toll booth

State aid cuts would cost city 2,500 teachers, Bloomberg says

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mark Page, his budget director, testified in Albany today about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget, which would penalize the city again for not adopting new teacher evaluations.

ALBANY — New York City would have to cut 2,500 teaching positions over the next two years under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget plans, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told lawmakers this morning.

Appearing at a hearing about Cuomo’s budget proposal, Bloomberg focused on the school aid that would be withheld because the city and teachers union have not agreed on new teacher evaluations. The city already lost out on $240 million in state aid this year as a consequence of missing a Jan. 17 deadline that was written into law and could lose another $224 million next year if Cuomo goes through with his plan to tie school aid to evaluations again.

The cost of that penalty would be severe, Bloomberg told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, forcing cuts to city schools’ spending on personnel and programming.

Bloomberg blamed the UFT, again, for the city’s shortfall and also criticized the State Education Department, which is threatening to penalize the city further by withholding some resources for high-need students.

But during a fierce exchange with Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who chairs the education committee, the blame also landed briefly on Bloomberg himself.

Nolan pointed out that Bloomberg had supported the law that paved the way for the union and the city to reach a deal on evaluations last February. She recited Bloomberg’s comments at the time the law was passed (“This is a win-win-win for the kids and for the adults”).

“Don’t you feel some responsibility for this disaster?” she asked. “And it is a disaster.”

After Bloomberg left, Nolan told GothamSchools that Assembly members hoped to restore the state aid for this year. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said last week that he thought it would be hard to get the city’s Assembly delegation to support additional penalties in the future.

Assemblyman Jim Brennan, of Brooklyn, said last week he would introduce legislation to amend last year’s budget and allow the aid increase to go through.

“It is a mistake to link basic education aid increases to collective bargaining results, especially to a controversial subject like teacher evaluation,” Brennan said in a statement.

Bloomberg said he would further outline how midyear cuts would hurt schools in a budget update on Tuesday. In addition to an estimated loss of 700 teachers through attrition this year,”we’ll also have to sharply reduce the use of substitute teachers and teacher’s aides,” he said.

“And there will have to be substantial cutbacks in everything from offering students after-school homework assistance and test preparation to providing professional development for teachers and other staff,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg acknowledged that not much could be done to restore this year’s funding, since it was allocated in last year’s budget. Instead, he lobbied the lawmakers to reject Cuomo’s proposal to tie state aid to district teacher evaluation plans for a second consecutive year.

“The pain will be even greater” if the city is forced to sustain another year without an increase in state aid, Bloomberg said. About $224 million has been set aside for the city in the 2013-2014 budget, and the mayor forecast that losing those funds would mean that another 1,800 teaching positions would go unfilled. He said schools would also have to cut $67 million from their supplies budgets and eliminate 700,000 hours in after-school programming — a cutback that would come just as Cuomo’s efforts to extend the school day starts kicking in.

The attrition would come on top of thousands of teacher job losses in the city since 2008, when the economic recession began squeezing school budgets. Although no teacher has been laid off, the city has reduced the size of the teaching corps by more than 5,000 positions by not filling positions opened up through resignations and retirements. This year’s city budget was the first in four years that did not include any teacher attrition.

But unlike cuts in the past that were made because of fiscal imperatives, this year’s cuts are completely optional, Bloomberg said.

“There’s no reason why the monies have to be tied,” said Bloomberg, who acknowledged that he originally supported the legislation that tied state aid to evaluations.

Nolan pointed to the fact that, under the threat of losing state funds, virtually all of the other 700 school districts in the state submitted plans in time.

“These are just jokes, Cathy,” Bloomberg said of the other districts’ plans. Since nearly every plan is in place for just one or two years, Bloomberg argued, districts won’t be able to eliminate low-performing teachers. One reason Bloomberg cited for rejecting a deal in New York City earlier this month was the UFT’s insistence on a “sunset” date for the city’s plan to expire.

