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.”

Timely Decision

Detroit school board approves 2018-19 academic calendar after union agrees to changes

PHOTO: Hero Images
Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers agreed to calendar changes to do what's best for students.

The Detroit school board approved this year’s academic calendar Tuesday night, hours after Detroit’s main district and its largest teachers union settled a contract disagreement.

The calendar approval, which comes just three weeks before the first day of school, includes some changes to the original calendar spelled out in the teachers’ contract.  The new calendar was approved last week by a school board subcommittee without comment from the the Detroit Federation of Teachers, and it was on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the full school board.

After discussion with the district, the union signed an agreement on the changes, known as a memorandum of understanding.

The calendar eliminates one-hour-early releases on Wednesdays and moves the teacher training that occurred during that time mostly to the beginning of the school year. It also will move spring break to April 1-5, 2019 — a few weeks earlier than the April 19-26 break specified in the contract.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the situation was not ideal, and he realizes that some teachers may already have made plans for the week of April 19-26.

“Hopefully, our teachers realize they should be there,” he said. But if vacation plans were already made and can be changed, “that’s good.”

“We will be prepared as much as possible to have substitutes and even district staff, if it’s necessary,” he said.

Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers aren’t pleased about the agreement.

“No, we were not happy with the change,” Bailey said.

Addressing a question from board member LaMar Lemmons, Bailey said the calendar changes “did constitute an unfair labor practice” because, among other reasons, teachers lost preparation days with the new calendar.

“We are not happy, but we are here for students,” Bailey said. “We understand this is what’s right for students. We put students first, and we are going to work it out.”

The earlier spring break is designed to avoid the testing window for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance exam commonly known as the PSAT.

Other changes to the calendar include eliminating scheduled parent-teacher conferences on October 31 because of the Halloween celebration.

calendar quandary

Detroit district and union hammer out last-second agreement on school calendar before vote at tonight’s board meeting

A screenshot of the proposed academic calendar that has caused concern among union officials.

Detroit’s main school district and its largest teachers union settled a contract disagreement Tuesday afternoon after tensions arose over the seemingly routine approval of this year’s academic calendar.

The proposed calendar includes some changes to the one spelled out in the teachers’ contract. It was approved last week by a school board subcommittee without comment from the union, and the same calendar was on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the full school board.

With just three weeks until the first day of school, parents and teachers are relying on the calendar to make travel plans and childcare arrangements.

No details were available about the agreement.

Ken Coleman, a spokesman for the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said the agreement was resolved before the meeting started, but couldn’t provide further details. District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said she expected the calendar to go to a vote without opposition from the union.

Coleman said earlier on Tuesday that a vote to approve the calendar could violate the teachers’ contract.

Union leaders were surprised last week when Chalkbeat reported that the board was considering a calendar that was different from the one approved in their contract.

The proposed calendar would eliminate one-hour-early releases on Wednesday and move the teacher training that occurred during that time mostly to the beginning of the school year. It also would move spring break to April 1-5, 2019 — a few weeks earlier than the April 19-26 break specified in the contract.

The earlier spring break is designed to avoid the testing window for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance exam commonly known as the PSAT, according to school board documents.

Union officials have said that they had no major objections to the contents of the calendar, only to the way in which it was approved.

Correction: Aug. 14, 2018 This story has been corrected to show that the union and district have reached an agreement about the academic calendar.  A previous version of the story, under the headline “An 11th-hour disagreement over an academic calendar could be settled at tonight’s school board meeting,” referenced a pending agreement when an agreement had in fact been reached.