Follow the money

Fariña, grilled about summer program cuts, hints that a solution is on the way

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York, at a rally outside City Hall on Thursday as budget hearings continued inside.

Education officials struggled to explain an abrupt cut to middle-school summer programs at a budget hearing Thursday, as pressure mounted for the city to restore funds to avoid layoffs and cancellations.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told council members she thought they would see a resolution “soon” to the cuts, which advocates and program directors estimated will affect at least 35,000 children and were first reported by Chalkbeat. It was the de Blasio administration’s first acknowledgement that officials were negotiating to restore the funds, but program directors and council members said they were still waiting for details.

“It’s totally creating havoc in many families’ lives, and it’s incredibly frustrating for us from the council’s perspective,” said Julissa Ferreras, who chairs the council’s finance committee.

Fariña did not elaborate when Ferreras and other council members asked why the cuts happened after money was allocated and program directors had begun hiring staff and enrolling students.

“Well, this is obviously something we’re working on,” said Fariña, who then deferred questions to the department’s chief financial officer, Raymond Orlando. Orlando also did not offer insight into the timing, but said the money would benefit struggling schools that were starting up their own after-school and summer programs.

That was one of many instances during Thursday’s hearings when council members expressed frustration with the education department’s budgets, which total $34.5 billion. The council is charged with overseeing the city’s spending and budgeting, but Ferreras said that process had been “completely hampered” because the city was two months late submitting its proposed five-year capital budget.

But it was the maneuver to cut funding to after-school summer programs that roused the most criticism. In the middle of Fariña’s testimony, several council members left to join a rally outside City Hall organized by a coalition of organizations affected by the cut.

“Mayor de Blasio, ‘We’re looking into it’ is not an answer,” said Council member Helen Rosenthal, who said a program planned for a NYCHA development in her district lost 64 seats.

After-school program directors say they were cut off guard by the cuts. The Department of Youth and Community Development had told them months earlier that they had been granted additional funding to continue their programs over the summer, extending the de Blasio administration’s signature after-school initiative.

Earlier this month, the providers were told that the money had been redirected to support the city’s program to turn around 94 struggling schools. Programs not affiliated with public schools were also cut, 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, says it still has not been told how many programs were affected.

The cuts totaled $27.7 million, according to the council’s analysis of the budget. All told, $55.5 million in after-school funding will be redirected, according to a report from the Independent Budget Office.

It is the city’s second round of budget hearings since Mayor Bill de Blasio came into office. While the City Council and the administration remained aligned politically, the tension showed that some of the goodwill afforded to the administration during last year’s budget negotiations was wearing off.

Still, the hearing was friendly in comparison to the testy budget meetings during the Bloomberg administration, when officials often withheld funding to social-service programs to gain leverage in final budget negotiations.

“We don’t want to negotiate in this fashion,” Ferreras said. “We were supposed to be eliminating the budget dance. We were supposed to be eliminating these moments of contention because we’re all in this together.”

Fariña’s hints at a coming resolution did little to reassure the after-school providers, who said they had not received an indication from the administration that it would be settled this week. Advocates cautioned the city last week that they need assurances by Friday in order to have enough time to get background checks for new staff, buy art supplies, and book field trips by the time programs begin on July 6.

“Without a commitment of a solution, we have to start the wheels turning to cancel everything,” said Michelle Yanche, an assistant executive director at Good Shepherd Services, which stands to lose 750 seats across 11 programs. “And once those wheels are set in motion it is really not possible to change course again to pull off a quality program in any kind of timely way.”

Four of those programs would have operated in public housing projects, Yanche said. Two programs operate in developments the city has deemed its most violent, leaving Yanche concerned for the safety of children she had planned to serve.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”