For that, Bloomberg blamed the State Education Department’s role for its “outrageous pandering to the UFT” and for its approval of what he said were flawed plans.

“You got to really wonder what was going through their minds,” Bloomberg said. He added later, “The State Education Department erroneously … accepted plans that they knew were total frauds.”

The portion of Bloomberg’s prepared remarks that relate to education is below:

“My testimony this morning will address the impact on New York City of the Governor’s Executive Budget for 2013/2014, and it will affirm our support for many of its goals – and also to urge the Legislature to correct its shortcomings, particularly in the area of education aid to New York City public schools. …

“The other significant elements of the Executive Budget that are of concern is education; health and human services; mandate and other relief to hard-pressed local governments; and economic development throughout the state. And I’m going to touch briefly on all of these points. But first the most urgent issue before us, and that is education.

“The Legislature simply must act to keep New York City schoolchildren from being unfairly harmed by the UFT’s refusal to agree to a fair and effective evaluation process. That would, unfortunately, happen if the budget is not revised.

“As I’m sure most of you know, New York City stands to forfeit the additional $250 million in State education aid for the current fiscal year that was contingent on our negotiating a new teacher evaluation process with the United Federation of Teachers.

“That, as I predicted, proved to be impossible. There is no other state in this country that even tries to do this. And keep in mind, that Race to the Top requires you to come up with an evaluation process, but the process is whatever the states decide. No other state – let me repeat that – operates under the assumption that you can come up with an agreement with their local unions for an effective and fair evaluation process. It’s a process that just has not, will not and in fact cannot work.

“The procedural roadblocks and the sunset provisions that the UFT tried to insert into our negotiating process during the final hours before the January 17th negotiating deadline I think demonstrated that. They were designed to insure that there will never be a meaningful evaluation of competency and removal from the classroom of those few teachers who destroy the future of our most at-risk kids.

“Had we acceded to such shameless ploys, we would have created a process that was an unworkable sham – and a fraud on the public. A process in which it would be impossible for us to support all teachers in developing their skills, or removing the relatively few ineffective teachers from our classrooms.

“These last minute deal breakers from the union would have effectively undermined the intent of this Legislature, as expressed in the law that you passed back in 2010. And what you told your constituents you were going to do for our kids.

“Going along with the UFT’s demands would have broken faith with you – and with our schoolchildren who deserve far better from us.

“My message today is simple: Do not punish our schoolchildren for the obstructionism of the UFT. Our children don’t deserve it. They have done nothing wrong. They just need a quality education to survive in an ever more global and competitive world, and they can only get that with qualified teachers at the front of the room.

“We cannot base school budgets on whether districts meet the demands of unions to not have an evaluation system that works.

“The UFT’s obstructionism has, unfortunately, now set in motion a chain of decisions by the State Education Department that, if not corrected, will have potentially calamitous effects on our city’s public schools.

“They could result in the loss of many hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal aid, Race to the Top monies, much of it meant to help high-needs, low-income students in our city. And most immediately, the budget the State Department of Ed is trying to push would eliminate some $724 million in State education aid to New York City schools over two years; that’s $250 million during the current budget year, the baseline for that in the next year, and another $227 million that is in the executive budget for the year 2014.

“It would be at a terrible direct cost to New York City’s schoolchildren – as we too well know, it is our most vulnerable children who will bear the brunt of the cuts.

“Let me put it in real terms to what the loss of the State aid translates into practical terms for our children. We’re right now in the middle of a school year – a time when cutting school personnel or programs is doubly tough and especially painful.

“Nevertheless, the State funds we’ve lost will force principals to start right now making just such substantial classroom cutbacks – because they won’t have the discretionary funds they currently rely on.

“Starting with my budget update tomorrow morning, they will have a net loss of nearly 700 teachers through attrition for the rest of this school year – that’s 700 fewer than we planned on having. Because for every four teachers we lose during the balance of this school year, principals will only be able to hire only one replacement.

