Game on

Nixon accuses Cuomo of underfunding schools, calling his rationale ‘just one big excuse’

PHOTO: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

For her first Albany appearance as a gubernatorial candidate, Cynthia Nixon chose to attack Gov. Andrew Cuomo on school funding answering any questions about how deeply her education advocacy experience is shaping her campaign.

The “Sex and the City” actress held a press conference on Monday with the Alliance for Quality Education, an education advocacy group that has counted Nixon as a spokesperson for 16 years. The union-backed group pushes for more school funding in Albany.

During Monday’s appearance, Nixon accused the governor of underfunding poor schools, dismissed his latest proposal to make the system more fair as a “stall tactic” and compared him to President Donald Trump.

“Governor Cuomo’s entire argument on school funding is just one big excuse to ignore the lives of students who are black or brown or working-class,” Nixon said. “The Cuomo budget does not value the lives of the majority of New York’s children.”

While Nixon dismissed Cuomo’s education spending proposal, which would increase school aid by $769 million, she embraced the proposal put forward by the Democratic-led Assembly. The Assembly’s budget calls for a $1.5 billion boost to education spending.

Nixon’s comments are part of a larger battle over school funding that has been brewing in New York State for years. Advocates from groups such as Alliance for Quality Education, including Nixon, have argued that New York schools are owed billions of dollars under a school funding lawsuit settled in 2006.

The governor’s office has shot back, saying that the level of funding was meant to be a goal instead of a legally binding amount. Officials from the governor’s office also noted that Cuomo has overseen a 35 percent hike in education spending since 2012.

In addition to talking about the overall level of education spending, Nixon spotlighted spending inequality at Monday’s press conference, arguing that the state’s richer, whiter, districts pull up the state’s average spending on schools, while the state’s poorest schools are still suffering from underfunding.

This year, the governor’s budget includes a provision that would allow state officials to review and approve school budgets from certain school districts to ensure that enough money is flowing to the poorest schools. (Officials from the governor’s office also noted that the state’s funding formula provides more money to the poorest schools.)

When asked about the governor’s desire to account for where every education dollar goes, Nixon called it a “classic stall tactic” that the governor is using because he “doesn’t want to fund anything.”

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires a school-by-school breakdown of education spending, but Cuomo’s budget would take the requirement a step further and allow state officials to approve budgets.

Nixon’s appearance on Monday is in line with years of her activism on public school funding and her history with the Alliance for Quality Education. Nixon, who talked about being a proud public school student and parent in her campaign video, has said that Cuomo’s comments on school funding were the final straw that thrust her into the gubernatorial race, according to a Nixon advisor quoted in the New York Times.

She began traveling to Albany to fight for school funding long before her gubernatorial bid, noted an AQE member at Monday’s press conference. And in January, she sent a joint statement with the Alliance for Quality Education bashing the amount of education spending in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget.

On Monday, Nixon also dipped her toe into a burgeoning national school safety conversation, which has come to the fore after the tragic shooting of 17 students in Florida. Senate Republicans proposed a series of school safety reforms, including providing funds to allow schools to purchase armed guards.

Nixon seemed to reject putting resources into security measures, instead of prioritizing educational resources such as counselors, books, and other technology.

“Why should we accept more police in our schools, making students feel like criminals, instead of guidance counselors that can help them work out problems?” Nixon said. “We need more smart boards, not more metal detectors.”

And in a sign that Nixon won’t shy away from heated rhetoric, she even tied the governor’s actions on school spending to the tactics employed by the U.S. president.

“His budgets bully our children and our families by shortchanging them, by boxing them in, by denying them the opportunities they are owed,” she said. “It reminds me of the behavior we see from Donald Trump every day.”

School Finance

IPS board votes to ask taxpayers for $315 million, reject the chamber’s plan

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indianapolis Public Schools officials voted Tuesday to ask taxpayers for $315 million over eight years to help close its budget gap — an amount that’s less than half the district’s initial proposal but is still high enough to draw skepticism from a local business group.

The school board pledged to continue discussions in the next week with the Indy Chamber, which released an alternative proposal last week calling for massive spending cuts and a significantly smaller tax increase. The school board rejected the proposal as unrealistic and instead voted to add a much larger tax measure to the November ballot.

