budget blocked

What does the state budget impasse mean for New York City schools?

PHOTO: Creative Commons, courtesy JasonParis

In a break from recent tradition, New York state lawmakers have not been able to close a timely deal on how to spend billions in state funds.

Instead, they spent Monday passing an “extender,” which will keep the government running but push all major decisions — including contentious fights about charter schools and school aid — into the future.

That move is likely to affect the state’s schools, since lawmakers typically haggle over large sums of education funding. A good portion of that money flows to New York City public schools, which get nearly half their funding from the state.

So what exactly does the lack of an on-time budget mean for principals, teachers and students in New York City schools?

A longer wait

Mostly, it means that all the education storylines in Albany will be decided at a later date. It is unclear how long it will take to resolve the remaining issues. The extender ends on May 31, but education advocacy groups are pushing lawmakers to determine state aid for schools earlier to cut down on uncertainty for school districts.

Students headed to college will also have to wait and see if the state will pass Governor Cuomo’s free college tuition bill and whether it will be tweaked based on competing proposals from the Assembly and Senate. Meanwhile, New York City will remain in the dark about how much aid it will receive, and charter schools will not know if they get a boost in funding.

Will that cause any problems?

New York City will likely have fewer problems than most school districts in the state, advocates said.

Many school districts have to put their budgets up for a vote by May 16, which means they could be faced with approving a budget before they know how much money they will receive from the state, according to the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

“The potential delay of a full fiscal year state budget for two more months may force school districts to make difficult choices that could otherwise be avoided,” said Charles Dedrick, the council’s executive director, in a statement.

But New York City does not have the same problem. Its budget does not need to be finally adopted until July 1.

So, will it matter at all for New York City?

Advocates say any uncertainty is a bad thing.

When local lawmakers are planning for a budget without a firm funding commitment from the state, they may opt to be safe and spend less than they otherwise would on students, said David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.

“The bottom line is, without knowing how much more they’re going to get from the state, they’re going to be conservative and assume less,” Albert said.

Clem Richardson, a spokesperson for the principals union, said he didn’t anticipate a major problem for most principals this year. But it may cut down on the time principals can use to plan for the next school year, said Raymond Domanico, director of education research at the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Overall, Domanico said, the severity of the problem depends on whether New York City gets the school funding it hoped for in the end. If not, city officials will have a short amount of time to fill a big hole in the budget.

“Whether it’s a big deal or not depends on the outcome,” Domanico said.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”