details

Maze of rules in bill to end seniority layoffs starts with U-rated

Mayor Bloomberg’s fight against “last-in, first-out” layoff rules— the policy of laying off teachers by reverse seniority — has made its way to Albany.

Last night, State Senator John Flanagan introduced a bill that would end the practice and the same bill will be introduced in the Assembly by New York City Assemblyman Jonathan Bing.

The bill rules out seniority as the sole factor in determining who gets laid off. To replace the current seniority system, the bill offers eight pages of an extraordinarily complicated, prioritized list of which teachers and school supervisors would be first in line to be laid off.

Bing’s Chief of Staff Jake Dilemani said the bill was written with input from the mayor’s office, along with groups like Educators 4 Excellence — an organization of teachers who, with funding from the Gates Foundation, has put forward its own proposal to change teacher layoffs.

In a statement sent to reporters, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said that the bill would “send us back to the days before civil service protections, when people could be fired for being the wrong race or gender, too young or too old.”

Last year, when Bloomberg was threatening to lay off roughly the same number of teachers, Bing proposed a bill that would end seniority-based layoffs. At the time, opposition to the bill was so fierce that the bill was never voted on. But this year, anti-last in first out sentiments have reached a fever pitch, with the city’s four editorial boards lined up in favor of changes.

This year’s bill is substantially more detailed than the one Bing proposed last year.

If the bill is passed into law, there will be nine categories of school employees who will be laid off before their peers. Employees who fall into all of these categories would lose their jobs first, followed by those who fall into eight of the categories, and so on down the scale to employees who fall into two categories. If the city finds that it still needs the lay off people after that, the next rung of layoffs will hit teachers and supervisors who are in the first category — those with unsatisfactory ratings.

The categories, in order of layoff priority, are:

  1. Teachers and supervisors who have received an unsatisfactory rating in the last five years. If the new teacher evaluation system is put in place before layoffs are carried out, then teachers labeled “ineffective” would be the first to go.
  2. Teachers and supervisors who have been fined or suspended without pay in the last five years. This means that teachers who’ve been charged with misconduct or incompetence and have either pled guilty or been found guilty in the last five years would be laid off. For example, the Bronx principal who was found guilty of arbitrarily giving her teachers unsatisfactory ratings and was fined $7,500 would be laid off before another principal. Under the current system, a principal with less seniority would be laid off before her.
  3. Teachers and supervisors who have been in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool for more than six months. These are school employees who were forced out of their jobs when their schools could no longer afford them and have not yet been hired by another school. They remain on the city’s payroll while some work in administration and others work as substitute or full-time teachers. Given that it’s rare for schools to excess staff in the middle of the year, the six-month deadline in the law would include most of the teachers in the ATR pool at the present time.
  4. Any teacher or supervisor convicted of a crime in the last five years.
  5. Teachers and supervisors who have been fined for being chronically absent or late in the last five years. Also includes employees who have been fined for “improper use or recording of leave time.” The terms “chronically absent” and “chronically late” are not defined in the teachers union contract as a set number of days, according to a spokesman for the UFT.
  6. Teachers and supervisors who have been the subject of an investigation in the last five years that ended with the charges being substantiated. This covers school employees who have been investigated by the city school district’s special commissioner of investigation, the city school district’s office of special  investigations or the city school district’s office of equal opportunity. Having charges substantiated translates to an indictment, but it does not mean that these people have been found guilty.
  7. Teachers and supervisors who, by the August 31 of the year in which layoffs take place, have not completed their certification.
  8. Teachers who, for two years or more, have been ranked in the bottom 30 percent of teachers based on their students’ test scores. These rankings, which measure students’ progress against a model that predicts what their test scores should have been, cover a small percentage of teachers. Only teachers who teach math and English in grades 4-8 receive teacher data reports.
  9. Teachers and supervisors who were not granted tenure after three years, but were put on probation for the year preceding layoffs. Recently, the Department of Education has begun encouraging principals to extend teachers’ probation rather than offer them tenure if they believe the teacher shows promise, but is not yet ready for a lifetime commitment from the city. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from teachers who’ve had their probationary periods extended by one or two years when their schools had a series of new principals, each of whom requested an additional year to get to know her staff.