“We’ll also have to sharply reduce the use of substitute teachers and teachers’ aides. And there will have to be substantial cutbacks in everything from offering students afterschool homework assistance and test preparation to providing professional development for teachers and other school staff.

“In the next school year, starting next September, the pain will be even greater. Once again, it will be felt where it hurts the most: in the classrooms.

“We can expect to lose more than 1,800 teachers through attrition next year – and that’s 1,800 fewer than we had planned on having. We will have to eliminate more than 700,000 hours of afterschool programs, including academic help to the students who need it most. And we’ll have some $67 million less for essential school supplies.

“The Executive Budget, because of the State Education Department’s outrageous pandering to the UFT, also would make perpetual the City’s loss of State education aid repeatedly for years into the future because of our refusal to accept a sham evaluation process. That would be true even if our administration and the UFT are able to resolve our differences and reach an evaluation process agreement before the next September 1st deadline proposed in this budget for us and other school districts across the state.

“This would be an enduring penalty imposed on the schoolchildren of New York City, and how anyone thinks that the other counties in the state that have come to one-year agreements when the laws that you pass require two years to evaluate a teacher, I just for the life of me do not understand. It is just a sham on the public saying they have a deal, when in fact they’ve done absolutely nothing to evaluate and to make sure that the best teachers that we can find are at the front of the classroom.

“What this means is that one labor union president, with one act of intransigence, supported by the State Education Department, would permanently undermine State funding for our schools because whatever is taken out now doesn’t get base lined, and so it compounds as you would go forward.

“I do, however, want to commend Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver for questioning the fairness of perpetuating this penalty in this fashion, and for indicating that the Assembly may not allow it.

“Some $194 million in other State and Federal funds awarded to the City are either already forfeited or are now at risk. That includes $76 million in school improvement grants; $64 million in Race to the Top funds; and teacher incentive funds of $54 million.

“In addition to that, in his January 18th letter to New York City’s Schools Chancellor, State Education Commissioner John King, Jr., threatened to withhold another $830 million in Federal education entitlement funds in the current fiscal year if we did not agree to the fraud that the UFT is trying to perpetrate on our children.

“These include $727 million in Title I funds, which are meant to help schools serving our most economically disadvantaged students. Another $103 million are Title II-a funds intended for the professional development of principals and teachers – again, primarily in the city’s lowest-income communities.

“The function of the State Education Department is to help schoolchildren – not to unjustly penalize them. Their outrageous threats calls into question their commitment to our children and their mission And the cumulative effects of withholding these Federal funds would be a staggering penalty indeed.

“Members of the Legislature: It is blatantly unfair to punish students by denying our schools aid – just as it is also wrong to withhold the Federal education aid to which they are entitled, and as it is wrong to prevent a fair and accurate and useful evaluation plan which would let us know which teachers are not helping our kids, get those that don’t the kind of remedial training they need, and if they can’t make the grade not have them in front of our kids. We’re counting on you to prevent these outcomes from happening.

“Before leaving the subject of education, let me also point out that once again this year, the Executive Budget proposes to limit the way public schools around the state can claim reimbursement for student transportation and other services.

“The effect of that would be a $117 million reduction in State aid to New York City’s public schools in the current and next fiscal years. You’ve rejected this proposal in the past – thank you – and we urge you to do it again.

“Let me turn now to another area of high importance to our city: Reducing the mounting costs of providing special education for pre-kindergarten students. These costs are growing rapidly across the state – and even more steeply in New York City.

“We take our responsibilities to these students and their parents very seriously. And we applaud the measures proposed by the Governor that will help us ensure the quality of pre-k special education by authorizing us to select providers and set the rates at which they are paid.

