budget basics

Mayor’s budget calls for new 3-K preschool sites amid looming budget threats

PHOTO: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

New York City is speeding up its expansion of prekindergarten for three-year-old students, despite looming budget threats from Albany and Washington D.C., Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

The mayor announced the $46 million plan to expand his “3-K” program during during a press briefing, where he unveiled his $88.67 billion budget preliminary budget for the coming fiscal year.

Still, de Blasio warned about tough times ahead for school funding — which he pinned partially on his rival, Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor’s proposed budget leaves the city with $200 million less in school funding than city officials had projected, and force it shoulder additional costs relating to charter schools and special-education services, de Blasio said.

The bigger threat to the city’s budget will come from Washington, with up to $700 million at risk, according to city projections. In response, the mayor touted $900 million in savings across fiscal years 2018 and 2019 through a partial hiring freeze and agency and debt-service savings.

“This budget process proceeded against a backdrop of tremendous uncertainty,” de Blasio told reporters. “We said to ourselves, as we embark on this process, that we would have to be very careful, very sparing in the actions that we took.”

Here’s a breakdown of the mayor’s budget:

Four new 3-K sites. De Blasio’s plan says that 12 districts will provide free preschool for 3-year-olds by 2020 — four more than he originally planned. The new districts are 5 and 6 in Upper Manhattan, 12 in the Bronx, and 16 in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Education department officials said the city plans to fund these districts on their own, but in order to expand 3-K to every school district, the city will need to tap into state and federal funds.

“We want to move aggressively with 3-K,” de Blasio said. “We decided that we could go farther, more quickly.”

Shifting costs from Albany to New York City. The $10.5 billion in school funding that Gov. Cuomo has proposed giving New York City falls far short of what the city expected, amounting to a “very substantial cut” that would “hold us back,” de Blasio said.

He also raised concerns about $144 million in additional costs the city would have to shoulder for charter schools under the governor’s proposal and an extra $65 million the city would have to find for special education services.

A spokesman for the governor’s office said the reduction in special-education funding is much smaller than the city is projecting. State officials also said the state is giving the city a $248 million boost in school funding this year, along with increases in Medicaid funding and tax revenue.

“Calling this significant increase a cut is disingenuous and the City should check its math,” said Morris Peters, spokesman the state budget office.

The budget lacked money for homeless students. Similar to last year, the mayor left out about $10 million in his preliminary budget plan for social workers that help students living in shelters. The decision comes as the city’s homeless student population continues to swell, reaching one in 10 students during the 2017 school year. Advocates quickly blasted the decision, saying the social workers provide “critical support” to these students.

“We are appalled that the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget would eliminate funding for the DOE Bridging the Gap social workers for students living in shelters,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York. “Just yesterday, while testifying in Albany, Chancellor Fariña highlighted these social workers as a key accomplishment.”

But de Blasio said, just like last year, the city would find additional funding for homeless students before the budget is finalized.

“The strategic goal has not changed, we’re going to be there for those kids,” he said. “Whether the current design and the current cost is right is what we’re not sure about.”

court side

Lawsuit filed against New York City’s integration plans for specialized high schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
At a town hall this summer in Brooklyn's District 15, parents protested city plans to overhaul admissions to elite specialized high schools.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push to integrate the city’s specialized high schools now faces a legal challenge, which could potentially disrupt the current admissions cycle to the elite schools.

On Thursday, Asian-American parents and community organizations filed a lawsuit claiming the city’s diversity plans unfairly hurt their children’s chances of getting into a specialized high school, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

The law firm representing the plaintiffs, the Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit firm with conservative, libertarian leanings, has also asked for a preliminary injunction while the lawsuit is pending, arguing that “the challenged plan will impact imminent admission decisions — i.e. this admissions season.” If an injunction were granted it could disrupt the admissions process already underway for the city’s current eighth graders, who took the SHSAT test that determines admissions in October or early November.

The lawsuit arrives atop of wave of anger from many of the city’s Asian-Americans, whose children make up a majority of the enrollment at specialized high schools. Already facing steep odds, the lawsuit poses a new roadblock to the mayor and Chancellor’s efforts to diversity the city’s specialized high schools.

The suit targets the city’s planned expansion of the Discovery program, which offers admission to students who scored just below the cutoff on the exam that is the sole entrance criteria.

“We all have the American dream of equal opportunity,” Yi Fang Chen, a mother who is part of the suit, said in a press release. “But by using race preference to determine student enrollment at these excellent schools, it’s like the mayor is taking someone else’s dream away.”

negotiations

The Denver district has offered to raise teacher pay. Will it be enough to avert a strike?