And we’re not done yet.

If the city lays off all of the teachers who fall into multiple categories, then proceeds to the first category — those with unsatisfactory ratings — but discovers that it only needs to lay off a fraction of these people, then new measures come into play. Employees with the most unsatisfactory ratings in the last five years will be laid off first, followed by those who have been given U-ratings, as they’re commonly known, most recently.

Employees in the Absent Teacher Reserve will be laid off based on how long they’ve been in the pool. And teachers and supervisors who have been convicted of a crime in the last five years will be laid off based on how recent the conviction was. Among those who fall in the low value-added score category, teachers with the lowest scores will be laid off first, unless they teach children with disabilities or who require special education services.

If the city makes its way through this labyrinthine process and still needs to lay off more teachers, the ball rolls into the court of the Board of Regents, who will get to decide what types of teachers are laid of next. The bill contains a measure meant to protect high needs schools — defined as those where 90 percent of students get free or reduced lunch — against being overly burdened by layoffs. It states:

Any such regulations must ensure that in a high-need school the number of staff laid off shall not exceed the percentage of the overall number of positions in the school that represents half of the average percentage of staff laid off citywide.

If the Board of Regents does not come up with a layoff plan within 75 days, individual school principals will get to decide who to let go, using guidance from the city’s school chancellor. A committee of parents, teachers, and administrators is supposed to advise the principal in making this decision. However, if the city decides that it wants to eliminate all the positions within a certain license area (e.g. gym or art), it can overrule the Board of Regents and principals’ decisions.

Busing Ban

As school districts push for integration, decades-old federal rule could thwart them

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Several districts across the country want to use federal money to pay for school buses as part of their desegregation plans. A federal spending restriction could get in the way.

In Florida, officials plan to use federal money to shuttle students across vast Miami-Dade County to new science-themed magnet programs in a bid to desegregate several schools.

In South Carolina, a tiny district west of Myrtle Beach intends to spend federal funds on free busing for families who enroll at two predominantly black schools, hoping that will draw in white and Hispanic students.

And in New York, state officials want to deploy federal school-improvement money to help integrate struggling schools, believing that may be the secret to their rebirth.

But each of these fledgling integration efforts — and similar ones across the country — could be imperiled by obscure budget provisions written during the anti-busing backlash of the 1970s, which prohibit using federal funding for student transportation aimed at racial desegregation. The rules have been embedded in every education spending bill since at least 1974, as Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia pointed out in September when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provisions from the latest appropriations bill.

The rules are “a relic of an ugly history when states and school districts across the nation resisted meaningful integration,” said Scott, the top Democrat on the House education committee, during a floor speech where he called the persistence of the rules “morally reprehensible.”

After Scott’s amendment to eliminate the provisions was blocked, advocates are now working behind the scenes to convince members of the Senate from both parties to strike the rules from the latest spending bill during negotiations. More than 40 integration advocates and experts have signed onto a letter to lawmakers calling for the anti-busing language to be removed, and members of that coalition plan to meet with lawmakers in the coming days.

Advocates are especially worried about funding for magnet programs, like those in Miami and the South Carolina district, which rely on special science or art offerings or rigorous academic courses to draw students of different races into the same school — a choice-based approach that has become the primary way districts now pursue desegregation.

This is the first year districts that receive federal magnet-school grants are allowed to spend some of that money on transportation, after Congress changed the rules as part of its education-law overhaul in 2015. Among the 32 districts that received a total of nearly $92 million in magnet grants this year, at least six plan to use some of that money for transportation, according to their applications.

Now, just as those funds are about to flow to busing — which many families insist upon before they will enroll their children in magnet schools across town — the decades-old spending restriction could cut them off, advocates warn.