If the school board and the chamber come to a different agreement before the July 24 meeting, the board can change the request for more taxpayer money before it goes to voters. Some board members, however, were dubious that they would be able to find common ground.

“While I appreciate the fact that we want to continue to negotiate, I’m pretty sure that I’m at rock bottom now,” said school board member Kelly Bentley. “That initial proposal by the chamber is, unfortunately in my mind, it’s insulting. It’s insulting to our children, and to our neighborhoods, and to our families.”

Chamber leaders, whose support is considered important to the referendum passing, were skeptical about the dollar amount. In a press release, the group said the district was “taking another step towards seeking a double-digit tax increase.”

“We’re concerned that our numbers are so divergent,” said chamber president and CEO Michael Huber in the statement. “We need to study the assumptions behind the $318 million request; clearly the tax impact is significant and the task of winning voter support will be challenging.”

During the board meeting, which lasted more than two hours, district leaders discussed why schools need more money and why the chamber report is unrealistic. They also took comments from community members who were largely supportive of the tax increase.

Joe Ignatius, who mentors students through 100 Black Men of Indianapolis, said that he has seen the benefits of more funding from referendums in other communities.

“This should be a no brainer, to invest in our future for the students,” Ignatius said. “Don’t think about the immediate impact of the dollars that may come out of your pocket but more the long-term impact.”

If the district goes forward with its plan, and voters approve the tax increase, the school system would get as much as $39.4 million more per year for eight years. A family with a home at the district’s median value — $75,300 — would pay about $3.90 more per month in property taxes. (Since the initial proposal, the district reduced the median home value used in calculations on the advice of a consultant.)

The district plan comes on the heels of months of uncertainty. After the school board abandoned its initial plan to seek nearly $1 billion for operating expenses and construction, district officials spent weeks working with the Indy Chamber to craft a less costly proposal. Last month, the board approved a separate referendum to ask taxpayers for about $52 million for school renovations, particularly school safety features.

But the groups came to different conclusions about how much money the district needs for operating expenses.

The chamber released an analysis last week that called for $477 million in cuts, including eliminating busing for high school students, reducing the number of teachers, closing schools, and cutting central office staff. The recommendation also included a $100 million tax increase to fund 16 percent raises for teachers.

District officials, however, say the cuts proposed by the chamber are too aggressive and cannot be accomplished as quickly as the group wants. The administration and board members spent nearly an hour of the meeting Tuesday discussing the chamber plan, why they believe it’s methodology is wrong, and the devastating consequences they say it would have on schools.

Even if the $315 million plan proposed by the district passes, it will come with some sacrifices compared to the initial plan. Those cuts could include: reduced transportation for magnet schools, field trips, and after school activities; school closings; increased benefits costs for employees; and smaller pay increases for teachers and employees.

The district did not make a specific commitment to how much teacher pay would increase if the amount asked for in the referendum is approved, but Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the funds would pay for consistent raises.

“We would be at least addressing inflationary increases and cost of living, but we hope that we can be higher than that,” said Ferebee. “It would depend a lot on what we are able to realize in savings.”

The school board’s decision to rebuff the chamber’s recommendation puts the district in a difficult position. The chamber has no official role in determining the amount of the referendum, but it could be a politically powerful ally.

Last week, Al Hubbard, an influential philanthropist and businessman who provided major funding for the chamber analysis, said that if the district seeks more money than the group recommended, he would oppose the referendum.

The total tax increase would vary for each homeowner within district boundaries. The operating increase would raise taxes by up to $0.28 for every $100 of assessed property value, while the construction increase would raise taxes by up to $0.03 per $100 of assessed property value.

Who's leaving?

63 teachers are leaving Detroit’s main district. Here’s a list of their names and former schools.

PHOTO: Getty Images

Is your child’s favorite teacher saying goodbye to the Detroit Public Schools Community District?

Last week, Detroit’s main district released the names of 63 teachers and 55 building staff members who retired or resigned by the end of June. We have a list of their names and the schools where they worked.

Rather than leave classrooms during the school year, teachers typically choose to retire or switch school districts while students are on break. This is only the first wave of departures expected this summer — one reason schools in Detroit are racing to hire certified teachers by the fall.

But for Detroit families, the teachers on this list are more than a number. Scroll down to see if an educator who made a difference in your child’s life — or your own — is leaving the district.

Teacher and staff separations in June 2018. Source: Detroit Public Schools Community District