state of the state

After bumpy year, Cuomo unveils few education proposals in lead-up to State of the State

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin-Office of the Governor/Flickr
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference in 2014.

After proposing renovations to Penn Station and $200 million to revitalize upstate airports this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo plugged “community schools” as a way to reform the criminal justice system.

That’s the only mention Gov. Cuomo has made of public schools in a series of policy proposals released in advance of his combined State of the State and budget speech this Wednesday. The lead-up to this year’s speech is vastly different from last year, when the governor promised an aggressive education agenda — and delivered over the next several months.

Though it’s unclear whether Cuomo will unveil new education priorities Wednesday, the topic has already taken a backseat to other policies after a year in which Cuomo’s education policies drew fire from teachers and parents across the state.

“Last year at this time I was telling everyone I assume he’s going to say a whole bunch of things and we’re going to have a big fight,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said last week. “My judgment and my gut is saying that’s not going to be the case this year.”

The governor jolted educators last January by calling teacher evaluations “baloney” and rallying for another overhaul of the state’s teacher evaluation system. He also said he wanted struggling schools to be turned over to outside entities if they failed to improve over time.

Cuomo succeeded in passing both initiatives, but not without political bruises. The evaluation changes passed, but many legislators weren’t satisfied with the deal. Anti-testing sentiment grew, and one in five students opted out of state assessments last year.

This backlash has already caused Cuomo to retreat on teacher evaluations, which he pushed to make more reliant on state test scores last year. (A governor-appointed task force suggested a moratorium on the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations, and the Board of Regents quickly passed an emergency regulation to do just that.)

If that has persuaded Cuomo to back away from public school policy and leave it to the Regents, that would please some observers.

“We see now what happens when politicians change those policies on a whim,” David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Grad Center, said about last year.

That’s not to say that advocates expect no mention of public schools. Cuomo has already unveiled plans to use $100 million to turn failing schools into community schools, which provide non-academic services like healthcare and counseling to students. Improving “failing” schools will help keep students out of prison, Cuomo said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is a big supporter of community schools. The city has pledged to turn all of the schools in its “Renewal” turnaround program into community schools, and the city is expanding the model to more non-Renewal schools this year.

Others are holding their breath to see if Cuomo will mention any hot-button issues like teacher evaluations or state tests. Some predict that he will at least address the task force’s recommendations to overhaul the Common Core learning standards.

Last year, the governor’s agenda was dominated by education. In addition to revamping teacher evaluations and changing the way the state dealt with struggling schools, he proposed raising the charter-school cap and changes to how teachers earn tenure.

Whatever Cuomo says on Wednesday, it would take a lot to top the education news from last year’s State of the State.

“I haven’t seen anything quite like that in the time that I’ve been involved in education,” said David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.

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.”

Movers & shakers

Memphis native named superintendent of Aspire network’s local schools

PHOTO: Aspire Public Schools
Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job. Previously, Manning was a Memphis City Schools principal.

Aspire Public Schools has named Nickalous Manning to its top job.

Manning will replace Allison Leslie, the founding superintendent of the charter network’s Memphis schools. She is leaving for Instruction Partners, an education consulting firm that works with school districts in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana.

“I look forward to serving children and families in my hometown,” said Manning, who was previously Aspire’s associate superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction, outreach coordinator, and principal of its Aspire Hanley Elementary.

Aspire runs three elementary schools and one middle school in Memphis.

Manning said he hopes to focus on Aspire’s role in supporting students outside the classroom and to launch a community advisory board, composed of parents and neighborhood residents, to “make sure that the community has a voice.”

“We know that we need to support our children in more than just academics,” he told Chalkbeat.

In Memphis, most students who attend Aspire schools come from low-income neighborhoods. At its four local schools, the charter group serves about 1,600 Memphis students.

Manning, who holds a doctorate in education, is a graduate of Memphis’ Melrose High School, which sits less than two miles from two Aspire schools. Before joining the network, he worked as a teacher and administrator in the Memphis City Schools and served as principal of Lanier Middle School, which closed in 2014 due to low enrollment.

In a statement, Leslie praised Manning’s commitment to the network’s students, saying,“I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Manning continue the great work we started together and make it even better.”

Aspire was founded in California in 1998 and runs 36 schools there. The charter network was recruited to Memphis to join the state-run district in 2013 — the organization’s only expansion outside of California.

In Memphis, Aspire opened two schools in 2013 and grew to three schools the following year. That’s when it opened Coleman Elementary under the state-run district, before switching course in 2016 and opening Aspire East Academy, a K-3 elementary school under the local Shelby County Schools.

This year, the charter network applied with Shelby County Schools to open its second a middle school, in Raleigh, in 2019. Though the application was initially rejected, Manning it would be resubmitted in the coming weeks, before the district’s final vote in August.

The proposed middle school harkens back to a dispute between Shelby County Schools and the state Department of Education over the charter’s legal ability to add grades to its state turnaround school. If approved, the state could create a new school that would be under local oversight.

“We are deeply committed to our children and families,”  Manning said. “We’ve heard from our families that they want continuity in K–8th-grade in their child’s time in schools. We’re committed to that end.”