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Public school parents are mobilizing against anticipated education budget cuts which would cause teacher layoffs, overcrowding in classrooms, and otherwise adversely affect public schools.
The City Council, finished its budget hearings on Monday with an additional call for the Department of Education to cut back on consultants and private contractors, instead of cutting teachers. The Council and the mayor must come up with a final budget by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year. As part of his $65.7 billion budget proposal, the mayor proposes eliminating 6,100 teaching positions and cutting child care programs.
To protest these measures, parents and advocacy groups are hosting a series of actions over the next several days and weeks. Here's a rundown:
- Emergency Manhattan budget meeting sponsored by New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts: Students-Labor-Communities United: Thursday, June 9, 6-9 pm: YMCA/University Settlement, 273 Bowery (SE Corner of Houston St.)
- Family rally in Brooklyn sponsored by City Council members and many local schools: Friday, June 10. Parents and kids meet at 4 p.m. at Grand Army Plaza, then march along Prospect Park West to the bandshell for the opening concert of Celebrate Brooklyn. For more information, see Council member Brad Lander's website.
- On "Fight Back Friday" June 10, parents and staff at individual schools will hold rallies, sign postcards directed at City Council representatives, disseminate flyers and wear black to, “take our schools back." Representatives from some schools will visit Christine Quinn’s office located at 30th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues at 5 PM on Friday to deliver some of the more than 5,000 postcards collected at city-wide Fight Back Fridays over the last three weeks and will hold a press conference demanding the City Council reject any budget that includes further cuts to school-based budgets and teacher lay-offs. Contact: Lisa Donlan, President CEC1: 917-848-5873
- Emergency Brooklyn budget meeting sponsored by New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts: Students-Labor-Communities United on Saturday, June 11, Bedford Library, 496 Franklin Avenue.
- City Hall rally endorsed by several unions including DC 37 and the UFT, sponsored by the Beyond May 12 coalition for “Bloombergville”:Tuesday, June 14 at 4:30 at City Hall: Centre Street between Chambers and Spruce Streets.
Please share information about other budget protests and actions in comments below.
Letters to families of four-year-olds hoping to gain a slot in a public pre-Kindergarten program will be sent this Friday, June 10, two weeks later than the usual Memorial Day weekend notice, and particularly late for those whose tuition at private nursery school programs was due on June 1.
Parents who applied online can access the information on the Web; others will get it in the mail. Families must register from June 13-24, or forfeit the spot. For those who are not placed in this first round, there is usually a second admissions round sometime in July. In fact, there are often openings late in the year, although not at all schools, and usually for half day programs.
No word from the Department of Education as to why notification is so late this year - nearly two months after kindergarten registration ended. DOE officials have said that pre-K enrollment comes after kindergarten to help ensure that priority is given to students who have siblings entering kindergarten at the same schools, With long waitlists at many schools this year, some zoned schools may have had to eliminate pre-Kindergarten programs to make space for kindergarten.
The late notice doesn't sit well with parents who have not been able to plan ahead for their pre-schoolers. "Changing the notification and registration dates to practically the end of June really stinks!" writes one mom on a neighborhood listserv in Brooklyn. "Every year the date gets later and later--next year it will probably be July 4th."
All children who turn four in 2011 are eligible for public pre-K, although they are not guaranteed a seat. Last year, with a bumper crop of applicants, nearly 7,000 children of the 25,000 who applied were not given placements in the first round of letters.
Community based organizations also offer full and half day pre-K programs but these often come with a fee for part of the day.
See the DOE's website for more information, including a complete timeline, and what you need to bring when you go with your child to pre-register.
And let us know when you get your letter! We'll post updates as we get them.
The City Council "will do everything in our power to prevent teacher layoffs," Speaker Christine Quinn vowed today after the second of three education budget hearings the Council is holding this spring. She and her fellow council members have identified more than $75 million that could be cut from next year's $65.6 billion budget, she said, including trimming the number of positions at Tweed headquarters.