That could create a major problem for districts like Miami-Dade County.

It hopes to attract students from across the district to three heavily black and Hispanic schools by launching magnet programs that focus on zoology, cybersecurity, and mobile-app development, according to its application. To pull that off, it requested $245,000 for buses next year since, as the application notes, the “most limiting factor” for many families is “the cost associated with transporting their child to the magnet school.”

The district in Lake City, South Carolina wants to pull new families from different neighborhoods into an elementary school and a middle school that suffer from sagging enrollment and intense poverty. Previous recruitment efforts that didn’t provide transportation amounted to “failed attempts,” the district said in its application.

However, if the anti-busing provisions are not removed from the next federal spending bill, they would cancel out the new rule allowing those districts to spend some of their magnet money on transportation (though districts could still use local funds to fill in the gap). As such, magnet-school representatives are pushing hard for lawmakers to remove the provisions during budget negotiations.

“We’re hoping this doesn’t see the light of day,” said John Laughner, legislative and communications manager at Magnet Schools of America, an association of magnets from across the country. He plans to discuss the issue with lawmakers next week.

Beyond magnet schools, other desegregation efforts could be undercut by the anti-busing provision, which was included in a spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that the House approved and one the Senate has yet to vote on.

At least one state — New York — listed socioeconomic and racial integration among the ways it could intervene in low-performing schools under the new federal education law. In addition, New York officials announced a grant program this week where up to 30 districts will receive federal money to develop integration plans.

Advocates fear the anti-busing rule could disrupt any of those plans that require transportation and aim to reduce racial segregation. (New York education officials said they did not want to speculate on the impact of a spending bill that hasn’t been approved.)

A Democratic Congressional aide who has studied the issue said the provision could even block federal funding for planning or public outreach around desegregation programs that involve busing, not just busing itself.

Either way, advocates say the provision could dissuade districts from using the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, to pursue integration — even though research suggests that student achievement on tests and other measures improve when they attend less segregated schools.

“We shouldn’t have this,” said Philip Tegeler, a member of the National Coalition on School Diversity, which is leading the charge to remove the restriction. He added that the provision stemmed from mandatory desegregation busing of an earlier era: “It’s clearly an anachronism that doesn’t really fit any more with what states and districts are doing voluntarily.”

A U.S. education department spokeswoman said Secretary Betsy DeVos would be bound to enforce any funding prohibitions that Congress approves, though she noted that state and local funds are not subject to the same restrictions.

Negotiators from the House and Senate must still agree on a single spending bill, which would go before the full Congress for a vote. Until then, lawmakers have voted to temporarily extend 2017 spending levels through December. It’s possible Congress will pass another extension then, meaning a final deal — and a decision on the anti-busing language — may not arrive until early next year.

In the meantime, advocates are pressing lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee who helped craft ESSA, with the argument that the anti-busing provision limits the flexibility and local control the law was meant to provide districts.

Margaret Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the senator, would not say whether he is open to removing the provision, but said he would continue working to ensure ESSA “is implemented as Congress intended.”

The anti-busing language — found in two sections of the current appropriation bills — prohibits using federal funds for transportation “to overcome racial imbalance” or “to carry out a plan of racial desegregation,” or forcing students to attend any school other than the one closest to home. (A separate education law contains a similar restriction, but ESSA exempted magnet schools from it.) The provisions emerged in the early 1970s, just after the Supreme Court ruled that busing students to schools outside their own racially isolated neighborhoods was an appropriate tool for school desegregation.

At the time, many white parents raged against what they called “forced busing.” In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed at least one law annually from 1966 to 1977 meant to curb school integration, according to historian Jason Sokol, and in 1974 the full Congress voted in favor of an anti-busing amendment to an education bill. The restrictions in the current spending bills appear to have originated around the same time.

