aural arguments

As layoffs loom, school aides union takes to the airwaves

The union that represents hundreds of school aides facing layoffs is striking back with a radio ad campaign protesting Mayor Bloomberg’s budget cuts.

District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal union, is running ads on five stations beginning this week that tout the benefits of school aides, whose contract with the city does not protect them from budget-induced layoffs. In the ads, children talk about why they need the aides who supervise them on the playground, sit with them in the cafeteria and counsel them against drug use.

A total of 850 school aides are facing layoffs after principals eliminated their positions because of budget cuts, said Department of Education spokeswoman Ann Forte. About 150 of those aides have already gotten pink slips.

Listen to the radio ad:

“Tell the mayor ‘no’ to these cuts,” the spot urges. “While it takes teachers to educate our kids, it takes an entire school to keep them safe.”

An accurate accounting of the number of school aide positions being cut won’t be available until principals finish finalizing their budgets, Forte said. The department estimates that 700 workers are at risk of losing their jobs, in addition to the 150 who learned before the summer began that their positions had been eliminated. Those aides will work through the end of September, Forte said, and any new layoffs will be effective at the end of October.

The city originally said in June that as many as 2,600 DC 37 school workers could be laid off.

Last month the union endorsed Comptroller William Thompson for mayor over Bloomberg, whom they backed in 2005, perhaps because the mayor refused to promise them that he would not cut union jobs during the economic crisis.

A Bloomberg administration spokesperson did not return requests for comment on the radio ad.

Here’s the full D.C. 37 press release:

NYC BOARD OF EDUCATION EMPLOYEES LOCAL 372 OF DC 37

LAUNCHES RADIO AD CAMPAIGN SLAMMING SCHOOL LAYOFFS AT A TIME WHEN CITY SQUANDERS BILLIONS IN TAX MONEY ON PRIVATE CONTRACTORS.

ADS SAY: “WHEN YOU PROTECT SCHOOL JOBS, YOU PROTECT SCHOOL KIDS.”

NYC Board of Education Employees Local 372 of District Council 37, which represents 25,000 NYC school workers, has launched a radio advertising campaign to fight the layoffs of dedicated school employees at a time when private contractors and outside consultants are funded by $9 billion of the city’s $60 billion budget.

Local 372’s radio ads began airing this week on 1010 WINS, WBLS, WCBS, WWRL and WKRS.

The ads feature NYC public school children who were helped by Local 372 members and tell New Yorkers that, “Mayor Bloomberg is proposing to cut over 900 school workers, the people who watch our kids from the morning school bus to the afternoon bell.” The ads ask the public to “Tell the Mayor ‘no’ to these cuts, because while it takes teachers to educate our kids, it takes an entire school to keep them safe…When you protect school jobs, you protect school kids.”

Among the 900 workers targeted for layoffs are School Lunch Workers, School Aides, Health Aides, Substance Abuse Prevention & Intervention Specialists (SAPIS) and Family Paraprofessionals who the Local 372 ads says, “make sure our kids get to school, stay in school and learn in school, safely.”

Students in the ads describe the vital role these school workers play. A young student named Denila says, “Ms. Jones sits with us in the lunch room and she takes us out to play volleyball. She acts like she’s one of the kids.” Another child says, “Ms. Dowdy is a drug counselor that comes to my school and teaches us why we shouldn’t do drugs. She doesn’t talk down to us, she talks to us. I like Ms. Dowdy.” Another says, “Ms. Richard makes sure I don’t eat things that will put me in the hospital. I’m allergic to peanuts, dairy products. She really watches over me.”

Local 372 President Veronica Montgomery-Costa said, “These workers should not be on the chopping block. They keep our kids safe and sound and ready to learn. Laying them off while entering into multi-million dollar no-bid contracts hurts this city’s economy by throwing away millions that should be put back into the classrooms. It also puts our children in jeopardy. It doesn’t make any sense to contract out services that can be done better and more economically by city employees who have a longstanding relationship with 1.1 million NYC school children they serve, as well as with their families and communities.”

The Local 372 ads are the latest salvo in DC 37’s citywide campaign spotlighting the shadow government of some 18,000 private contractors employing a parallel work force of more than 100,000—hired without the “merit and fitness” examinations and background checks required of public employees such as these school workers whose jobs are on the line.

DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts said, “We’ve proven with our white paper that these layoffs aren’t necessary. The money is there. In fact, the Department of Education recently signed a $95 million contract with a Florida-based consulting firm with a history of no-bid contracts. Taxpayers’ money is going out of state at a time when New Yorkers are experiencing high unemployment rates. That is outrageous.”

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.