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I admit it: last year, I ditched out early on our PTA meeting (my daughters were climbing on me). This year, I vowed not only to attend but to listen carefully until the bitter end -- which was more than an hour and a half. Many other parents seemed to be doing the same, even those toting squirming babies. After all, we want to know how budget cuts will affect our children, what might be whisked away, how we can all help. It's harder, this year, to take for granted that certain programs and services will magically happen on their own.
Our principal declared herself optimistic, despite the 5% cuts we're being hit with. She opened the meeting on an upbeat note, reading friendly letters students had written to her over the summer -- one, amusingly, begged for better toilet paper in the school bathrooms. As the stream of teachers and parents spoke, I realized just how much of what helps our school succeed comes from the PTA. They make many of our arts programs possible. They maintain the web site. They organize enrichment classes taught by parents (last year, a dad helped kindergartners make a movie). They pay for some of the school's supplies. And, of course, they raise the money and recruit parent volunteers to do all of this. A theme of the meeting was: the school is doing great right now, but it can only continue to do so through the constant help and cooperation of all parents. And that doesn't have to mean giving money, which is in shorter supply these days. Volunteer in the cafeteria. Read to a Pre-K class. Come to gym class and teach kids how to throw a football. Every little bit helps.
The last Insideschools poll showed that while 65% of parents attended the first meeting of the year, others were unable to attend, or felt that the PTAs were not welcoming.
What can PTAs do to make themselves more inviting to parents? Offer childcare? Translation? Staggering meeting times? More refreshments? Please share your ideas.
Last spring we reported that the Department of Education issued a ban on hiring new teachers due to budget cuts. Instead, principals were urged to hire teachers from the pool of excessed teachers -- those who lost their jobs due to schools closing, or staff cuts, but who continue to receive a full salary, even though they are not in the classroom.
A week into the new school year, Chancellor Klein reiterated his call for principals to hire excessed teachers. In his weekly letter to principals, Klein said there are 1,500 teachers in the excessed pool, 500 more than last year. "This is a fiscal liability in this budget climate, and we must reduce it," he writes. He goes on to point out there are 1,100 teacher vacancies in the city's schools.
Klein imposed a hiring deadline of Oct. 30 and insists that most vacancies be filled with "internal staff." For those schools which are unable to fill the positions by that date, the DOE "may be be forced to take back the dollars budgeted for those positions to pay for the increase in teachers in the excess pool."
These mandates fly in the face of the mayor and chancellor's moves to grant more autonomy to principals; however, Klein maintains they are necessary to "control costs." "Nobody dislikes this situation more than I do," Klein writes. "Limiting your hiring freedom goes against what I stand for, but because of the economic reality we must control costs and protect our schools from deeper budget cuts.
According to WABC News, Klein would like to negotiate a time limit for how long teachers can stay in the reserve pool when the teachers' union contract comes up for renewal in October. But before then, there will be hiring fairs in all boroughs. The fairs are mandatory for all excessed teachers; principals are strongly encouraged to attend.
Since these are just the latest in a series of hiring fairs, it may be that the teachers in the pool do not meet the requirements of the schools looking for teachers. With the already steep budget cuts, and higher class size all around, principals may not welcome the added pressure of choosing from a limited pool of applicants.
Students are not the only ones wrangling with mathematics this year. Yesterday, The New York Times reported how principals have cut costs to meet their 5% slimmer school budgets, after the budget cuts announced last spring.
According to the Times, principals across the city made most cuts by eliminating teaching positions and reducing spending on equipment, supplies, and books. For one Brooklyn principal at PS 273, the loss of four teachers bumped class size from 21 students to 29.
Today's Daily News reports on overcrowding in other city classrooms -- including 40 students jammed into one room at PS 102 in the Bronx. Leonie Haimson, of Class Size Matters, has published a Q&A with details about class size limits, according to the UFT contract: 25 in kindergarten, up to 28 in grades 1-3, and 32 in grades 4-6. Beyond those numbers, teachers can "grieve" (complain) to the Department of Education.
The Times also reports that, while the city says spending on the arts was not be especially affected by the cuts, the Center for Arts Education charges that they've received complaints about schools "disproportionately trimming arts supply budgets and eliminating part-time arts educators."
In May, we asked what you would cut from your school's budget, but now we want to know what's actually been lost. What's being short-changed at your school? Have class sizes risen?
Chancellor Klein announced yesterday that public input will help direct the allocation of this year's Contracts for Excellence funding. This should be a heads-up for parents and educators who have long been frustrated with the city's educational spending decisions.
The Contracts for Excellence funds support programs aimed at students in greatest need: English Language Learners, students in poverty, students with disabilities and those with low academic achievement. These funds are to be spent in six specific program areas: class size reduction, time on task, teacher and principal quality initiatives, school restructuring, full day pre-K ,and ELL programs.
Class size reduction has been a consistently hot topic in the educational funding debate with Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, one of the fiercest advocates. "If you believe that your child is not receiving the education he or she deserves because of overly large classes, you should attend these hearings, speak out, and demand that the State Education Department provide stronger oversight so that NYC complies with the law," Haimson says in a press release this week.
Comptroller William Thompson voiced his frustration with class size, releasing an audit this week alleging that $48 million of the nearly $180 million set aside for Early Grade Class Size Reduction under the Contracts for Excellence plan has not been used for this purpose. The Department of Education holds that Thompson has misinterpreted the legislation. DOE Auditor General, Brian Fleischer, explained to GothamSchools, "We were free to spend it however we chose.”
