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.

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. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.