Status quo

First day of school will stay the same, five days before second

Parents who had been pushing to delay the first day of school in September appear not to be getting their wish.

Discussions between the city and teachers union to start classes on Sept. 13, rather than Sept. 8, as is currently scheduled, fell apart when the two sides couldn’t agree how to make up the missed time, according to an email Chancellor Joel Klein sent to principals today.

Klein said the union declined to turn Brooklyn-Queens Day, a midweek teacher training day in June, into an instructional day. Under the current schedule, students will report for one day of class on Wednesday but because of Rosh Hashanah, a major Jewish holiday, will not have their second day of school until the following Monday.

“We understand and are sympathetic to the stress some families may feel because of the schedule during the first week of school, and regret that we were unable to make a change we saw as straightforward and fair to all,” Klein wrote.

Families came close to ending the school year without knowing when the next one would begin. One reader who sent us Klein’s email pointed out that the message went out at 8:54 a.m., just two and a half hours before school was scheduled to let out for the summer.

I’ll update this story when I hear back from the teachers union.

Dear colleagues,

As you are no doubt aware, the current schedule for school to start in the fall has students returning to class on Wednesday, September 8, 2010.

But over the past few weeks, we heard directly from many parents and school communities concerned about the impact of Labor Day and the Jewish holidays on the first week of school. They asked us to consider moving the first day of school to Monday, September 13, 2010.

Recognizing the importance of not losing an instructional school day, the parents who wrote us further proposed that our teachers and staff use that Wednesday, September 8, 2010, as a professional development day, and instead use what is known as Brooklyn-Queens day, a professional development day that falls on Thursday, June 9, 2011 as an instructional school day.

Both the Mayor and I thought this proposal made sense for all involved and, in fact, would save parents the hassle of finding child-care for a one-day, mid-week holiday in June.

But in order to move forward with this plan, we needed the agreement of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

Unfortunately, the UFT refused our proposal and therefore we are left with no choice but to keep the calendar unchanged.

I also want to briefly address UFTs statements in the press that we should allow different schools to start classes on different days. That idea is simply not feasible.

We cannot have a chaotic system where different schools start classes on different days, which would require different bus schedules as well as different food schedules. It would be confusing to parents, a further strain on our budget, and disruptive to the overall school calendar.

We understand and are sympathetic to the stress some families may feel because of the schedule during the first week of school, and regret that we were unable to make a change we saw as straightforward and fair to all.

But given our inability to reach an agreement with the UFT, we will proceed with starting school on Wednesday, September 8, 2010.

I wish you and your families an enjoyable, relaxing summer, and look forward to seeing everyone in the fall.

Sincerely,

Joel I. Klein

Chancellor

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”