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."
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (middle) visited P.S. 111 in Hell's Kitchen to discuss PENCIL partnerships with Principal Irma Medina (right).
As the neighborhood around her school transformed into a cultural melting pot, Principal Irma Medina sensed that the city education department's translation services wouldn't be adequate to break through language barriers for new parents.
By 2010, over 40 languages were represented at P.S. 111 in Hell's Kitchen, Medina said. So to improve communication with parents at the school, Medina turned to an increasingly popular option: donated services.
Through the help of PENCIL, a nonprofit that forges school-business leader partnerships, Medina's translation needs were matched to VOCES, the Latino Heritage Network of The New York Times Company, headquartered about a half mile down the road near Times Square.
The public-private partnership is now one of 395 that PENCIL manages in 377 schools in New York City. With the support from cash-strapped city education officials, PENCIL hopes to nearly double that number in coming years.
As part of the P.S. 111 partnership, VOCES has donated resources as well as its professional expertise in translation services to support Medina's growing need for translations, which include information for parent association meetings and weekly school-issued material.
Because the cost of city-funded after-school spots increased last year, the number of spots declined. After-school programs that the City Council restored are receiving less funding than city-funded programs this year.
An eleventh-hour effort by the City Council in June to maintain funding for thousands of after-school spots achieved its intended purpose — but it also inadvertently created a two-tiered after-school system in which only some programs can strive to meet higher academic standards.
That’s the conclusion of a report released last week by the Independent Budget Office about Out of School Time, a Bloomberg administration initiative to streamline publicly funded after-school programming. The report finds that the city’s simultaneous efforts to reduce costs and boost quality in OST programs induced Bloomberg's proposal to cut after-school spots dramatically this spring.
City funding for the program rose from $61 million in 2007 to $108 million in 2009, allowing the number of seats to grow substantially, according to the report. But this year, after half a dozen rounds of city budget cuts, the proposed budget for the program fell to $76 million.
At the same time, the city had embarked on an effort to raise standards in programs that had originally operated with offering “safe and developmentally appropriate environments” as its major goal. With an eye toward using OST programs to support academic instruction, the city told programs that they would have to hire “educational specialists” to develop curriculum and lessons — increasing the cost per participant by nearly 60 percent. The increase would required the number of slots to be cut in half, meaning about 26,000 children would have been shut out of OST programs this year.
To make up for an unexpected budget shortfall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is bringing city agencies under the knife—and for the second year in a row, the Department of Education will not be spared from midyear cuts.
On Friday, Bloomberg announced that the city's agencies would have to collectively cut $2 billion, and the department's share in the burden would amount to 1.6 percent of its own budget this year, and 4 percent next year.
Last fall, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the central offices would take the brunt of midyear cuts, but he skirted the issue of the city's budget shortfall, which numbered in the billions and portended more cuts for 2012. This year, the schools budget was held flat—a fact that was hailed as an improvement by city officials and councilmembers, but still felt like a cut to many educators, who saw the costs of supplies, special education services, and teacher salaries continue to rise.
As we reported last year, midyear budget cuts like the ones being prepared for now are especially disruptive to schools because most expenses are fixed for the whole year. That means that only certain costs, such as after-school programs or tutoring, can go on the chopping block. And four straight years of budget cuts have already left class sizes on the rise and principals struggling to make ends meet.
"If we've got to cut, we're going to be very tight, midyear, which would be a shame," one principal who asked not to be identified said this afternoon.
P.S. 9, a Prospect Heights elementary school, faces a sudden budget shortfall.
The city’s annual calculation of schools’ enrollment of poor students has at least one Brooklyn elementary school on the wrong side of an unyielding line.
The city gives extra federal funds to schools where 60 percent of students are eligible for free lunch. P.S. 9, which hosts a gifted program in gentrifying Prospect Heights, has received the funds in the past, but now its enrollment of poor students has dropped — to 59.1 percent.
That means the school won’t get the Title I funds, even though it has virtually the same proportion of eligible students as many other schools that will receive them.
“It's sounds great that we’re coming out of a Title I position but we still don't have enough resources,” said Christine Scalon, secretary of the school’s parent-teacher organization.
Scanlon and other parents are leading a frantic push to raise $160,000 by the end of the school year, the amount they have calculated the school is losing.
Hundreds of child care providers like Iraida Tkacheva are affected by the EarlyLearn initiative.
On a cool Friday afternoon, 10 bright-eyed toddlers played outdoors, giggling and speaking Russian, before heading inside for a homemade lunch. During the week, they spend more time with Iraida Tkacheva, their child-care provider, than they do with their working parents.
Tkacheva has transformed nearly every room in her Bensonhurst house to cater to the children's needs: an area with tables and chairs where the toddlers eat, a library full of children's books, a nap area surrounded by walls plastered with educational posters, and a backyard that accommodates toys for playtime with security gates and enclosed circuit cameras to ensure the children's safety at all times.
Yet once the mayor’s ambitious overhaul of the city’s child-care system takes place on October 1, through a program called EarlyLearn, Tkacheva and hundreds of people who offer subsidized child-care in their homes are set to lose their jobs if funding falls through.