The attacks on busing reflect how crucial free transportation is to school desegregation, said Erica Frankenberg, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies segregation. Busing was included in guidelines outlining how districts should comply with desegregation requirements in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and later upheld by the Supreme Court, she pointed out.

More recently, studies have shown that non-white parents are more likely to opt into magnet schools when they provide transportation, and that magnets that don’t offer busing are more likely to enroll students of a single race, Frankenberg said. Yet, many politicians remain reluctant to endorse busing for desegregation — which may reflect a deeper ambivalence, she added.

Resistance to busing, she said, “is a very politically acceptable way to be opposed to integration.”

Yes and No

In a first, New York officials reject 2 proposed charter schools, but sign off on 5 for New York City

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Charter-school advocates staged a rally outside the state capitol building 2015.

New York’s top education policymakers voted Monday to approve five new charter schools in New York City – but, for the first time, rejected two proposed charters.

The moves by the state Board of Regents sent a mixed message on charter schools. While the Regents have approved more this year than at any point since 2013, the rejections suggest they won’t rubber stamp applications – even those, like the two shot down Monday, that have earned the state education department’s blessing.

Four of the approved schools will be based in the Bronx, and one in Staten Island. (Technically, Monday’s vote is preliminary and the board must finalize its decision at Tuesday’s full-board meeting.)

A new charter high school on Staten Island plans to enroll a significant number of students with disabilities — an area of great need in a borough where a quarter of students have some disability. Students will have the opportunity to graduate with as many as 60 college credits through a partnership with St. John’s University.

The Bronx charters include a new elementary school that will serve high-functioning students on the autism spectrum, an all-boys middle school inspired by an Obama-era program aimed at uplifting young men of color, and a high school for students who have fallen behind academically.

The final Bronx school is KIPP Freedom, slated to open in 2018, which will mark the first time the national network has opened a new school in New York City in six years.

“The community has tremendous support for the charter,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa about KIPP, who suggested the school could even help reduce segregation if sited in the right location.

The two schools the board rejected would have been located in districts in Mount Vernon, in Westchester County, and Homer, in upstate New York.

Board members raised concerns about the applications, including that their curriculums were not very innovative. They also worried that the schools would drain resources from their surrounding districts, potentially forcing them to cut extracurricular programs from traditional schools.

Regent Judith Johnson, who represents the Mount Vernon district, expressed concern that the school only planned to serve students grades 6-8, while the district is moving towards a model that keeps children in the same school from kindergarten through eighth grade. She suggested waiting to see how the district’s efforts pan out.

“I would suggest this is premature,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to support this at this time.”

The vote comes as top state officials have been skeptical of charter schools and policies regulating them.

At past meetings, Regents have wondered aloud whether the schools are serving their fair share of high-needs students. And Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia have been on a warpath against a new policy that will allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers.

However, those concerns have not stopped the Regents from approving new charter schools. During a low point for approvals in 2015, when the state approved only four charters, few applications made it past the education department’s vetting process and to the board for final approval.

Since then, there has been a steady uptick in approvals. The board signed off on seven new schools last year, and is set to approve at least eight this year. (The board, which typically accepts applications in two or three rounds each year, approved three schools earlier this year.)

State education department officials on Monday also presented new ways to evaluate charter schools and decide whether they should remain open, based on proposals that the Board of Regents floated last month.

The additions to the state’s “Charter School Performance Framework” could include measures of student chronic absenteeism, the schools’ suspension rates, and the results of student and staff surveys. In previous meetings, Regents have also suggested surveying families who decide to leave charter schools.

Charter schools are already required to meet certain enrollment and retention targets, or to make “good faith efforts” to reach them. The state also considers the quality of a school’s curriculum and its outreach to families.

At Monday’s meeting, some Regents proposed adding yet another measure: whether charter schools are sharing innovative practices with the district schools.

“If the original intent [of charter schools] was to create opportunity for innovation,” said Regent Johnson, “we have to decide now, after those twenty plus years, did that happen?”