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar/Chalkbeat
A Denver teacher rallies support for increased teacher pay in front of the school district headquarters in September 2018.

Most Denver teachers would get raises under a new salary structure proposed by the school district Wednesday night. The proposal would boost the salary for first-year teachers by nearly 8 percent to $45,000 annually.

The current contract between the district and the teachers union expires Jan. 18, and the union has threatened to strike if an agreement is not reached.

While union leaders said the district’s proposal is “moving in the right direction,” they said it still falls short. For one, they said it wouldn’t give teachers enough of a salary boost for furthering their own education by taking classes toward earning advanced degrees.

“You’re listening,” Rob Gould, a special education teacher and member of the union bargaining team, told district negotiators. “I will say that. We still need you to listen further.”

Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association have been negotiating for the past year against a backdrop of widespread protests over teacher pay. The two sides are not negotiating the main teacher contract. Rather, they are negotiating the contract that governs the district’s complex pay-for-performance system, known as ProComp.

Negotiations have been heated, in part because of a state law that requires the district and the union to bargain in public where teachers can watch. Wednesday’s session was no exception. At the end, Gould pointed to a red and white button he had pinned to his union T-shirt.

“This button says, ‘Ask me why I am ready to strike,’” Gould said, as a chorus of teachers “mmmhmmm”-ed in the audience. “I’m ready to strike because I’m sick and tired of teacher salaries paying for other things. And you need to prioritize teachers.”

Denver teachers have long said the pay-for-performance system is too complicated and unpredictable. It pays teachers a base salary and allows them to earn bonuses and incentives for things like high student test scores or working in a hard-to-fill position.

The sole finalist for the district’s open superintendent job, Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova, has said repeatedly the district should invest more in teachers’ base pay.

District officials said their proposal would simplify the system. It would also increase by $11 million the amount of money Denver Public Schools spends out of its $1 billion budget on teacher pay. The $11 million would come from a combination of increased state funding and cuts to the central office, said Debbie Hearty, head of human resources for the district.

However, the proposal does not give the teachers union what it really wants: the opportunity for veteran teachers to earn $100,000. The union has proposed its own salary schedule that would pay a teacher with 20 years of positive evaluations and a doctorate a base salary of $100,000.

Under the district’s proposal, a teacher with a doctorate and 20 years of positive evaluations would earn a base salary of $85,750.

The union’s proposal would cost a lot more than $11 million, maybe even three times as much. But union leaders said the district could come up with the money if it prioritized paying teachers over other things, such as calculating school ratings they think are flawed.

The district’s proposal gets close to a $100,000 salary but not all the way. The highest it goes is a base salary of $90,750. That would be for a teacher with 30 years of positive evaluations and a doctorate or a combination of advanced degrees, certifications, and longevity.

The district is proposing that teachers who have worked for the district 15 years be bumped up on the salary schedule as a way to honor retention — a proposal Hearty called “bold.”

The two sides do agree on where the salary schedule should start: $45,000 for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree. Currently, first-year teachers earn a base salary of $41,689.

A $45,000 starting salary would be higher than in the surrounding metro districts, including Jeffco, Aurora, and Cherry Creek, but still lower than the well compensated Boulder Valley School District, according to a chart prepared by Denver Public Schools.

The district and the union also disagree on the size of the bonuses and incentives. The union favors larger base salaries and smaller incentives, with some as small as $1,000. The district has proposed offering an extra $2,500 to teachers who work in hard-to-fill positions, high-poverty schools, or other schools deemed “highest priority” by criteria not yet set.

About 75 percent of the district’s roughly 5,000 teachers would earn at least one of the $2,500 incentives, and about 25 percent would earn two, according to the district’s calculations.

The district can’t get rid of the incentives altogether because of the way they’re funded. In 2005, Denver voters passed a tax increase to fund ProComp. The ballot language was specific about how the tax revenue would be used, including to pay teachers for things like working in hard-to-fill positions, increasing their teaching skills, and earning positive evaluations.

Giving up the incentives would also mean giving up the tax money, which district officials project will be $33 million next year.

The district and the union are next scheduled to meet Jan. 8, which will give them just 10 days to come up with a deal before the current contract expires and a strike vote looms. The union has been holding community meetings this week to explain to parents and community members why a strike is a possibility. The union has three more such meetings scheduled next week.