Turning Their Backs-to-Our-Schools
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.