EarlyLearn – one of Bloomberg's latest education reforms before he leaves office next year – sets out to increase the quality of publicly funded early childhood education while distributing child-care slots to the neediest neighborhoods. It is, according to some advocates, the biggest change to the city’s child-care services in 40 years.
Criticism of EarlyLearn has focused on the fact that it reduces the overall number of early childhood seats. But another major change — about who the city is hiring to provide child care in private homes — has some child-care advocates concerned.
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?”
Chancellor Dennis Walcott and P.S. 130 Principal Lily Woo look on as one kindergarten teacher and her student read from a class assignment.
Even at an elementary school with high scores, experienced teachers, and years of A's on the city's progress reports, budget cuts are taking a toll.
At Chinatown's P.S. 130, average class size has ballooned from between 25 and 28 students per classroom last year to 32, the maximum allowed.
Because the school lost about $1 million from its budget in the last two years, it had to cut teaching positions and reading teachers, according to longtime Principal Lily Woo.
As Chancellor Dennis Walcott looked on today, second-grade teacher Danielle Cannistraci gathered her 31 students on the rug around the front of the classroom in a circle two rows deep for a lesson about shapes.
When she asked the students to name a three-dimensional shape with no round edges, half a dozen hands shot in the air with the answer (in this case, a pyramid).
Cannistraci, who has worked at P.S. 130 for 11 years, said the lesson exemplified her efforts to make her teaching more engaging. But with 31 students this year, up from 27, she said she is struggling to give each student individual attention and manage the time students spend doing group work.
"I've always put them in groups, but now I have a whole extra group — it's become much harder," she said. "Normally I have five groups for reading, writing, and math. But if I have six guided-reading groups I can't focus on one in each day anymore because that means one group isn't going to be seen at all."
The city's budget watchdog predicted less money making its way to classrooms next year, even as it said the city's overall economic outlook could be rosier than what Mayor Bloomberg has previously suggested.
The Independent Budget Office yesterday said that rising costs for contracts, employee benefits, and charter school payments appear poised to cut into the funds that the Department of Education is free to allocate to schools. The IBO analyzed this year's budget and Mayor Bloomberg's November financial plan and determined that spending for classroom instruction and school administration could drop by $300 million in 2013, a 3.3 percent decrease.
That's because funds would likely have to be redirected to other areas of the DOE where costs are soaring, according to the report: pre-kindergarten special education contracts with private schools are set to increase by 10 percent, to $100 million; fringe benefits for school employees are expected to increase 2.5 percent, to $68 million; and payments to charter schools, which are enrolling more students each year, will go up 5.6 percent to $46 million.
City officials disputed the IBO's projections of next year's spending as premature.
"It's impossible to say what we're spending next year because we haven't put out a budget, for schools or any other agency yet," said City Hall spokesman Marc LaVorgna. A preliminary budget for the 2013 fiscal year is expected in January or February.
A screenshot of GrayMatter's website.
As a student at Staten Island Technical High School, Jeremy Meyers couldn't always get the gear he needed as a member of the fencing team. The Model United Nations team he had helped start was scrambling for funds to attend conferences. And he saw that computer programming classes were cut alongside the school's budget.
Instead of making do with less, Meyers, now a freshman at Columbia University, teamed up with classmates to develop a strategy to fill the budget gaps.
The result is GrayMatter, a foundation that aims to make it easier for students to raise money for their schools.
Modeled off of DonorsChoose, the website that many teachers use to solicit donations for school supplies, GrayMatter allows students in city schools to list projects in need of support, then collects and disburses funds on the students' behalf after verifying with school officials that the need is real.
Right now, Jim, a senior at a Brooklyn school, still needs $282.72 to allow two members of a community service group to attend a leadership conference. The final bill comes to $612.72, and 17 people have already pitched in $330.
A screenshot from the Facebook event advertising a rally to support Juan Morel Campos Secondary School
Community meetings at schools that the Department of Education is considering closing have started attracting a new constituency: students.
That's because the meetings, which the DOE calls "early engagement conversations," are now being held at high schools. Until this week, all of the meetings had happened at elementary and middle schools, for which the city released a shortlist of potential closures in September.
One meeting took place Monday evening at Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts, where some members of the school community are arguing that its progress report data aren't bad enough to warrant closure. Last night, students made the case for keeping Manhattan's High School of Graphic Communications Arts open. And today, students have recruited crowds to defend Juan Morel Campos Secondary School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Tiffany Munoz, a Juan Morel Campos junior who was student body president last year, said students were alarmed when they heard that the school could close and quickly invited hundreds of current and former students to a Facebook event, "Save Juan Morel Campos Secondary School (I.S. 71) From Being Closed." Tonight, when the school's superintendent meets with community members, 150 students who RSVPed yes plan to let her know that the school is a tight-knit community with a thriving arts and music program where teachers push students to do their very best.
Chart showing trends in K-3 class size. From Class Size Matters PowerPoint presentation. (Click to enlarge.)
Preliminary class size data that the city released today confirms what the teachers union has tallied: Class sizes are on the rise.
