line by line

Mayor's budget keeps after-school cuts, counts on teacher evals

Advocates protest the city's proposed cuts to after-school programs during a rally outside City Hall today.

The city would spend $387 million more on its schools next year and hire more teachers under the budget proposal Mayor Bloomberg unveiled today.

But it would also slash spending to after-school programs, leaving 27,000 children who currently attend city-funded programs without care.

“I’m concerned,” Bloomberg said about the after-school cuts during a press conference about the budget today at City Hall. He said the programs are “extremely valuable” for working families but had unfortunately fallen victim to scarce resources. “We cannot do everything for everybody,” he said.

Advocates from Upper Manhattan gathered on the steps of City Hall in protest right after Bloomberg’s presentation, and critics of the mayor’s budget said the child-care cuts would prove short-sighted.

“These are dollars that allow parents to go to work and pay taxes; cutting them will only force more families to seek public assistance and add to taxpayer costs,” said Manhattan Borough President and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer in a statement.

But both the mayor and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn signaled that the toll could be lessened by the time a final budget is set by July 1.

At a press conference shortly after Bloomberg’s presentation, Quinn said reversing the child-care cuts would be her top priority during the next two months of budget negotiations. Last year, the budget negotiation process ended with some restorations for child care and, at the last moment, averted thousands of teacher layoffs that Bloomberg had threatened.

“If there is an openness to negotiations then I’m very optimistic,” Quinn said about the opportunity to shift more funds to after-school programs. Reversing the cuts would be a political win for each City Council member and especially for Quinn, who is seen as Bloomberg’s choice to succeed him.

Robert Jackson, the council’s education committee chair, vowed to turn back the cuts, which would eliminate thousands of child-care slots in his Northern Manhattan district. “If we have to dance to come to the end and reach an agreement, we will dance,” he said.

Quinn and other members of the council took credit for one change that happened between Bloomberg’s preliminary budget proposal and now. As Chancellor Dennis Walcott had promised and City Council sources indicated on Wednesday, the city is not calling for any reduction in the size of the Department of Education’s teaching corps. Instead, Bloomberg said today, it would actually add teaching positions for the first time after years of budget cuts.

Last year, the city lost 1,800 teaching jobs to attrition. Bloomberg said today the city would replace all teachers who leave and also likely add positions, for a total of 2,500 new hires.

The mayor’s preliminary budget, released in February, had also called for a $30 million cut in funds for overtime payments to Department of Education employees. That cut was eliminated, and a Department of Education spokesman, Matthew Mittenthal, said principals could opt to pay for after-school programs of their own using the “per session” funds.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew gave the budget a positive review but did not address the after-school cuts. “New York City has lost thousands of teachers over the last few years and it’s good news to hear that we will be adding educators to the system,” he said. “I can’t thank the City Council enough for making education a priority.”

But Mulgrew chided Bloomberg for saying during his press conference that he hoped the union would engage in “serious discussions” around new teacher evaluations, noting that the city, not the union, had walked out of talks in December.

“There’s no substantive reason why a final agreement should not be reached very quickly,” Bloomberg had said. “The longer the UFT waits, however, the longer it will take our schools to get the money they need and that they deserve.”

That’s because Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pledged to attach next year’s increases in school aid to teacher evaluation agreements: Districts that don’t finalize new evaluations by January 2013 won’t see their state aid grow. Not meeting the deadline could force the city to forgo $300 million for the year — nearly the same amount by which the DOE’s budget is slated to grow — and make deep midyear cuts to the Department of Education.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.