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.”

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”