summer session

Middle schools scramble after summer program funds shifted to struggling schools

PHOTO: Mayor's Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio at M.S. 331 talking about after-school programs for middle school students in 2014.

More than 40 middle schools participating in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new after-school initiative have learned they will have to cancel their upcoming summer programs, just months after being told that funding would be available.

The money, a city official said in an email to after-school program directors last week, was being “re-directed to schools with the greatest challenges.” The news came days after de Blasio announced that he was pumping an extra $50 million of city and state money into 130 struggling schools, including the 94 in his administration’s turnaround program.

Now, the middle schools need to make other plans.

“What can I say?” said Principal Ron Link of Theatre Arts Production Company School in the Bronx, who got the news on Wednesday afternoon. “That’s the nature of the principal’s job. You get constant news out of left field.”

The summer program would have been an extension of the mayor’s new after-school initiative for middle-schoolers, called School’s Out New York City, which has programs in more than 560 schools this year. Directors of those middle-school programs were told in a February email that the city was “excited” that funding had become available for the summer. By the end of March, a few dozen programs had been given the green light to start up again in July for at least four weeks.

But an official told program directors in an email on May 8 that while overall funding for the after-school programs had increased, “some of the City’s planned summer funding will be re-directed.”

“We are unable to expand summer services as previously proposed,” wrote Mike Dogan, assistant commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development.

Advocates are concerned that other, established programs that serve students over the summer will also see funding reductions under the mayor’s latest spending plan, including Beacon community centers and the Cornerstone programs that operate in public housing. The Campaign for Children, a 150-member coalition of early education and after-school groups that include the Children’s Aid Society and the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, estimated Wednesday that the changes to the three programs will affect 17,000 students.

“Programs are really quite frankly in a panic,” said Citizens’ Committee for Children executive director Jennifer March.

Dayana Perez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Youth and Community Development, said in statement that the city is still funding middle-school summer programs that existed before this year’s after-school expansion, including Beacon and Cornerstone programs in the city’s highest-needs communities, and that the Department of Education is continuing Summer Quest and its own arts- and STEM-focused summer programs. Officials said the city is budgeting for 39,000 summer program seats for elementary schoolers and 17,000 for middle-schoolers.

“The executive budget ensures that much-needed services are available to high-need students at 130 struggling schools,” Perez said. “This administration has made afterschool expansion a priority, and we will continue to work to make comprehensive afterschool opportunities available to all students.”

Still, the Campaign for Children estimates that it would cost at least $10.2 million to make the proposed middle-school summer programs a reality and boost funding at the Beacon sites and Cornerstone programs to their expected levels. And though the City Council has historically stepped in to fill gaps in after-school funding, March said any emergency funding included in a budget adopted in June likely wouldn’t come fast enough.

“Parents aren’t going to wait until June 30 to figure out what they’re doing with their kids the following week,” March said.

Geoff Decker contributed reporting.


More than 1,000 Memphis school employees will get raise to $15 per hour

PHOTO: Katie Kull

About 1,200 Memphis school employees will see their wages increase to $15 per hour under a budget plan announced Tuesday evening.

The raises would would cost about $2.4 million, according to Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance.

The plan for Shelby County Schools, the city’s fifth largest employer, comes as the city prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who had come to Memphis in 1968 to promote living wages.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson read from King’s speech to sanitation workers 50 years and two days ago as they were on strike for fair wages:

“Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life or our nation. They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation … And it is criminal to have people working on a full time basis and a full time job getting part time income.”

Hopson also cited a “striking” report that showed an increase in the percent of impoverished children in Shelby County. That report from the University of Memphis was commissioned by the National Civil Rights Museum to analyze poverty trends since King’s death.

“We think it’s very important because so many of our employees are actually parents of students in our district,” Hopson said.

The superintendent of Tennessee’s largest district frequently cites what he calls “suffocating poverty” for many of the students in Memphis public schools as a barrier to academic success.

Most of the employees currently making below $15 per hour are warehouse workers, teaching assistants, office assistants, and cafeteria workers, said Johnson.

The threshold of $15 per hour is what many advocates have pushed to increase the federal minimum wage. The living wage in Memphis, or amount that would enable families of one adult and one child to support themselves, is $21.90, according to a “living wage calculator” produced by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor.

Board members applauded the move Tuesday but urged Hopson to make sure those the district contracts out services to also pay their workers that same minimum wage.

“This is a bold step for us to move forward as a district,” said board chairwoman Shante Avant.

after parkland

Tennessee governor proposes $30 million for student safety plan

Gov. Bill Haslam is proposing spending an extra $30 million to improve student safety in Tennessee, both in schools and on school buses.

Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday proposed spending an extra $30 million to improve student safety in Tennessee, joining the growing list of governors pushing similar actions after last month’s shooting rampage at a Florida high school.

But unlike other states focusing exclusively on safety inside of schools, Haslam wants some money to keep students safe on school buses too — a nod to several fatal accidents in recent years, including a 2016 crash that killed six elementary school students in Chattanooga.

“Our children deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment,” Haslam said in presenting his safety proposal in an amendment to his proposed budget.

The Republican governor only had about $84 million in mostly one-time funding to work with for extra needs this spring, and school safety received top priority. Haslam proposed $27 million for safety in schools and $3 million to help districts purchase new buses equipped with seat belts.

But exactly how the school safety money will be spent depends on recommendations from Haslam’s task force on the issue, which is expected to wind up its work on Thursday after three weeks of meetings. Possibilities include more law enforcement officers and mental health services in schools, as well as extra technology to secure school campuses better.

“We don’t have an exact description of how those dollars are going to be used. We just know it’s going to be a priority,” Haslam told reporters.

The governor acknowledged that $30 million is a modest investment given the scope of the need, and said he is open to a special legislative session on school safety. “I think it’s a critical enough issue,” he said, adding that he did not expect that to happen. (State lawmakers cannot begin campaigning for re-election this fall until completing their legislative work.)

Education spending already is increased in Haslam’s $37.5 billion spending plan unveiled in January, allocating an extra $212 million for K-12 schools and including $55 million for teacher pay raises. But Haslam promised to revisit the numbers — and specifically the issue of school safety — after a shooter killed 14 students and three faculty members on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, triggering protests from students across America and calls for heightened security and stricter gun laws.

Haslam had been expected to roll out a school safety plan this spring, but his inclusion of bus safety was a surprise to many. Following fatal crashes in Hamilton and Knox counties in recent years, proposals to retrofit school buses with seat belts have repeatedly collapsed in the legislature under the weight the financial cost.

The new $3 million investment would help districts begin buying new buses with seat belts but would not address existing fleets.

“Is it the final solution on school bus seat belts? No, but it does [make a start],” Haslam said.

The governor presented his school spending plan on the same day that the House Civil Justice Committee advanced a controversial bill that would give districts the option of arming some trained teachers with handguns. The bill, which Haslam opposes, has amassed at least 45 co-sponsors in the House and now goes to the House Education Administration and Planning Committee.

“I just don’t think most teachers want to be armed,” Haslam told reporters, “and I don’t think most school boards are going to authorize them to be armed, and I don’t think most people are going to want to go through the training.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.