In May, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced budget woes so dire that as many as 6,000 teaching jobs needed to be eliminated.
In a joint statement after today's meeting, Quinn and Finance Committee Chair Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., said they were looking "line by line" at the schools' budget and had already identified possible cuts "that could be used toward saving teachers and preventing layoffs." They suggested cutting funds spent in recruiting and training unlicensed teachers, reducing staff in the press, public affairs, and family engagement offices, cutting the number of superintendents, and decreasing spending on busing, professional development, and technology. In addition, they estimated that $35 million could be cut from "excessive" budgeted spending increases in several areas.
The next council budget meeting will be on June 6 at Emigrant Savings Bank. Public testimony starts at 3:30 p.m.
See the City Council's press release here, and a list of their proposed cuts after the jump.
Dozens of children remain on kindergarten waitlists at popular schools around the city, and last week families received letters assigning them to other schools in their districts.
At the end of kindergarten registration in March, more than 2,600 entering kindergartners were on waitlists at their zoned schools. The number has clearly shrunk -- although the Department of Education has not released current numbers -- as students move or accept seats at private schools. There there will be more movement this month when assignments are made to gifted and talented and special education programs.
But it is highly unlikely that all students will be able to attend their zoned schools in the fall, frustrating families who may have moved to a neighborhood just for the school.
At PS 290 Manhattan New School, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, 60 children remain waitlisted, according to Parent Coordinator Sally Mason. That's down from 71 at the end of March, but parents new to the neighborhood keep arriving hoping to register, she said. Families zoned for PS 290 are being assigned to nearby PS 198 and PS 151, even though PS 151 has its own waitlist. Also on the Upper East Side, some families zoned for PS 59 are being sent to PS 267, a new school that opened in 2010.
In downtown Manhattan, popular PS 234 has a waitlist of 28 students, according to The Tribeca Trib, despite rezoning of the area's schools in 2010 and the opening of two elementary schools in the neighborhood in 2009. The overflow students have been assigned to PS 130 in Chinatown and PS 11 in Chelsea. The New York Post reports that PS 234 are getting priority over waitlisted PS 130 students at the Chinatown school.
PS 3 and PS 41, which share a zone in Greenwich Village, started with waitlists of 54 and 55 students at the end of March. PS 3 cleared its waitlist, a school official said, and was sent 22 students from PS 41 by the Department of Education's enrollment office. Other students in the zone have been assigned to PS 11, which has more room since a middle school which shared the building moved out in 2010.
The assignment to a school outside of the zone came as a surprise to parents who had been assured on school tours that there would be room at either PS 3 or PS 41 for all zoned families.
"It's extremely frustrating," said Monique Rodrigue, who lives four blocks from PS 41. Her 4-year-old has been assigned to PS 11, and her 2-year-old goes to a nursery school in the opposite direction. "It's not that close to us. I have to go in the other direction to do morning drop-off within 15 minutes. They're too young to walk that far.
"We made a decision to stay in the city and this is what is driving people out," she said. "There are 3,000 on a kindergarten waitlist. They're not building the infrastructure to support the people who are moving here."
The longest waitlist in the city in March belonged to giant PS 169, in Sunset Park, which serves many children of immigrant families from China and Latin America. Only a few of the 95 students on the kindergarten waitlist have been given seats at PS 169; the remainder will be bused to PS 124, PS 38, and PS 230, all located in other District 15 neighborhoods.
In Park Slope, PS 107's waitlist dropped from 48 in March to eight this month, after the school decided to move its pre-kindergarten classroom offsite. PS 39, a tiny school in Park Slope, had a waitlist of 21 in March which is now down to 16.
Families may remain on the waitlists for their zoned schools into October, according to the enrollment office. Historically, many families have been able to register at their zoned school for 1st grade, although there is no guarantee.
