Special education teachers say it's a common feeling: the students are gone for the day, and it's time for the real work to begin. But if they need to record something on a student's Individualized Education Program, it's probably too late.
Early efforts to curb overtime payments have now become policy, as the Department of Education reminds principals to keep staff members out of SESIS—the online system that tracks special education students—after the school day ends unless the principal has committed to pay for that time. The reminders were spurred by arbitration that ultimately cost the city $41 million in belated overtime to teachers and staff whose after-hours work violated union contracts.
For months, some principals have been looking for ways to give teachers more time during the day to work with the notoriously glitchy system (made more frustrating by slow school Internet speeds). But teachers and principals say that serious problems remain, as students' information is now updated more slowly, data entry takes time away from student interaction, and some teachers continue to work without pay.
"Is that the reality? Of course it's the reality," said Carmen Alvarez, the UFT's vice president for special education, of the continuing issues. "Do I like it? No. Did we tell it to the DOE three years ago in writing? Yes."
Just in from the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators:
The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, Local 1: AFSA, AFL-CIO, Endorses William C. Thompson, Jr. for Mayor
NEW YORK, June 18, 2013 – The members of the Executive Board and the Advisory Committee for the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), the union representing nearly 16,000 NYC public school principals, assistant principals, educational administrators, directors and assistant directors of city-funded day care, and members of the union’s Retiree Chapter have voted to endorse William C. Thompson, Jr. for mayor of NYC.
This year's midwinter vacation will shrink from five days to two to make up for school days cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy, city and union officials announced today.
The city closed schools for five days because of the storm, and some particularly hard-hit schools were closed even longer. In addition to interrupting students' schooling, the lost time dropped the city below the 180 instructional days required to receive state school aid.
Now, according to a city-union deal, students will attend school on four days they were supposed to have off: Feb. 20-22 and June 4. The February days had been part of a weeklong break that has been part of the calendar since 1990, and the June date had been scheduled as a "clerical day" for teachers and school staff.
With four days added back to the calendar, the school year is now set to be 181 or 182 days, depending on what grade students are in. That leaves a slight cushion for snow days, but if more than one day is cancelled, additional makeup days will have to be identified.
Tom Allon speaks about education policy at the New School near Union Square.
Upper West Sider and mayoral hopeful Tom Allon would oppose testing in elementary schools — even though the state, not the city, sets the testing schedule.
That was one of several policy positions he outlined for a sparse crowd of principals, campaign volunteers, and teachers’ union leader Michael Mulgrew yesterday evening who gathered to hear his first policy speech about education.
Allon, a former teacher and political outsider, said he wants to be the “education mayor” — a mantle Bloomberg sought early in his administration. Allon briefly taught English and journalism at his alma mater, Stuyvesant High School; aided city officials in the creation two small high schools in Manhattan; and sent three daughters to public schools.
The speech itself contained few hard proposals but instead focused on challenges facing the school system and a handful of small-scale solutions that are already in place, such as teacher mentoring programs that the UFT runs.
It was when audience members pressed Allon for specifics that he offered ideas of what an Allon administration might look like. (His five likely competitors in the Democratic primary have also started to stake out their education platforms, but none has yet delivered a policy address on the subject.)
Like Mayor Bloomberg, he would favor mayoral control and school choice. But like some of Bloomberg's fiercest critics, he would slash the Department of Education's central bureaucracy and reduce the emphasis on standardized testing.
And on some issues, he would strike out for a middle ground.
A parent stands in front of the Cherry Street entrance to the Lower East Side's Shuang Wen elementary school.
A sprawling investigation into the leadership of a controversial dual-language school in Chinatown concluded that the school's principal had falsified attendance data and accepted money from a non-profit hired to administer after school language lessons.
The Department of Education will move to fire Ling Ling Chou, who was removed from the school in September while as many as 16 different investigations were underway.
According to the report, she frequently faked numbers when reporting information about the school to the city and the United States Department of Education, including student attendance records and the length of the school day. The report does not conflict with a different report released last year by the special commissioner of investigations, which found that Chou and other staffers committed multiple improprieties, but did not outright steal public money.
"For years, Principal Chou engaged in dishonest behavior, unbeknownst to her students and school community," said Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a statement. "Principal Chou’s conduct has failed to meet the standard we set for our principals, and I am filing charges to terminate her employment.”
Shuang Wen consistently boasts some of the strongest test scores in the city, but divisions between the staff and parents at the Lower East Side school have led to numerous allegations of and investigations into misconduct.
The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators is suing Mayor Bloomberg, the city, and the Department of Education for refusing to restore thousands of parking permits to the union's members.
According to the union, an arbitrator decided in August that the city had to return the permits or it would violate its contract with CSA. But that decision hasn't ended the back-and-forth. After two weeks of discussions, the union's legal counsel headed to court today to file a lawsuit.
"Nobody has gotten an answer from the City about why it won't honor the arbitration," a spokeswoman for CSA, Chiara Coletti, wrote in an email. Coletti said that the decision not to reinstate the 6,500 permits came from the mayor's office.
Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor, did not address whether the city felt it was in compliance with the arbitrator's decision, but said the current system should continue.
"For most City agencies and their workers the system has worked well for over a year, yet the CSA has stubbornly tried to hold onto their perks and has refused to work with us to combat misuse and abuse. The current system for the Department of Education limits the number of placards to the number of parking spots at schools, a fair and reasonable policy that we think should continue. We have not yet received the legal papers for this case," Post wrote in an email.
Principals are furious that the teachers union bargained away two of the most important work days of the school year, according to principals union president Ernest Logan. But teachers union president Randi Weingarten says Logan shouldn't complain, because he hasn't come up with a better plan.
"My members are livid," Logan said about the agreement that would have teachers and students reporting to school on the same day for the first time this fall.
Principals use the two teacher work days at the beginning of the school year to finalize schedules, register new students, set up classrooms, get staff members on the same page about discipline and curriculum, and integrate new teachers into the community, he said. "When are we going to do all of that if everybody's popping in there the same day?" Logan asked.
Logan said he first heard about the agreement at 6:05 a.m. today on NPR, which he was listening to while shaving. "I almost cut myself," he told me. "Nobody used common sense here. The educators did not make this decision."
The decision to have students and teachers start school on the same day was Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's preference, according to Weingarten.
Part of the million pennies raised by schools through Penny Harvest. Photo from ##http://insideschools.blogspot.com/search?q=%22penny+harvest%22##Insideschools##.
City principals will have to submit plans in October explaining how they’ll meet the Mayor Bloomberg's new service requirement for schools, but it shouldn't be an onerous task for most of them.
Most schools, particularly at the high school level, already engage in some service, according to Department of Education spokeswoman Kerri Lyon. At Manhattan Bridges High School in Midtown, for example, students have always been required to log 40 hours of service before they graduate, Principal Mirza Sanchez Medina told me yesterday. Other schools announced service initiatives this week that were planned before Bloomberg's announcement: Students from the Academy of Urban Planning and the Bushwick School for Social Justice planted 16 trees in between their campuses in honor of Earth Day, and kids at Harlem’s PS 57 pitched ideas for community-improvement grants to Scholastic’s Be Big Fund.
For the many schools that already engage in service, the mayor's initiative should expand the number of volunteer options available to students, Lyon said. And schools that have never participated in service before can start slowly, such as by joining Penny Harvest, the popular program where kids donate pennies to charities of their choice, she said.