budget cut

In hearing, King calls for curbing Cuomo's competitive grants

Chancellor Dennis Walcott testifies before legislators during a hearing about Gov. Cuomo's proposed education budget.

State Education Commissioner John King spent most of his time before legislators today going to bat for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed schools budget.

But on one key point, he said the Board of Regents would prefer a change. The Regents would rather not hinge so much of the state’s funds on a competition among districts, King said.

Cuomo proposed using $250 million of a proposed $800 million school aid increase to reward districts for strong academic performance and management efficiency. King said the Regents, whose agenda is similar but not identical to Cuomo’s, would slash that number by 80 percent. They would still hand out $50 million through a competition but think the remaining $200 million would be better used helping high-needs districts cover their expenses, he said.

The proposal is similar to what was proposed by the Alliance for Quality Education, a group that Cuomo’s office has named as a nemesis, and augurs a possible battle over the budget in the two months before it must be approved.

During today’s joint State Senate and Assembly hearing on the state’s elementary and secondary education budget in Albany, legislators wanted to talk about another one of Cuomo’s strings-attached school funding proposals: to tie districts’ state aid to new teacher evaluations.

Last month, King cut off federal funds to 10 districts, including New York City, when they did not meet a deadline for negotiating new teacher evaluations. King said today he expected all of those districts to appeal his decision and was helping most of them redo their applications to include promises of tougher teacher evaluations.

The “nagging issue” of appeals for low ratings, which caused the negotiations impasse in New York City, is trickier to resolve, King said.

“Certainly that is a source of concern for the governor, for the mayor, to me,” he said. “But at the same time it’s not the department’s role to mediate local collective bargaining agreements.”

Mayor Bloomberg announced earlier this month that the city would adopt a new school improvement model, turnaround, that does not require new teacher evaluations. The city still has not formally submitted applications for that change, King said today, adding that the applications could take weeks to review when they do arrive.

“It’s a very large change they are proposing to make, to many schools,” King said. “Their challenge will be to explain how … turnaround makes sense for the students in those schools.”

During his testimony later in the hearing, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the city anticipated filing applications for each school within the next two weeks — bringing the city to the brink of a legal deadline to notify schools that are being proposed for closure.

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly’s education committee, criticized the turnaround plans, which require half of the teachers to be removed at 33 low-performing schools.

“These schools need support and they need services. They don’t need turmoil,” she said. “To change [plans] midstream is causing a great deal of upsetness.”

But Nolan’s criticism did not extend to the city’s position on teacher evaluations. She didn’t bring the issue up during her first round of questions for Walcott, but when the chancellor was preparing to leave the stand, she said the “Twitterverse” had instructed her to ask about evaluations.

After offering Walcott a chance to add more about the city’s position, Nolan said he had her “complete cooperation” moving forward.

In his testimony, Walcott lauded Cuomo’s aid-for-evaluations gambit and the restoration of funding proposed for January Regents exams. For the second year in a row, Walcott also pushed legislators to consider making it quicker and easier for districts to fire teachers accused of misconduct. But just as happened last year, he agreed with legislators who said the city’s misconduct hearings, known as 3020-a hearings, are the most efficient in the state.

Both Walcott and UFT President Michael Mulgrew said they would not support the state’s bid to pass on some costs of the 3020-a hearings to local districts. Cuomo said in his State of the State speech that doing so would give districts an incentive to speed hearings. But Walcott said today that districts are already motivated to move quickly through hearings so they can free up the salaries of teachers who are dismissed.

In his testimony before the legislators, Mulgrew said the UFT remains committed to hammering out new teacher evaluations with the city.

“I like the idea that the governor put more pressure on all of us,” he said.

He also asked legislators to earmark $5 million to expand the College Now program, which allows city students to take college courses while still in high school.

Walcott’s complete testimony is below.                                                                                     

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.

Half-priced homes

Detroit teachers and school employees are about to get a major perk: Discount houses

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is announcing an educator discount that will allow employees of all Detroit schools to buy houses from the Land Bank at 50 percent off.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting ready this morning to announce a major effort to lure teachers and other school employees to the city of Detroit: Offering them half-priced homes.

According to a press release that’s expected to be released at an event this morning, the mayor plans to announce that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter or parochial schools — will now get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

That discount is already available to city employees, retirees and their families. Now it will be available to full-time employees of schools located in the city.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future,” Duggan is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.”

If the effort can convince teachers to live in the city rather than surrounding suburbs, it could help a stabilize the population decline that has led to blight and neighborhood deterioration in many parts of the city.

For city schools, the discounts give administrators another perk to offer prospective employees. District and charter schools in Detroit face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers.

Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.

In the press release, he’s quoted praising the discount program. “There is an opportunity and need to provide innovative solutions to recruit and retain teachers to work with our children in Detroit.”

The Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program will be announced at an event scheduled for 10:45 this morning in front of a Land Bank house in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood.

The Land Bank currently auctions three homes per day through its website, with bidding starting at $1,000.