We asked the Department of Education for an updated list of the schools that still have waitlists for kindergarten, and the number of families, but have not gotten an answer. Are you on a waitlist? Please share your information in comments.
The decision by the New York State's Board of Regents that teachers will no longer be able to rescore state-mandated Regents exams for students who just miss the passing grade of 65, follows the May 16 vote to discontinue offering exams in January, because of budgetary concerns. Students will only be offered exams in June and August (following summer school). At the same time the Regents decided to eliminate foreign language exams.
The resolution not to allow teachers to rescore exams which just miss passing, follows a decade in which schools have been required to take a second look at science and math exams with scores within five points of the passing grade. Over the past few years, the passing score on Regents exams went from 55 to 65 and students are required to pass five Regents exams to graduate.
Investigations earlier this year by the Wall Street Journal showed that a disproportionate number of students got barely passing scores. Teachers, who frequently score their own students' exams (a practice that the state this month voted to prohibit in future) have acknowledged reviewing exams and adding a few extra points if it meant a student would pass and graduate. According to the New York Times, a memo this week from the city's Department of Education to principals stipulates: “Scoring committees, once they have rated an exam, are no longer permitted to rescore them, regardless of final score. Specifically, exams receiving a final score of 60 to 64 or 50 to 54 are not permitted to be rescored.”
Some principals expressed concerned that the elimination of the January exam would cause graduation rates to decline. The ban on the rescoring of exams may well have the same effect.
We'd like to know what you think of the Board of Regents' changes to the administration of Regents exams. Take our poll and let us know your thoughts in comments below.
Upper West Side parents learned at the District 3 Community Education Council meeting on Wednesday that PS 9 will phase out its popular gifted and talented program and will not admit incoming G&T class of kindergartners next fall.
The belated announcement by the Department of Education, coming more than a week after the May 10 deadline for submitting applications, caught parents by surprise. According to Robin Aronow, of SchoolSearchNYC, PS 9 has become increasingly popular, with many more neighborhood families choosing to attend its regular program, in addition to the sought-after G&T classes. At the end of the kindergarten registration period on March 30, there were nine zoned families on a waitlist, according to the DOE; the PS 9 website reports there were103 zoned children who filled out registration materials this year, many more than the 73 last year.
"It used to be that families only went for the G&T at PS 9 and now we've seen a turn-around, and many neighborhood families are now attending the school," said Aronow. "The timing [of the decision] is unfortunate given that families had to finalize their choices 10 days ago. The question is: will District 3 parents have a chance to reorder their choices."
District 3 isn't the only place where there has been confusion over where programs will be housed next year. Parents who called PS 229 in District 24 in Queens were told there would be no kindergarten G&T program there next fall despite it being listed on their application. DOE officials told parents that the school will offer a program if enough families select it, and parents were allowed to add it, or re-order their choices on their application late last week.
Typically, the DOE places G&T programs in schools that have space for children from outside of their catchment zone. According to a DOE spokesperson Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, "P.S. 9 will not be serving G&T students this year because the school needs the space to accommodate families from its zone. This is not a reduction in G&T seats, however, as we’ll be offering more seats in other programs in order to accommodate G&T students. Shifting programs is very common, and every year we carefully plan our G&T sections to make sure we’re meeting demand and prioritizing the way we use our limited space."
An email circulated by the PS 9 PTA executive board says the "PS 9 administration and community had no say in this [decision not to offer G&T kindergarten classes] and were only notified after it was announced at the CEC meeting this past Wednesday. The timing of this announcement - not to mention the decision itself - has caused great concern not only among the many district 3 families who selected PS9 G&T as their first choice for their incoming kindergartners..."
