the week (ML MULTI-SERVICE). Please note that moving a student from a special education grade code (starting or ending with 9) into a general education grade code does not impact a school’s progress report, nor does it affect the IEP designation in a student’s official ATS profile.

Context on Data Issues Reported

A comparison of IEP data in SESIS and data entered by schools in ATS currently displays discrepancies between the services a student is mandated to receive in SESIS (as per their IEP) compared to the student’s programming in ATS (as per either the special education grade code or USPE data). These discrepancies highlight instances of students with disabilities with part-time program recommendations in SESIS, who are coded as receiving full-time services in ATS, and vice versa.

These discrepancies have serious implications for how students are receiving mandated services. As the DOE is committed to ensure students’ mandated services are being provided in the least restrictive setting appropriate, we need schools’ assistance in reconciling this information to ensure student programs match student IEPs.

Additionally, the information on the USPE screen will also replace the Special Education Integration Survey (SEIS). Using this screen was intended to be a faster and more convenient process for schools in comparison to the print-out process used previously for the SEIS schedule. It is therefore critical that services reflected be an accurate representation of services received.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”

IPS referendum

Seeking property tax hikes, Indianapolis Public Schools considers selling headquarters

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

As Indianapolis Public Schools leaders prepare to ask voters for more money, they are considering a dramatic move: Selling the district’s downtown headquarters.

The administration is exploring the sale of its building at 120 E. Walnut St., which has housed the district’s central office since 1960, according to Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.

Although architecturally dated, the concrete building has location in its favor. It sits on a 1.7-acre lot, just blocks from the Central Library, the cultural trail, and new development.

A sale could prove lucrative for the cash-strapped Indianapolis Public Schools, which is facing a $45 million budget deficit next school year.

A decision to sell the property could also convince voters, who are being asked to approve property taxes hikes in November, that the district is doing all it can to raise money. Two referendums to generate additional revenue for schools are expected to be on the ballot.

“IPS has been very committed and aggressive to its efforts to right-sizing and being good stewards to taxpayers dollars,” Ferebee said. “Hopefully, that [will] provide much confidence to taxpayers that when they are making investments into IPS, they are strong investments.”

Before going to taxpayers for more money, the district has “exhausted most options for generating revenue,” Ferebee added.

The administration is selling property to shrink the physical footprint of a district where enrollment has declined for decades. The number of students peaked at nearly 109,000 late-1960s. This past academic year, enrollment was 31,000.

During Ferebee’s tenure, officials say Indianapolis Public Schools has shrunk its central office spending. But the district continues to face longstanding criticism over the expense of its administrative staff at a time when school budgets are tight.

Ferebee’s administration has been selling underused buildings since late 2015, including the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on Mass. Ave., and at least three former school campuses. Selling those buildings has both cut maintenance costs and generated revenue. By the end of this year, officials expect to have sold 10 properties and raised nearly $21 million.

But the district is also embroiled in a more complicated real estate deal. After closing Broad Ripple High School, the district wants to sell the property. But state law requires that charter schools get first dibs on the building, and two charter high schools recently floated a joint proposal to purchase the building.

The prospect of selling the central office raises a significant challenge: If the building were sold, the district would either need to make a deal for office space at the site or find a new location for its employees who work there. Ferebee said the district is open to moving these staffers, so long as the new location is centrally located, and therefore accessible to families from all around the district.

It will likely be months before the district decides whether or not to sell the property. The process will begin in late July or early August when the district invites developers to submit proposals for the property, but not a financial bid, according to Abbe Hohmann, a commercial real estate consultant who has been helping the district sell property since 2014.

Once the district sees developers’ ideas, leaders will make a decision about whether or not to sell the building. If it decides to move forward, it would proceed with a more formal process of a request for bids, and could make a decision on a bid in early 2019, Hohmann said.

Hohmann did not provide an estimate of how much the central office building could fetch. But when it comes to other sales, the district has “far exceeded our expectations,” she said. “We’ve had a great response from the development community.”