budget breakdown

Pre-K funds, charter school protections, and Common Core changes in state budget deal

Updated 1:11 p.m. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State legislature reached agreement on a new spending plan that includes $300 million in eligible pre-kindergarten funds for New York City, an effective annulment of Success Academy co-location reversals, and a process for new city charter schools to receive facilities support, according to budget documents for the education section that were posted online Saturday morning.

The deal will allow Mayor Bill de Blasio to move forward with ambitious plans to provide full-day pre-kindergarten to 70,000 four-year-olds, a signature campaign pledge and a centerpiece of his agenda four months into office. The funds won’t come through a local income tax increase on city residents, which de Blasio had preferred. But it will still provide almost all of the money that was included in his plan, which seeks to provide access to more than 50,000 students next year.

The budget will provide $1.5 billion for statewide funding over five years.

No deal was formally announced, but state officials were printing budget bills late into Friday night, a signal that stickier issues that had delayed an agreement had been ironed out. A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office did not respond to questions seeking additional details.

The education section of the budget was not completed until after midnight, technically meaning that it missed a three-day window before an end-of-month deadline required by law. A vote must be held on Monday and lawmakers are expected back in Albany on Sunday to look over the budget’s details.

Additional details, other than the ones provided in the budget bills, have not been made immediately available. We’re combing through the bill today, but here are some other education-related aspects:

Charter schools

— The budget deal will effectively reverse de Blasio’s cancellation of three Success Academy space-sharing plans. New language in the charter school law states that any charter school co-location plan changes, approved prior to 2014, would need consent from the charter school to move forward.

— In New York City, new charter schools or schools that are approved to add grades must be “provided access to facilities” if they request a co-location inside a city-owned school building. If that’s not possible, the city must pay for a school’s rent elsewhere or pay an extra 20 percent in per–pupil funding to pay for the private facilities costs. After the city spends $40 million, the state will begin chipping in a share of the funds.

— Charter schools can’t be charged rent if they are offered space within a district-owned school building.

— Charter school funding levels will stay flat—at their 2010-2011 levels until the end of the 2016-2017 year. News of the funding freeze is what sparked many charter school advocates to do a last-minute lobbying spree this week. The state will provide all charter schools will per-pupil funding increases amounting to $500 over the same period.

— When a charter school closes, public funds that are left over will need to be paid over to the district serving its former students.

— Financial audits of New York City charter schools are authorized to be handled by the city’s comptroller. Earlier this year, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer declared that he planned to audit charter schools, a statement that at the time was built on shaky legal ground. But the law change further enshrines the comptroller’s auditing authority. The state comptroller will have the authority to financially audit charter schools outside of the city.

$2 Billion Smart Schools Bond Act

— November’s general election will include a referendum to allow the state to borrow $2 billion that districts can use to upgrade their classroom technology, add internet bandwidth, add pre-K seats and enhance school building security. In addition, New York City will be able to use some of its money to replace Transportable Classroom Units, or classroom trailers, which the State Assembly had been fighting for.

Common Core/Teacher evaluations

— Standardized tests will be banned in early grades, starting with pre-kindergarten. Districts administered the tests in recent years as a way to evaluate teachers, but they were criticized as being inappropriate for students as young as four and five years old.

— Students won’t be held from advancing to the next grade if they fail the state’s new Common Core tests. New York City was the lone district in the state that actually used test scores as a grade promotion factor, but new schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña had already signaled that she would move away from that policy.

Pre-K eligibility

— New York City pre-K programs, which will include charter schools, will be eligible for the state funds by applying to the State Education Department, which will administer a grant program based on several criteria, according to the law’s language: curriculum, learning environment, family engagement, staffing patterns, teacher education and experience, facility quality, physical well-being, and partnerships with non-profit institutions.

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Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”