“These measures, however, can and should be made even stronger – specifically, by also enabling the City to require that the experts who evaluate the students in these services aren’t professionally tied to the providers of those services. That kind of a conflict of interest is just an outrage and would never get us the kind of information we need to know which programs and which providers are making a difference, and which ones are not.

“When independent audits uncover overcharges for these services, we also need authority to recover those expenses without what is often a very protracted State approval process. That’s going to help us ensure the professional and fiscal integrity of these very important services.

“And to make them more efficient, we also ask that the City be allowed to contract independently with what are known as pre-k special education itinerant teachers on a fee-for-service basis.

“I also want to ask you to address two issues in the area of health services. The first arises from the State’s need to comply with the Federal Affordable Health Care Act. In line with that, the State is now starting to redistribute charity care dollars, as they’re called, to hospitals that actually serve the largest number of uninsured, under-insured, or Medicaid patients.

“New York City’s public hospitals are the largest single provider of such care in the entire state – and the budget should reflect that more clearly and accurately than it now does. I think this is a step in the right direction, thank you.

“Second, the budget also unwisely cuts $5 million in State funding to what are known as Article 6 public health programs in the city.

“Common sense tells us that preventive health care saves lives and also saves money. Yet the State would eliminate payments for primary and preventive clinical health services, cut funds for childhood immunizations and well-child check-ups, and reduce support for school-based health centers and for health services provided by community-based groups.

“This is a serious mistake, and I urge you to correct it.”


Follow the money

In Denver school board races, incumbents outpacing challengers in campaign contributions

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver school board vice president Barbara O'Brien speaks at a press conference at Holm Elementary.
Donations to Denver school board candidates as of Oct. 12
    Barbara O’Brien, At-Large: $101,291
    Angela Cobián, District 2: $94,152
    Mike Johnson, District 3: $81,855
    Rachele Espiritu, District 4: $73,847
    Jennifer Bacon, District 4: $59,302
    Robert Speth, At-Large: $38,615
    “Sochi” Gaytán, District 2: $24,134
    Carrie A. Olson, District 3: $18,105
    Tay Anderson, District 4: $16,331
    Julie Bañuelos, At-Large: $7,737

Three Denver school board incumbents brought in more money than challengers seeking to unseat them and change the district’s direction, according to new campaign finance reports.

Board vice president Barbara O’Brien has raised the most money so far. A former Colorado lieutenant governor who was first elected to the board in 2013 and represents the city at-large, O’Brien had pulled in $101,291 as of Oct. 12.

The second-highest fundraiser was newcomer Angela Cobián, who raised $94,152. She is running to represent southwest District 2, where there is no incumbent in the race. The board member who currently holds that seat, Rosemary Rodriguez, has endorsed Cobián.

Incumbent Mike Johnson, who is running for re-election in central-east District 3, brought in far more money than his opponent, Carrie A. Olson. In a three-way race for northeast Denver’s District 4, incumbent Rachele Espiritu led in fundraising, but not by as much.

O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson and Espiritu had several big-money donors in common. They include former Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman Daniel Ritchie, Oakwood Homes CEO Pat Hamill and Denver-based oil and gas company founder Samuel Gary. All three have given in past elections to candidates who support the direction of Denver Public Schools, which is nationally known for embracing school choice and collaborating with charter schools.

Meanwhile, teachers unions were among the biggest contributors to candidates pushing for the state’s largest school district to change course and refocus on its traditional, district-run schools. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund gave the most money — $10,000 — to candidate Jennifer Bacon, a former teacher who is challenging Espiritu in District 4.

It gave smaller amounts to Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running against Cobián in District 2; Olson, who is challenging Johnson in District 3; and Robert Speth, who is running in a three-person race with O’Brien. Speth narrowly lost a race for a board seat in 2015. A supplemental campaign filing shows Speth loaned himself $17,000 on Oct. 13.

