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Monday, April 12, 2010
Public Schools & Budet Cuts.. So What Else is New?!?
March 30, 2010, 2:20 pm As Schools Stay Open, Space May Become Scarce By SHARON OTTERMAN New York City public schools are on spring recess until April 7, but that doesn’t mean a clean break from anxiety for either the city’s Department of Education officials or many public school parents.
A budget decision from Albany looms, with hundreds of millions in education cuts expected. The state failed to win a grant, which could have been worth up to $700 million, in the first round of the Race to the Top federal education contest. In some New York City districts, hundreds of soon-to-be-kindergartners are on waiting lists for their space-strapped zoned public schools.
And now a new question is rippling through the education world: How will Chancellor Joel I. Klein’s larger reform agenda be affected by last week’s Manhattan State Supreme Court decision to void the closings of 19 low-performing schools?
Mr. Klein’s push to close the schools goes hand in hand with his emphasis on smaller schools, which he believes offer better learning environments for the neediest students than large, failing regular schools do. Fifteen small schools, including four charters, were due to move into classrooms next year vacated by the 19 closing schools. Despite last week’s ruling, the city has pledged to go ahead with the moves. Assuming the ruling is not overturned on appeal, the 19 schools will stay open for at least another year, potentially leading to tense space-sharing situations.
The judge, Joan B. Lobis, ruled that the Department of Education had not followed rules on closings set out last year by the legislature when it renewed mayoral control of the schools. Among other problems, the judge said that the department’s “educational impact statements” for each proposed closing, which explain what effect it might have on students and other nearby schools, were too boilerplate and provided too few details about each school.
Impact statements are also required when the Department of Education wants to move a school or force it to share its building with another school. Although the ruling did not address such cases, several schools and parent groups who were subject to moving or space-sharing decisions are wondering if they might be able to fight them, too.
On the Lower East Side, parents fighting the expansion of Girls Prep Charter School filed a formal complaint on Friday with the state education commissioner, David M. Steiner. They allege that the city’s educational impact statement, which is supposed to analyze how the change will affect students, failed to take into account the impact on special education students.
Girls Prep has been approved to expand from grades K-5 to grades K-8 in the East Houston Street building it shares with two traditional public schools, P.S. 188 and P.S. 94. P.S. 94, a special education school which teaches mostly autistic students, will shrink as part of the proposal, losing its fourth and fifth grades, and consolidating from seven rooms to five. But the city did not issue a separate impact statement for P.S. 94, the complaint alleges, and did not detail where autistic students who would have gone there will now go.
The department disagrees. “We fully disclosed the impact on the schools involved and followed all of the appropriate procedures set forth in the law,” said Danny Kanner, a spokesman. “We intend to aggressively contest these claims before the commissioner.”
In Chelsea, parents at the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, which is due to move across town to the American Sign Language school building on 23rd Street and Second Avenue, argued in an e-mail message Monday that the “entire proposal should be nullified” as it was not in compliance with Education Law 2590 — the section of the law that Justice Lobis argued the city violated in the closing decisions.
This is the city’s third iteration of a proposal to move Clinton out of P.S. 11, its current home, while a new building in the area is constructed for it between now and 2014. The American Sign Language building “already houses three schools for special needs students,” one parent, Susan Kramer, wrote in a letter Monday to City Hall. “Clinton’s expected 2010-2011 enrollment of 300 students would overwhelm it.”
At P.S. 30 in Harlem, parents are concerned that their school will lose rooms used for art, music, drama, tutoring and special education when a Harlem Success Academy Charter School moves in. The chief executive of Harlem Success, Eva Moskowitz, citing capacity figures, said that there was room in the building. Of the battle over space, she said, “It’s a highly political process,” adding that anti-charter opposition from the teacher’s union and other forces often propels space fights.
There was also more news on high school admissions notifications, which had been delayed by the lawsuit. Most city eighth graders will get letters this week telling them which school they will attend. But the 8,500 eighth-grade students who applied to one of the closing schools (applications were due around the same time the city announced which schools it wanted to close) will receive two letters in the mail next week. One will assign them to a school based on their original choices, including the closing schools, and the other will exclude the closing schools. They can select either match, Mr. Kanner said.
For supporters of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s and Mr. Klein’s reform agenda, it’s been a frustrating week. The whole point of mayoral control, argued Joe Williams, of Democrats for Education Reform, is that there has to be someone to make the tough, unpopular decisions, to move the system as a whole toward greater success.
“At the end of the day, we have seen what happens when there is a rudderless ship,” he said. “That’s been the case for 30 years in New York City, and it’s why so many people supported mayoral control.”
But he said it is also the city’s responsibility to make sure its process is in compliance with the law, so that the necessary reform measures can move forward. And on that count, he said, the city can do a better job.
“It will have to be up to the city to really dot their i’s and cross their t’s if they want to show they are serious about education reform,” he said. “They’ve got to tighten up,” because the status quo is not an option, he added. “We can’t just keep on going without doing something bold.”