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Today's tragic crane collapse on the Upper East Side, the latest in a series of construction accidents in city that's experiencing a building boom, took place at the site of the new East Side Middle School, where developers tore down an old public school building to make way for a new condominium building that will also house a public school. The Times is reporting that the cab of a crane fell as many as 20 stories to the ground this morning, killing at least one person.
Groundbreaking for the new ESMS, a popular school currently located on York Avenue between 77th and 78th streets, happened last September. (View photos of the event.) The new, 34-story building, which will house an expanded ESMS as well as 118 condo units, was slated to be completed in 2011; it's not clear how this accident will affect the timeline but I think we can hope that construction there and elsewhere in the city should not happen until we can be guaranteed it's happening safely.
Earlier this week, Helen posted about "Chancellor Klein's no good, very bad morning." One commenter immediately noted the allusion to the classic children's book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," by Judith Viorst, saying that she reads the book to her own son Alexander when he's feeling grumpy. Recently, the Times' City Room blog ran a long post about the best kids' books that use New York City as a backdrop, such as "Eloise," "Harriet the Spy," and "The Cricket in Times Square." Readers weighed in with their own suggestions and sent me, at least, running to the library.
As we all work on our summer reading lists, help fellow Insideschools Blog readers out: What books do your kids most enjoy?
Some of the soon-to-be pre-K parents commenting on this blog are working through their anger and frustration about the admissions problems by generating possible solutions for them. If the DOE aims to make things right for the families it shortchanged — and I believe that is the DOE's intention — officials will likely need to think creatively. Perhaps they can use Bronx_Shrink's proposal for inspiration:
I think there may be one way in which a fraction of the wrongfully rejected parents can be appeased. The city offers child care vouchers to low income families. If they are unable to correct this and place kids properly, according to priority, perhaps some families can be offered vouchers to be used in private day cares. Before the tomatoes start flying, I know this will not be the answer for most parents as they carefully chose schools that match their educational values. However, it might be good compensation for some other families to get them through another year of childcare costs.
Do you have a better plan? Post yours. Pie-in-the-sky ideas are welcome, but practical solutions are even more welcome.
Earlier this week, Leonie Haimson commented on a post about the budget showdown that "no one believes that $200 million is going to be cut centrally." During this challenging week, I've really tried to give the DOE the benefit of the doubt, but all the evidence certainly does point that way. As Haimson noted over at the NYC Public School Parents blog, the budget the chancellor presented to the City Council on Tuesday reflected a $12 million central cut that will be achieved in large part by putting in place a hiring freeze at the DOE; it also reflected serious inconsistencies and underbudgeting that advocates have been noting since the budget was released several weeks ago.
After Council members and advocates demanded a closer accounting, the chancellor released a more detailed list of how he plans to free up the $200 million. Elizabeth Green at the Sun wrote yesterday that the list says the DOE plans to reduce the number of staff positions by 187 (which strikes me as unlikely to be achieved in one year through attrition), defer the introduction of a new social studies curriculum (testing related to a new science curriculum was also put off earlier this year), and stop paying for some of schools' computer repair costs. Nearly 15 percent of the central cuts could affect schools directly, Green reported. And now today, the Post notes that "nearly half" of the proposed central cuts were achieved by lowering cost estimates for various products and services — probably by finding someone who can do what's needed for even lower than the lowest bid, which can't be good for actually getting the job done well.
My head is spinning. The only way I can see sense being made of the whole situation is if the mayor frees up enough money to eliminate budget cuts for the DOE and its schools.
I just heard from Andy Jacob at the DOE, who said he had explained many details about the nature of the pre-K admissions problems to reporters at the Times and the Post but that those details hadn't made it into print. The Daily News had a hint of the details, but I didn't see that article earlier this morning -- there, Jacob described problems with sibling verification that may have led some parents not to have received acceptance letters when they should have.
What happened, Jacob told me, was that the DOE's computers compared data for the older sibling claimed on the application with the data parents entered on the application. If the address in the attendance system for the older child didn't match the address as it was entered from the application, the system treated the applicant as a non-sibling. But in some cases, Jacob said, the address-matching excluded children erroneously, sometimes because of a minor difference in the way the addresses were formulated (with a typo in the DOE's attendance system, for example) and sometimes because families have moved since entering the school system.
Currently, OSEPO staff are finishing up looking at every single one of the applications of families who indicated they had a sibling already enrolled, Jacob said. He told me he anticipates that the number of families affected will be a "small minority" of the 9,000 families who indicated that they had a sibling in their school of choice, though the number will be "more than 4 or 5." After the scope of the problem is clear, the DOE will decide how to handle the cases, he said, and families will be notified then if there was a mistake in the way their application was treated. "There are some cases where the problem was on our end. ... When we hear about problems, we solve them," he told me.
Jacob said there may also be families who believe they were erroneously denied a seat who actually completed the application incorrectly, perhaps by listing the school in which the sibling is already enrolled as something other than their first choice. (Sibling priority only works for your first-choice school.)
Jacob advised me that the very best thing parents who believe the address-matching issue may be the root of their rejection should hold tight while the DOE decides how to solve the problem. I know that will be hard to do, but I have faith that the DOE is committed to addressing the issues, even though it might not know yet exactly how to. If you just can't wait, Jacob said the best number to call at OSEPO is 212-374-4948. That's also the number you should call if you have other issues or if you still haven't received a letter -- though we have heard from one father who just received a letter this morning.
As always, we'll keep you posted as we learn more, and please let us know what's happening on your end.
