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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 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

DOE investigating pre-K problems as parents worry

Written by Admin Wednesday, 28 May 2008 07:13

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?

Last week, at the same time Chancellor Klein started his "classic divide and conquer" campaign to cut the budgets of high-performing schools, he also announced that he would be cutting $200 million from the DOE's central budget. We're starting to get a picture now of what programs and services will go the way of the $200 million. Helen reported that top schools will not receive annual quality reviews and that dozens of jobs will be cut centrally.

Today, we learn that the DOE is jettisoning its plan to screen all kindergarteners for "giftedness" this coming year. The plan has drawn mixed reception since it was announced last year as part of the standardization of G&T admission: anti-testing advocates opposed it as an expansion of the DOE's already swollen testing program, while others, including some parents who commented on this blog while waiting for their G&T letters, saw it as a way to increase equity by finding gifted kids whose parents might not know to ask for testing.

What else do we know the DOE plans to cut from its central administration? Is the chancellor right that individual schools won't suffer more because of the cuts there?

Chancellor Klein's no good, very bad morning

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 27 May 2008 09:43

Chancellor Joel Klein spent the first part of his day today fielding a barrage of budget questions from City Council members.

In tones ranging from polite skepticism to outright accusation, member after member denounced proposed school budget cuts and Klein's appeal for state relief by redirecting legally mandated Campaign for Fiscal Equity funding. Council members variously characterized Klein's plan as a way to exploit middle-class parent concerns; pit high- and low-achieving (and low- and high-economic need) communities in opposition; shortchange English language learners; and start a covert DOE campaign to wrest economic concessions from the teachers union and other labor groups.

In the standing room-only Council Chambers, members struggled to understand Klein's New Budget Math -- $63 million held back by the city against prospective cuts; $99 million needed from the state; $400 million for "no cuts to schools," according to Klein; and the proposed $428 million city budget cut to education. Speaker Christine Quinn urged Klein and the council to "come up with the number" of dollars cut -- and find the money to "get that number down to zero."

Letitia James of Brooklyn and Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan decried Klein's proposed redistribution of Contract for Excellence funds as against the intent and the letter of the law. And Oliver Koppell of the Bronx said, "I can't believe, in a $10 billion budget" -- which Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson quickly corrected to $21 billion in a side comment -- "you can't find $63 million. I hate to say this, but I don't believe you. You're cutting [funds] to better schools to create an outcry. That's a bad strategy -- that tells parents, 'we can take it all away.'"

Hearings continue with public comment this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. and resume tomorrow at 1 p.m. with a Keep the Promises Coalition press conference at City Hall.

Pre-K letters out; problems apparent already

Written by Admin Tuesday, 27 May 2008 05:32

In keeping with its grand tradition of finding a long weekend during which to mail important letters to parents, the DOE let loose Pre-K admissions decisions at the end of last week. Already, the Insideschools forum is abuzz with discussion of the process. A couple of disappointed parents lament not getting into their top-choice programs or into any program at all.

Other parents describe what we can only hope are problems with the admissions process, the management of which was outsourced to an out-of-state provider. A couple of parents describe receiving rejection letters even though they live in the zone of a school with a large Pre-K program — and who have older children already enrolled in that school! (This year's new rules, finalized midway through the application process, give siblings preference for admission over all other applicants.) Either there are far, far more zoned siblings applying for Pre-K than anyone could ever have imagined, or else the DOE has some cleaning up to do.

If you applied for Pre-K for the fall, we welcome more information about your letter — and we hope your news was good!

Update: A DOE spokesman wrote to me to clarify concerns about the admissions process being outsourced. Parents mailed their applications to Pennsylvania for data entry, he wrote, but the actual applicant-to-program matches were made in-house at OSEPO.

