precautionary measures

City's school budget cuts move forward while state's are on ice

A court order and support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver aren’t enough to stop the city from slashing its schools budget this year.

City officials said today that they were fiscally obligated to move forward in making a midyear budget adjustment to account for an expected $250 million deficit during the final months of the school year, even though a judge has for now barred the state from taking back the funds.

The move has the attorney who convinced the judge to halt the state budget cuts planning to sue the city, too.

The budget shortfall became likely last month, when the city and the United Federation of Teachers failed to reach agreement on teacher evaluations. By missing a Jan. 17 deadline that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had enshrined in law to force school districts to negotiate new teacher evaluation deals with their local unions, New York City lost out on $250 million in state aid, which amounts to roughly a 4 percent increase over what the city received last year.

In response, department officials have begun making cuts so that it can plan for a balanced budget later this year. They have  put a freeze on hiring school staff and made cuts to department’s central offices. Soon, they’ll be making school-level cuts that affect field trips, after-school offerings, and enrichment programs, officials said today.

But increasingly, it looks like those cuts might not actually be necessary. Last week, a judge ruled that the state could not withhold any state aid until a lawsuit against the state aid loss brought by attorney Michael Rebell is decided. And earlier this week, Silver signaled that restoring state aid for the city would be a priority for him as he enters budget negotiations with Cuomo and the State Senate.

Today, a spokeswoman for the city said that it would move forward assuming that it still does not have the $250 million in state aid.

“We hope the legislature protects our children from the UFT’s obstinance, but unless that happens, we can’t spend money we do not have,” said Lauren Passalacqua, the spokeswoman.

Rebell said he was surprised and frustrated to hear that city officials did not also follow the injunction order placed on the state, even though the injunction does not technically apply to them.

“I was expecting, and I think the court was expecting, if we were able to get an injunction, that there’s no reason to make the cuts,” Rebell said.

Rebell said he planned to add the Department of Education, Mayor Bloomberg, and the city to the list of defendants in his court case.

“It’s arbitrary and unreasonable,” Rebell said. “To subtract more money and to deny them more services is making the denial of a sound basic education more acute.”

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.