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Turning Their Backs-to-Our-Schools

September 8, 2011
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By Tory Frye

This morning City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, UFT president Michael Mulgrew and Councilmember Robert Jackson greeted children at my son’s school, PS/IS 187 in Washington Heights. I am grateful that Speaker Quinn and Councilmember Jackson worked with the teachers union and Mr. Mulgrew to prevent the massive lay-offs that threatened last June. And I am excited about the first day of school; however, my son goes back-to-school at a moment when Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg have turned their backs on our children and our schools. And my son returns to a school that has been gutted over the past 4 years of continuous budget cuts. Cuomo keeps repeating that school cuts won’t hurt, but the truth is that even without the lay-offs these cuts do hurt – they hurt the children of PS/IS 187 and all the children attending District 6 schools in Washington Heights/Inwood.

District 6 schools are hit extremely hard by this year’s and previous year’s cuts. These cuts further challenge struggling schools that are trying hard to improve and almost guarantee that solid schools, like my son’s, will lose ground. This year District 6 schools will lose millions of dollars because of this budget. Examination of a sample of D6 schools, including PS 98, PS 311, PS 278, PS 5, PS 48, and PS/IS 187 (my son’s school) reveals that these 6 schools alone will lose over $4.25 million this year! Between 2008 and this year, my son’s school has lost almost a million dollars of its once $6 million budget. And enrollment did not drop at PS/IS 187 during that period; in fact it increased. This school has lost $924,601 from its budget over 4 years without losing a single student.

And what have been the effects of these cuts at my son’s school? We have lost teachers, a visionary middle school principal and class sizes have risen. We have lost a dedicated science teacher for grades K to 2, a dedicated art teacher for the entire elementary school and this year, to save costs, our middle school teachers will simply have to teach more. All school-funded after-school enrichment programs for our middle school children have been lost. Time for common planning has been dramatically reduced.

And how has this affected the school? Our Comprehensive Educational Plan (CEP) goal of aligning curricula vertically and horizontally has been adversely affected, as has our goal of differentiating instruction in the elementary school. This is a school that serves an ethnically and economically diverse student population and strives for academic excellence for all children; we moved away from tracking students towards heterogeneous grouping and differentiated instruction, an approach made virtually impossible in this funding environment. How are we to increase rigor and integrate complex teacher evaluation programs, like Charlotte Danielson’s excellent but time-intensive system, when we are being cut to the bone?

I cannot fathom how the state or the city think that a school like ours can improve in this situation. We have a solid school with strong performance on state tests in core subjects. But we find our focus narrowing as we lose arts and science and parents struggle simply to get enough classroom teachers and basic supplies in the building. We need increased revenues and meaningful budget priorities at the state and city levels. Instead we have a city that chooses to spend money on school support organizations and consultants, with little evidence of the value added to school environment or student achievement. And we have a state that chooses to protect millionaires instead of our children, having failed to renew the millionaire’s tax which could have alleviated our state’s deficit. We often tell our children to consider carefully and make “good” choices. Now our children need the city and the state to make better choices.

Tory Frye is a parent at PS/IS 187, member of the School Leadership Team and the Community Education Council for District 6.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2011 4:58 am

    Gutting school funding ensures that privatization of education will accelerate.

    Perhaps that’s the goal?

  2. September 9, 2011 11:04 am

    Thank you for telling the truth on the ground. Yours is a first-day-back-story that is more common than not. I spent last year advocating in the Bronx at schools much like PS/IS 187, it was sobering.
    What’s going on in Education is not simply an intellectual exercise without consequences, yet that’s how it appears to the public. Like you, I cannot fathom how improvements will be made, how the “gap” will be closed, how our children will thrive and what this era of reform will look like in a decade.
    Today, it doesn’t look good.

  3. Sick of Whining permalink
    September 9, 2011 11:15 am

    As much as I agree with many of your points, raising taxes is not the only answer to solve these problems. Serious pension reform as well as additional flexibilty by the Teacher’s Union would make a much more dramatic impact on costs and help keep the teachers in the classroom. Every day I go to work and contribute to my 401K plan, and pay 40% of my healthcare premium. When I see the benefit and reitrement plans that are in place for teachers, it kills me. I could live with it if there was flexibility to fire poor performers, but that doesn’t exist either. Fix those problems and I will happily pay more in taxes. Unitl then, stop looking for additional handouts and playing class warfare.

    • Tory Frye permalink
      September 9, 2011 1:49 pm

      A new teacher evaluation system, based on Charlotte Danielson’s method, is being rolled out in NYC and teachers are probably enthusiastic about it, as it seems to be a meaningful and effective way to improve practice. Sometimes I, too, look with envy at teachers’ summers off and pension plans, but then I estimate what their starting salaries must’ve been twenty years ago, back in the early ’90s, and what schools were like back then, at the height of the crack-gun homicide-violence epidemic in NYC, and think: “they deserve it!” (No wonder 50% of teachers leave the profession within five years.) Salaries may have improved very recently, but they were quite low in the near past; decent pensions and due process rights (aka tenure) were (and still are) ways to compensate for that. To your point about flexibility to fire teachers, it does exist. It may not be easy, but it does exist. Further, due process exists for a reason – to protect teachers from gender and other forms of discrimination, out-of-control parents, and vindictive principals, among other reasons. And to say that public education is a hand out? That’s just silly; public education is fundamental to any decent society and central to our democracy, such that it is. Finally, plenty of people believe that here is a class war going on in our country — a class war by the rich on the middle class and poor.

      • guest permalink
        September 13, 2011 12:01 pm

        the issue isn’t whether teachers “deserve” their pensions. that’s a non-issue, because their benefits are guaranteed by law. but recognize that the biggest factor in the budget problems that nyc schools are facing is due to cuts at the state and federal level, outside the mayor’s control. in fact, to compensate, bloomberg’s budget has dramatically increased education spending. in the zero sum game of allocations, these increases have required diverting money away from other city services. and to the extent this money does not appear to be making “into the classroom,” that’s because the pension and healthcare costs are increasing by rather sobering (if not terrifying) amounts.

  4. JMerritt permalink
    September 9, 2011 5:55 pm

    This is why we abruptly moved away–just 10 days before school started. Watching once well-regarded PS 187 and my own son crumble under the weight of larger classes (up to 30 kids in first grade classes), no educational/teaching differentiation, dwindling opportunities for the extras that suburban schools call basics and the uphill battle against budget cuts that never, ever end…. I couldn’t stay. It’s sad and pathetic. A lot needs to change–from union/pension issues to the priorities of city and state governments. It’s a combination. But for the sake of ours kids–it has to happen. I, for one, decided to pay property taxes higher than I ever imagined instead of spending nearly as much shuttling my son to a “modestly-priced” private catholic school every day and still having to pay for a lot of the extras that should be basics. Science people!! SCIENCE! Good grief. I was very sad to leave the neighborhood, but I had to do what I could to get a better education for my children.

Trackbacks

  1. Remainders: A parent’s view into the day’s first school visited | GothamSchools
  2. Online Education in America » Blog Archive » Remainders: A parent’s view into the day’s first school visited

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