charting the charters

City's charter school spending to exceed $1 billion in 2013-2014

charterchart02The city’s spending bill for charter schools next year is likely to surpass $1 billion, a 24 percent increase that exceeded conservative estimates offered by budget officials earlier this year.

In January, the Department of Education projected it would spend about $70 million more on per pupil expenditures for the growing charter sector, which will increase from 159 to 183 schools, in the 2013-2014 school year. That figure swelled to $210 million when Mayor Bloomberg proposed his executive budget last month, a gap that caught come city lawmakers by surprise.

“I find it totally outrageous and unacceptable that you could be so far off,” Councilman Stephen Levin said at Tuesday’s education budget hearing with department officials.

The total spending plan proposed for education is $24.9 billion, a 4.5 percent increase that includes $19.8 billion — a 3 percent increase — to pay staff and operate schools, and $4.9 billion — a 10 percent increase — for pension and debt expenses.

City officials said it’s not unusual for there to be a gap in projections between January and May budget forecasts, especially when it comes to charter school expenses. Enrollment for expanding charter schools still aren’t determined and some proposals for new charter schools aren’t finalized, they said.

“At that time, we still don’t know the full extent of how the charters are phasing in,” said Chief Financial Officer Michael Tragale. “That’s why some of the projections were off.”

In planning for this school year, for instance, the city initially said it expected charter school expenses to increase by $60 million, a figure that ultimately increased to $112 million when the executive budget was adopted in June 2012.

Despite the city’s miscalculations, the Independent Budget Office managed to make a more accurate projection. In a March analysis, the IBO noted the low-ball estimate in the city’s preliminary budget.

“IBO estimates that charter school payments will be significantly higher next year, totaling over $1.0 billion,” the report says.

The analysis also projected that by 2017 the number of charter school students will have grown to 120,000 and their costs will have exceeded $1.3 billion.

This year, spending is about proportional to the number of students in charter schools. There are 56,600 charter schools students, slightly more than 5 percent of the student population; their total projected costs in 2012-2013, $865 million, represents 4.5 percent of the operating budget.

Levin said the recalculations — this year’s adjustment was a 200 percent change — made it difficult to monitor charter school spending, which is determined in part by the state’s per-pupil funding formulas.

“I feel like by not presenting an accurate number at the preliminary budget, the Department of Education is getting around this committee, this council’s role in having oversight over the budget in the city of New York,” Levin said.

Tragale said that there would be more transparency in the future now that charter school spending has its own unit of appropriation in the budget. Previously, it was lumped into a $2.7 billion line item that includes payments for special education services for private school students and foster care students who have been placed outside New York City.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that charter schools, which tend to outperform district schools on state test scores but serve fewer high-need students, were a valuable school choice for parents.

“Obviously, there was a discrepancy, but the bottom line to me is more important: that these schools are educating our students and that’s the overall goal,” Walcott said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.