Finally, today, the pre-K debacle has made it into the papers — where we learn that the DOE believes all the problems are parents' fault. DOE spokesman Andy Jacob told the Times that the problems appear to have affected only families with siblings already enrolled in a school with a pre-K program. That means, of course, that the problems may be widespread, because those families make up 45 percent of the 20,000 families who applied for pre-K seats.
Jacob told the Times that DOE officials believe the data entry done in Pennsylvania is not the culprit, but that blame more likely rests with parents who made a "simple mistake" when filling out the form. To the Post, he said that "most complaints involved parents who wrongly believed they qualified for priority placement or whose application data contained errors."
Some good news: Jacob told the Times, "We will find a way to solve the problems that do exist." How magnanimous: They may not respect you or believe you're capable of filling out a form, but at least they'll make right when you screw up.
Please let us know when you start getting resolution to your problems — we hope it's soon!
I had sort of thought that the folks who last autumn were talking about bringing a Hebrew-language charter school to New York City would have been dissuaded by the controversy surrounding the Khalil Gibran International Academy, but apparently they were not. Next week, representatives of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life plans to submit an application to the DOE and the state Board of Regents to open a charter school as early as 2009, according to a report in the Jewish Daily Forward.
The proposal will be modeled after Ben Gamla Charter in Florida, which ran into some trouble early in this school year because its Hebrew language curriculum contained religious references. Considering that doing damage control for Khalil Gibran proved costly and embarrassing for the DOE and that the controversy continues to this day, it should be interesting to see what kind of reception the Hebrew school's advocates receive.
Sometime today the DOE put up new information about pre-K on the pre-K enrollment page. It contains a sprinkling of new information but no admission at all of widespread problems with the admissions process. And of course there's no phone number at all for parents who have questions. (If we happen to find out a number that leads to a helpful, or at least friendly, person, we'll post it right away -- but we're having about as much luck as you are getting through to OSEPO right now.)
Here's how to appeal:
Is there an appeals process for pre-K?
There is an appeals process for a child whose address changes or for extenuating circumstances. Families who wish to submit an appeal must do so in writing to ES_Enrollment@schools.nyc.gov no later than June 13, 2008.
If you think your application was hopelessly botched (whether by the data entry dude in Pennsylvania or by OSEPO's computer matching system), does this satisfy you? I didn't think so.
This has been a tough month for public school parents and activists in New York City, the kind who fight for better schools, support the ones their children attend and try to convince friends, neighbors and other parents to do the same.
These activists know that simply registering your child and walking away is not an option if you want enhanced art, music and science programs, to name just a few. They volunteer at lunch and at recess and run auctions, bake sales and endless fundraisers to create better programs for all children. And they are pretty sick of all the finger-pointing about whose fault it is when school budgets are cut.
Many of the most ardent public education supporters began battling for better schools in pre-kindergarten, but now they've discovered there are no certain spots in such programs -- and that even kindergarten in their zoned neighborhood schools cannot be taken for granted due to overcrowding.
They can't necessarily count on a spot a high-performing middle school either, because of a supply and demand discrepancy that exists when it comes to the best schools -- and because some districts and neighborhoods don't have a lot of appealing choices.
One of the most painful moments came last week, when Chancellor Joel Klein announced he'd have to make cuts as high as 6 percent at some of the most attractive and sought-after places like the Salk School of Science, where some 45 percent of 8th graders receive offers to attend the specialized high schools. Salk faces a cut of $133,762, or 5.25 percent. Klein told reporters that 74 schools would face cuts of more than 5 percent.
Klein is putting all the blame on state government in Albany, maintaining that state rules have restricted the way the city can spend education money, despite the historic lawsuit that was supposed to bring billions of dollars into underfunded schools. He says state officials are not allowing him to use $63 million in state aid to close a $99 million city budget deficit before that budget is due June 30.
Parents aren't buying it, as the New York Times pointed out last week, nor should they. (The City Council, which must approve the mayor's budget, isn't buying it either.) The average New York City public parent activist is too busy looking for decent public schools, fighting to maintain the ones their kids already attend and raising ever more money (like I said, it's a lot of cupcakes and rummage sales) to get caught in the middle of despicable politics as usual.
Does Klein think he's going to be a hero if he announces he suddenly won't have to make such deep cuts after all? Unlikely. Regent Merryl Tisch recently told NY1 News that the "ugly political battle'' was creating enormous uncertainty about programs and staffing for next year.
That amounts to angst on top of anxiety. Say you are an activist 5th-grade parent who has long hoped your child would get into an excellent middle school like Salk. Number one, you haven't heard yet -- for some unexplained reason, the middle school process has been delayed this year.
Number two, say you had dreamed of having your middle school graduate go on to say, the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Looking down the chancellor's list of budget cuts, you might see the Bronx Science is facing a 5.25 percent cut -- amounting to some $825,00 -- and no cupcake sale can make up that kind of deficit. For many schools, such cuts could mean the end of concerts, plays, after school clubs, sports, and at places like Stuyvesant, a lighter academic courseload.
Thousands of parents already support New York City public schools, and thousands more would like to. They do not appreciate being political pawns.
Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle
The DOE hasn't commented on the scope of problems with pre-K admissions letters -- no matter that one Insideschools blog reader hypothesized that the problems are "HUGE" -- but officials are saying they are investigating every complaint they receive. So if you believe your child was mistakenly denied a seat in a pre-K program, contact OSEPO, the central enrollment office, at 212-374-2363.
What's not clear to me is whether any families have been offered seats at the Brooklyn schools that seem to have been affected. If they have, will the DOE be able to reverse erroneous rejections? Or will all of the seats that should have gone to in-zone siblings already be filled?