The email suggests ways in which concerned parents may take action:
"1) Send Questions About OSE's Decision To:
Office: 212-678-5857 Press 4
2) Send a Message to Chancellor Walcott Via DOE Website: http://schools.nyc.gov/ContactDOE/ChancellorMessage.htm
3) Attend Town Hall Meeting (with Chancellor Walcott on Monday Night, 5/23:
6 – 7:30 PM @ PS 165, 234 W. 109th St. (Between Broadway & Amsterdam)
The Department of Education today announced a do-over of this year's elections for community and citywide parent councils, and set a new voting schedule for both the advisory and the official "selector" vote. Chancellor Dennis Walcott acknowledged that this year's elections were mismanaged.
“We place tremendous value on parent involvement in our schools and recognize that we should have done a better job managing the Community and Citywide Education Councils Elections,” said Chancellor Walcott. “We believe that holding the advisory vote again and pushing back the Selector’s vote will ensure that the elections are fair to our parents and that we meet our responsibility to seat CEC Members by July 1st.”
Thursday's announcement, which coincided with an afternoon march and rally where politicians and parent activists were protesting budget cuts and teacher layoffs, caps off a few weeks in which council candidates have documented errors which marred the voting process. Some parents charged that their names were omitted from ballots, and that incomplete information was posted on the Power to the Parents website, the official election site, among other problems.
Earlier this week, the DOE announced a one week postponement in the second round of voting, but some parents and politicians,including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, said that was not sufficient.
There are two rounds of voting for parent councils -- the first is merely a straw vote by parents, to advise the official "selectors" (PTA officers) who cast the actual votes in a later round. Now, the initial advisory vote (which took place from May 1 to May 7) has been invalidated. All parents may now vote from May 18-25. The selectors will vote from May 27 to June 3. By law, council members must take office on July 1.
Prior to today's announcement, education council members and other parents launched a petition drive, calling for new elections and a new support organization for parent involvement that is independent of the DOE.
The petitioners also ask that there be a new round of forums introducing the candidates; a DOE spokesperson said that would not happen.
May 10 is the deadline for families of nearly 8,000 students who qualified or elementary school gifted and talented programs. Some 4,000 incoming kindergartners qualified this year, many more than last year.
Five years ago the Department of Education adopted a new set of assessments, standardizing testing across the city. Previously, each district offered its own testing requirements and entry points: some districts offered programs, others did not. Some required IQ tests, others devised their own tests. In standardizing the assessments and the testing timeline, the DOE said one aim was to equalize the process, and ensure that a diversity of students were represented in programs across the city.
But, it turns out that when districts administered their own tests, black and Latino students fared better in admissions. According to city statistics cited in The New York Times, before admissions were standardized in 2007, 15% of the students admitted to G&T programs were Latino and 32% were black. Last week, the DOE released statistics showing that in the 2010-2011 school year, only 11% of kindergarten G&T students were black; 12% were Hispanic. In the 2009-2010 school year, only 14% were black and 12% were Latino. In several high-poverty districts around the city, there were no programs for kindergartners at all this year because not enough children qualified
Last June, amid criticism that parents were gaming the system and prepping 4-year-olds for the tests, the city announced it would seek a new test. Gentian Falstrom, head of elementary school admissions, confirmed that the city has issued a Request for Proposals from test providers and a new contract will be in effect for the 2012-2013 school year.
We'd like to know what you think of the G&T testing? Is it fair? Should the assessments remain the same? If not, what changes do you suggest? Take our poll and let us know.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg presented his nearly $66 billion final budget today, and confirmed he plans to eliminate 6,000 teaching jobs -- 4,278 through layoffs and about 1500 through attrition.
Bloomberg blamed the state for the fiscal woes he said are forcing him to cut the city's teaching staff. The state paid 45 percent of the city’s education costs in 2008, but next year they will only pickup 39 percent, according to a New York Times report. Bloomberg said he would appeal to the state for more funding, but as Albany's budget has already been finalized, more money could be very hard to come by.
The teacher's union was quick to criticize the mayor: "Same smoke, same mirrors, same attempt to blame others for his decision to lay off thousands of teachers, despite increased state aid, hundreds of millions in new revenues and a surplus that has grown to more than $3.2 billion," said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew in a statement.