Were you at the beach on Sunday? (I hope you weren't sitting around by your computer reading blogs!) If you were, you might have seen an airplane towing the message "Mayor Bloomberg, keep your promises to our schools." The Keep the Promises Coalition was spreading the word about the budget cuts the schools are facing — cuts that Chancellor Klein recently rejiggered but not relieved. It seems unlikely that the mayor vacations on the city's public beaches, but I suppose it was worth a shot, especially if the effort prompted city residents to call the coalition's toll-free number to register complaints about the cuts.

I'd also bet that there weren't many principals enjoying the beach this weekend -- they were likely too busy figuring out what programs and services to cut for next year, since they only received their budgets late on Thursday.

This morning at 9:30, the education and finance committees of the City Council will be looking at the proposed operating budget for the city's schools. (See the Insideschools calendar for details.) It should be a contentious debate — almost all of the council members have called on the mayor to restore funding to the schools, but he shows no signs of budging. I'm guessing we'll hear council members offering suggestions of where the DOE could trim its fat, in ways that won't affect individual schools. We'll see how productive the debate turns out to be.

Parents have always known they are taking a risk when they put down a deposit at a private school while waiting to hear whether they've been accepted at their preferred public schools. But I didn't know until recently that they can be risking as much as a year's tuition — which can total as much as $20,000 or more. A story in the Times today describes a family who has been paying all year for a seat at the Little Red Schoolhouse that their daughter doesn't occupy, because she got into a citywide gifted program in June. By the time they notified Little Red, they had passed the deadline to pull out without having to pay the full year's tuition. Today on Urban Baby, users are vilifying the family for waiting so long to let LREI know, but earlier this week, readers there were worrying about the same thing happening to them.

Whether private schools would actually plan around the public school schedule if the DOE had a regular schedule is up for speculation, but a spokeswoman for an independent schools organization made a great point when she said in the Times, "Unfortunately, it’s impossible to collaborate on the timing with the public schools when the dates change every year." Of course, the DOE's changing schedules are problematic for lots of families, not just those considering private school.

I do question how familiar Susan Dominus, the story's author, is with the public schools in the Bloomberg-Klein era. She writes, "It would have been nice, from [the parents'] point of view, if Little Red, which ultimately forgave about $6,000 of the $26,000 tuition, ran itself a little bit less like a competitive business; but it would also have helped if New York’s public school system reliably ran itself more like one." Has she not heard that schools are businesses and their principals are all CEOs?

As Helen noted yesterday, Chancellor Klein seems to have come up with a formula for reallocating school budgets that penalizes large, successful schools — and that's the story the papers ran with today. Klein appears to have come up with the gambit to rile up middle-class families — and voters — to support his bid to have the state loosen restrictions placed on school funding by the new Contract for Excellence requirement, which was in turn prompted in part by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. That suit, of course, aimed to equalize funding among schools by giving more money to lower-performing schools with a high proportion of needy students. Klein's plan does seem to move toward equalization — but by taking away from schools that are less needy. And he plans to heighten class tensions in the process. Thanks, Chancellor Klein!

UPDATE: A reader notes: "There is a rally this afternoon to protest the budget cuts in front of the location where Chancellor Klein is meeting with principals to announce these cuts: The HS of Fashion Industries at 225 W. 24th Street in Manhattan between 7th and 8th Ave at 5 p.m." I can't be there, but can someone else who is going fill us in on what happens?

So after a State Supreme Court judge voided the city's deal to give 20 private schools exclusive rights to the playing fields at Randalls Island, you'd think the city would stop work on the project, right? You'd be wrong. Work has continued unabated for the last four months, and now Curbed reports that the project has "taken a sharp left turn into Bizarro World": Yesterday, the same judge who voided the deal said the continued construction was just fine.

The bottom line may be that it won't be legal for the city to take the $45 million promised by the private schools to pay for the playing fields. So as parent advocates and neighborhood activists wanted, the private schools won't get exclusive use of the fields — but at the same time, someone else will have to foot the bill. And as we know, there's not exactly millions of dollars sitting around right now earmarked for the benefit of public school children. I'm sure there are plenty of readers who understand the situation better than I do — what should we expect to see when the first playing fields open, perhaps as early as this fall?