The two candidates who raised the least amounts of money also disagree with the district’s direction but were not endorsed by the teachers union and didn’t receive any union money. Tay Anderson, who is running against Espiritu and Bacon in District 4, counts among his biggest donors former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who endorsed him and gave $1,110.

In the at-large race, candidate Julie Bañuelos’s biggest cash infusion was a $2,116 loan to herself. As of Oct. 11, Bañuelos had spent more money than she’d raised.

With four seats up for grabs on the seven-member board, the Nov. 7 election has the potential to shift the board’s balance of power. Currently, all seven members back the district’s direction and the vision of long-serving Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Mail ballots went out this week.

The new campaign finance reports, which were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year, show that several of this year’s candidates have already raised more money than the candidate who was leading the pack at this time in the 2015 election.

O’Brien’s biggest contributor was University of Colorado president Bruce Benson, who gave $10,000. Other notable donors include Robin Hickenlooper, wife of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne; and billionaire Phil Anschutz.

Several Denver charter school leaders, including Rocky Mountain Prep CEO James Cryan and KIPP Colorado CEO Kimberlee Sia, donated to O’Brien, Johnson, Espiritu and Cobián.

Political groups are also playing a big role in the election. The groups include several backed by local and state teachers unions, as well as others funded by pro-reform organizations.

Following the money

Douglas County slate that favors continuing school voucher court case is ahead in early fundraising, records show

Former State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. Scheffel is now running for the Douglas County school board. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A group of candidates that largely supports the direction of the Douglas County School District, especially its embrace of school choice policies, has raised nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, new financial records show.

The group, which calls itself “Elevate Douglas County,” topped its competition, the “Community Matters” slate, by more than $30,000 in monetary contributions to committees for individual candidates.

A lot is at stake in the south suburban Denver school board contest. A majority of seats on the seven-member school board are up for grabs, putting the philosophical direction of the state’s third largest school district on the line.

For eight years, the school board has pushed a conservative education reform agenda that included developing a voucher program that would allow parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private school and establishing a market-based pay system for teachers.

While the Elevate slate has promised to reconsider and tweak many of the board’s most controversial decisions, such as teacher pay, the Community Matters slate has promised to roll back many of the previous board’s decisions.

The contrast between the two groups is most stark on the issue of the school district’s voucher program. Created in 2011, the voucher program has been tied up in courts ever since. The Elevate slate supports continuing the court case and, if there is community support, reinstating the program. The Community Matters slate staunchly opposes vouchers and would end the court case.

According to records, the Elevate slate raised a total of $98,977 during the first campaign reporting period that ended Oct. 12. Grant Nelson raised the most, $34,373. The three other candidates — Ryan Abresch, Randy Mills and Debora Scheffel — each raised about $21,000.

All four candidates received $6,250 from John Saeman, a Denver businessman and the former chairman of the Daniels Fund. The foundation has financially supported the school district’s legal battle over the voucher program.

Other major contributors to the Elevate team are Ed McVaney, the founder of JD Edwards, and businesswoman Chrystalla Larson.

The Community Matters slate raised a total of $66,692 during the same period. Candidate Krista Holtzmann led the pack, raising more than $21,000. Her teammates — Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor and Kevin Leung — raised between $13,000 and $15,000 each.

Among the major donors to the Community Matters slate are Clare Leonard and Herschel Ramsey. Both Parker residents gave $1,000 each to all four candidates.

The campaign finance reports that were due Tuesday tell only part of the story. Earlier this week, special interest groups working to influence the election were required to report their spending.

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, has pumped $300,000 into the race in an effort to support the Community Matters slate.

Meanwhile, Americans For Prosperity, a conservative political nonprofit, is running a “social welfare” issue campaign promoting school choice. Because the nonprofit is not directly supporting candidates, it is not required to disclose how much it is spending. However, the organization said in a statement the campaign would cost six-figures.

Correction: This article has been updated to better reflect the Elevate slate’s position on reinstating the school district’s proposed voucher program.