The budget won't be final until the City Council approves it, which they must do by July 1. A hearing on the Department of Education's expense budget will be held on June 1, and public testimony on the education budget will be heard on June 6. A coalition of politicians, teachers, and community groups plans to hold a mammoth protest of the budget on May 12.
UPDATE: May 11:
Advocates for Justice, a public interest law firm, issued this clarification statement today regarding the education council elections:
May 12th deadline set for resolution of Parent-DOE talks
May 11, 2011, New York, NY --- Advocates for Justice, a public interest law firm, represents the New York City Parents Union and other parents in pending litigation regarding the various education elections within the City. In an effort to clarify the status of these elections, Arthur Z. Schwartz, Esq., President of Advocates for Justice, released the following statement:
"The start of the second round of the various education elections, which our clients, including the New York City Parents Union, sued to stop, has been put off by agreement until Tuesday, May 17. The New York City Department of Education has made no other commitments at this time. We continue to talk. To be absolutely clear, we continue to seek a totally new citywide parent advisory vote and we maintain that the first round of voting was not legitimate, specifically that parents were disenfranchised, eligible candidates were not included on the various ballots, and parent voters were not adequately informed about the vote and about their choices.
If we cannot reach agreement on this with the Department of Education by 9:00 AM this Thursday, May 12th, and if the Department chooses to press ahead with the second round of voting next Tuesday, we will return to Court to seek the stay we initially sought on May 9.
For now, we have no reason to believe that the Department of Education is not engaging in good faith."
May 10 post:
This year's community and citywide parent council elections have been fraught with snafus. So many errors in the process were reported that school's Chancellor Dennis Walcott agreed to extend the voting period for another week. But, according to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and members of many parent councils, one week is not enough time to correct the problems that have marred the elections so far. And, this afternoon, an organization called "Advocates for Justice," announced, after a meeting with Department of Education officials, that the "elections are on hold".
A press release from the organization states: "All parties agreed that the discussion and negotiations pertaining to this matter will be kept confidential at this time, however, we did agree -- and it is public information -- that the election processes [for the councils] are on hold."
On Monday, Walcott issued a statement saying: "After reviewing concerns raised by parents and public officials about this year’s Citywide and Community Education Council elections, I have concluded that the process could and should have been handled better. The councils play an important role in giving voice to parents and community members, and in order to ensure fairness, I am postponing the process by one week. During that time, we will work to make sure that information about candidates is distributed widely so that the process is as inclusive as possible. We expect that Council members will still begin their terms on July 1.”
Today, Stringer, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, along with a few dozen parents, held a press conference at DOE headquarters where they said one week was not enough time to sort out the problems in this year's election. Advocates for Justice issued its press release this afternoon.
- Parent straw voters could not see the names of the candidates when they tried to vote, unless they entered an ID number which many of them never received. The candidates name came online three days after the voting began, following a NY Post article about the problem.
- Candidates reported their names did not appear on the ballots even though they were qualified.
- At the District 1 candidate forum, attendees found there were only 12 candidates (for 9 elected seats), although the DOE reported that there were 44 candidates. According to District 1 parent Lisa Donlan, reporting on the NYCeducationnews listserv, an OFIA (Office of Family Information and Action) representative said that if an applicant had filled out the district section incorrectly, the candidates name went into the District 1 race by default.
- Many of the candidate statements did not indicate where their child attends school. Since no school can have more than one parent elected to any of the councils, it was not clear to parent voters which schools the parents represent.
Citywide and District Community Education Councils are parent advisory boards that approve zoning changes and offer recommendations on Department of Education policies, particularly on how school buildings should be used. The councils, which replaced the old school boards, have little actual power and their monthly meetings are usually not well-attended. Each council has nine parent elected representatives and two appointees from either the borough president or the Public Advocate.
Stay tuned...this saga is probably not over!