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.

Incentives

Westminster district will give bonuses if state ratings rise, teachers wonder whether performance pay system is coming

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students work on an English assignment at M. Scott Carpenter Middle School in Westminster.

Teachers and employees in Westminster Public Schools will be able to earn a bonus if they help the struggling district improve its state ratings next year.

The district’s school board on Tuesday unanimously approved the $1.7 million plan for the one-year performance stipends, the district’s latest attempt to lift the quality of its schools.

School employees can earn $1,000 if their school meets a district-set score, or up to $2,000 if they reach a more ambitious goal the school sets. District employees, including the superintendent, can earn $1,000 if the district as a whole jumps up a rating next year.

“We recognize that everyone plays a critical role in increasing student achievement and we decided that if a particular school or the district as a whole can reach that next academic accreditation level, the employees directly responsible should be rewarded,” board president Dino Valente said in a statement.

The district is one of five that was flagged by the state for chronic low performance and was put on a state-ordered improvement plan this spring.

District officials have disputed state ratings, claiming the state’s system is not fairly assessing the performance of Westminster schools. Middle school teacher Melissa Duran, who also used to be president of the teacher’s union, drew a connection between that stance and the new stipends, saying any extra pay she gets would be based on one score.

“The district has gone to the state saying, ‘Why are you rating us on these tests, look at all the other things we’re doing’” Duran said. “Well, it’s the same thing for teachers. They’re still basing our effectiveness on a test score.”

Teachers interviewed Thursday said their first thoughts upon learning of the plan was that it sounded like the beginnings of performance pay.

“I already get the point that we are in need of having our test scores come up,” said math teacher Andy Hartman, who is also head of negotiations for the teacher’s union. “Putting this little carrot out there isn’t going to change anything. I personally do not like performance pay. It’s a very slippery slope.”

District leaders say they talked to all district principals after the announcement Wednesday, and heard positive feedback.

“A lot of the teachers think this is a good thing,” said Steve Saunders, the district’s spokesman.

National studies on the effectiveness of performance pay stipends and merit pay have shown mixed results. One recent study from Vanderbilt University concluded that they can be effective, but that the design of the systems makes a difference.

In Denver Public Schools, the district has a performance-pay system to give raises and bonuses to teachers in various situations. Studies of that model have found that some teachers don’t completely understand the system and that it’s not always tied to better student outcomes.

Westminster officials said they have never formally discussed performance pay, and said that these stipends are being funded for one year with an unanticipated IRS refund.

Westminster teachers said they have ideas for other strategies that could make a quick impact, such as higher pay for substitutes so teachers aren’t losing their planning periods filling in for each other when subs are difficult to find.

Waiting on a bonus that might come next year is not providing any new motivation, teachers said.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Duran said. “It’s not like we are not already working hard enough. Personally, I already give 110 percent. I’ve always given 110 percent.”

Last month, the school board also approved a new contract for teachers and staff. Under the new agreement, teachers and staff got a raise of at least 1 percent. They received a similar raise last year.

Human Resources

Leanne Emm, Colorado education department’s chief financial officer, to retire

Leanne Emm, the state education department's retiring chief financial officer. (Photo courtesy Colorado Department of Education)

A long-running joke among Colorado education officials, policymakers and activists is that only a handful of people really know how Colorado’s complex school funding system works.

One of those people — Leanne Emm, the state’s education department’s deputy commissioner — is retiring later this month after nearly 30 years in public service.

Emm announced her retirement in an email to other school finance officers late last month. Her last day at the department is Sept. 22.

“Each of you helps your students, communities, stakeholders and decision makers with a huge array of issues,” she said in her email. “I can only hope that I will have helped contribute to an understanding of budgetary pressures that we have within the state.”

Emm was appointed to her position in 2011 — about the same time the state’s schools were grappling with deep budget cuts due to Great Recession. She worked at Jeffco Public Schools for 14 years before joining the education department.

Katy Anthes, the state’s education commissioner, said Emm’s exit will be felt at both the state and local school district level.

“Leanne’s leadership and her deep knowledge of the school finance system will be sorely missed by all of us at CDE and by the districts she has supported over the years.” Anthes said in a statement. “I will be forever grateful for her support as I transitioned to this role. I’m sad to see her leave CDE, but I suspect that her love for the state of Colorado and passion for improving education will cause our paths to cross again.”