Let us know your thoughts on how the funds should be allocated. Are classes overcrowded in your school?
According to Plastic Jungle, which buys, sells and trades gift cards, the average American household has around $400 worth in unused cards. Plastic Jungle's users typically exchange cards for crash or a credit at Amazon.com, but now they have another option: allied with DonorsChoose.org, the site allows users to donate the face value of a gift card to schools in need.
Back in 2007, our blogger Jennifer Freeman introduced us to DonorsChoose, which offers public school teachers the opportunity to post their needs for classroom projects in the hopes of receiving funding. You can browse the project requests and donate to the cause of your choice -- and thanks to Plastic Jungle, not just with your credit card, but with your unused gift cards, too!
In July, we reported that, following a flood of parent complaints, the Department of Education would re-consider its ban on parent-funded assistants in schools. According to The New York Times, the DOE has reached an agreement with the teachers' union to allow the school aides to stay -- at least for this upcoming year.
Principals will be permitted to hire aides with money raised by parents’ groups as long as those aides are included in the official school budget, which makes them eligible for union protection. The DOE and union officials hope to come to a long-term solution before the current agreement expires at the end of the school year.
Just when financially-strapped parents increasingly rely on free after school care for their children, many programs have become a casualty of school budget cuts. A venerable department store, new to Manhattan, has stepped into the breach to help provide funding for families in need of after school programs.
If you shop at the new JCPenney store at the Manhattan Mall in Herald Square between now and Aug. 16, you'll be invited to "round up" the total cost of your purchase to the next dollar, with the proceeds going to support local after school programs. All donations collected at the store will go to the Children's Aid Society of New York, which will also receive a $5,000 grant from the JCPenney Afterschool Fund to help the charity provide children in need with access to its after school programs.
In addition, to commemorate the store's opening, the JC Penney Afterschool Fund made a $100,000 donation to establish the After-school Arts Partnership (ASAP) to give children in after school programs greater access to the city's cultural offerings. The donation was received by the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City to support the Out-of-School Time initiative. An additional $50,000 donation was made to The After-School Corporation (TASC), the non-profit organization that advocates for comprehensive after school programs in New York City and across the country.
Since its inception, the JCPenney Afterschool Fund, along with JCPenney has contributed more than $70 million to after school programs. Do you know of other local merchants who have similar back-to-school offers which could benefit schools and students?
Share the information here.
After a flood of parent complaints about the Department of Education's crackdown on parent associations independently paying for teaching aides in crowded classrooms, the DOE is reconsidering its decision and may allow the practice to go forward this year after all. The New York Times, Gothamschools, and the Daily News report that, yesterday, Chancellor Klein proposed an arrangement in which the assistants would be called "substitute aides" and paid $12.30 per hour. He made his proposal at a meeting at Tweed with parents from a dozen Manhattan schools and City Councilmembers who put together the meeting.
The arrangement is subject to the approval of the District Council 37, the union representing non-instructional school staff.
In a letter yesterday to parents at the Lower Lab School, where parents reportedly spend $250,000 per year on teaching aides, the PTA co-presidents said the plan, if finalized, "is a win-win situation for all (especially our children)."
The capitulation on the part of the DOE is bound to spark more controversy: Parents have been actively debating this issue here on the InsideSCOOP, arguing fiercely for and against the practice of parent-paid teaching aides.
In April, our blogger Jennifer Freeman wrote about the potential for parent-funded teachers' aides to be pushed out of our city's overcrowded classrooms. That looming threat has now become a reality, The New York Times reported yesterday.
Parent associations at top schools have a long tradition of raising thousands of dollars to independently hire assistants to help teachers in the classroom, run enrichment programs, or manage students in the cafeteria and at recess. Sparked by a complaint from the teachers union, however, the Bloomberg administration has told principals to put an end to the practice. Any aides hired for the coming school year must be employees of the Department of Education whose salaries are included in the school's official budget.
DOE employees will cost schools more money. While teaching assistants hired by parents earn $12 to $15 an hour, unionized paraprofessionals earn around $23 plus benefits. Even if schools want to pay their current aides the union wage, they won't be able to keep them on staff because of the citywide hiring freeze. The future of additional adults in classrooms is now up in the air.
Jennifer's April post got some great comments from our readers. Is this yet another example of Bloomberg steamrolling parental involvement in schools? Or is it a necessary measure to level the playing field citywide? Please let us know what you think!
In Albany, the State Assembly's Education Committee has passed a revised version of mayoral control which may be voted on by the entire Assembly as early as tomorrow. Over at the Senate, Hiram Montserrate, the indicted former City Council member who last week defected to the Albany Republicans, has returned to the Democratic fold, for a Senate-splitting 31-31 tie between the parties.
Meanwhile, the mayoral control endorsements continue, at the Times, the Post, and the Daily News. Even UFT president Randi Weingarten, one-time opponent of mayoral control, has come around to the Bloomberg-Klein point of view.
Locally, the city's budget has won 'handshake' approval by the City Council -- with no guarantee that schools' funds will not be hit again. It's thought that more than 2,000 school employees will find themselves out of work in 2009-2010 -- cuts that reach beyond school offices into the classroom, affecting teachers and paraprofessionals.