Classes grew most this year in kindergarten through third grade, where the average size increased by just under one student since last year to 23.1. On average, classes in those grades are now three students larger than they were in the 2006-2007 school year. They are largest in Queens and Staten Island and smallest in Manhattan.
Classes in those grades are now the largest they have been since 1998, according to a PowerPoint presentation prepared by parent activist Leonie Haimson for Class Size Matters, a group that she runs to advocate for smaller classes.
Class sizes have also inched up in upper elementary, middle, and high school grades, but not by as much, according to the city's new numbers.
In all grades, average class sizes exceed the goals set forth in the 2007 Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit settlement, which required the state to earmark extra funds for New York City schools to use for six different purposes, including reducing class size.
Union officials presented findings from a survey outside P.S. 1 in Chinatown today.
Years of budget cuts have slashed academic programs, increased class sizes, and shortchanged teachers of classroom supplies, according to results of a survey conducted by the United Federation of Teachers.
The cuts hit after-school programs and elementary class sizes particularly hard, according to the survey's findings, which were compiled from anecdotal accounts from UFT chapter leaders at more than half of the city's roughly 1,700 schools.
The city's budget environment has been grim since the start of the economic recession in 2008. As the city's costliest agency, the Department of Education – and especially its individual school budgets – has shouldered a hefty burden of the cuts. This year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott cut school budgets by an average of 2.4 percent, or $178 million. That followed 4 percent cuts in 2010.
The survey confirms what the UFT had already known – and what the DOE had already had acknowledged – about class sizes: They are up. In September, a UFT study reported that 7,000 classes citywide were too crowded.
Three out of four elementary schools reported that class sizes were on the rise, with some classes increasing by more than 10 students, according to one anecdote.
John Elfrank-Dana, UFT chapter leader at Murry Bergtraum High School, says his history classes have as many as 37 students.
After three years of budget cuts, the city's schools started the year with more oversize classes than at any time in the last decade, according to data collected by the United Federation of Teachers.
Union members reported that on the sixth day of the school year, nearly 7,000 classes had more students than the teachers contract allows, mostly in high schools and a large number in Queens. That was almost a thousand more oversize classes than they reported at the same time last year.
The union will soon file a grievance against the contract violations, and many of the classes will shrink as schools shuffle students around in the coming weeks, as typically happens at the beginning of the school year. But union officials said it appears that for the fifth year in a row, average class sizes have inched up again.
"Our worst fears have now been confirmed," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew at a press conference announcing the numbers today. He urged Mayor Bloomberg to protect the city schools from additional budget cuts in the coming year.
Now, nearly a quarter of all city students are spending all or part of the day in overcrowded classes, according to the UFT. The contract limits classes to 25 students in kindergarten; 32 students in elementary school; 33 students in middle schools and 30 students in middle schools with many poor students; and 34 students in high schools.
City Councilman Robert Jackson, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew addressing students at P.S./I.S. 187.
With a new round of budget projections already on the horizon, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn sent a clear message to City Hall today, warning Mayor Bloomberg that teacher layoffs would not be on the table to close gaps at the Department of Education.
"I cant imagine why you would go back to that idea again," Quinn told reporters outside P.S./I.S. 187 in Washington Heights, where she spent more than an hour greeting students on their first day of school. "It didn't work."
It was just a couple of months into the last school year that Bloomberg announced his intention to lay off thousands of teachers in order to balance the city's budget. But layoffs were ultimately averted after the city struck a deal with the UFT and City Council.
Quinn, who is planning a 2013 mayoral run, said she hasn't discussed the prospect of teacher layoffs with the mayor yet this year. But she signaled that she would reprise last year's fight if the mayor again levels a layoff threat.
"I think, and I certainly hope, that they saw how clear and strong we in the council felt about the idea of layoffs last year," she said.
Quinn was joined by Councilman Robert Jackson, chair of the education committee, and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew at the school.
The United Federation of Teachers is gearing up for its annual struggle to wrangle classes down to their contractual size limits.
As schools work to pinch every cent out of their compressed budgets, there are few safeguards in place to ward off swelling class sizes, and the UFT is asking members to be especially vigilant this year.
In the Sept. 1 Chapter Leader Weekly Update, the union urged its school representatives to monitor class size closely from the first day of classes so that after an "informal resolution" period ends on Sept. 21, the union can begin filing grievances.
One element of the UFT's bid to challenge the city's class-size efforts is in legal limbo. In 2010, the union sued the city over its spending of class size reduction funds, charging that the Department of Education had used the funds for other purposes. But this summer, an appeals court threw out the suit, ruling that the issue should be handled by the State Education Department.
Dick Riley, a UFT spokesman, said the union was still weighing how to proceed. But he said that putting pressure on the DOE early has traditionally paid off for the union, with schools rectifying many class size violations as the chaos of the first days of class wears away.
“In practice the DOE, particularly in high schools, often exceeds these limits at the beginning of the school year, but under pressure from the UFT, generally brings them down to the contractual limit, though it can take weeks for some schools to do so,” Riley said.