June 26, 2012
By Mary Ann Giordano
Tuesday either is or isn't the next-to-last day of school for public school students, depending on which version of the end-of-year schedule their school has adopted. But it begins with good news for children and families in New York City.
The annual city budget dance has ended, and the City Council and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg have waltzed to a deal for a $68.5 billion package that includes no tax increases, no firehouse closings, no widespread layoffs of teachers or others, David W. Chen reports in The New York Times — and, in fact, slight increases to some services for children and families.
As Gotham Schools reports:
Not a single child-care slot will be lost or school aide laid off as a result of this year's budget deal between Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council.
The deal, announced late today, rolls back millions of dollars of cuts that Bloomberg proposed in his executive budget last month. Instead of losing 6,500 child-care spots and 30,000 after-school spots, the city will actually have more spots next year than this year. And although Bloomberg had slashing about 400 school aides from the city payroll — more than half as many as were laid off last year — no layoffs will take place.
DC-37, the union that represents school aides and other non-teaching school personnel, agreed to trim employees' workdays by about half an hour in order to avert the cuts, city officials said.
The budget is "not just a plan on how to spend but also a statement about who we are as a city," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn during a celebratory press conference at City Hall. "And we are a city where every child is given the opportunity and resources to learn."
So, obviously, all of those protests over the last few months were the perfect background music for the Council-mayor dance, as it brought it to a conclusion that protects some of the city's most vulnerable families.
This annual waltz, though, is usually carefully choreographed, and for those who recall, Mayor Bloomberg had broadly hinted when he proposed the initial budget earlier this spring that the final document would most likely change. And it has.
The Times's article on the budget does note that there remains "uncertainty over hundreds of millions of dollars in anticipated revenue." But, interestingly, the budget was helped, "by a late infusion of $150 million from a federal settlement with ING Bank stemming from an investigation into compliance with United States sanctions against Iran, Cuba and other countries. The city was also able to save $240 million in debt costs through low interest rates, while collecting $70 million more than anticipated in permits, licenses and fees."
And the budget was on time.
In less satisfying news, The Daily News reported on Monday that city officials were investigating a possible cheating scandal at Stuyvesant High School. According to The News, a student was found to have taken photographs of the citywide Spanish exam, as well as the physics and English state Regents exams, and is believed to have shared them with as many as 50 fellow students.
The student has been asked to leave the school, The News reports, but fellow students have started a petition to have him reinstated.
Meanwhile, said Marge Feinberg of the city's Department of Education, "The allegation of cheating is under investigation."
The Daily News notes:
Mayor Bloomberg, who has faced fierce opposition to his ban on cell phones in schools, has justified it in part by citing problems with exam security.
Michael Powell, in his Gotham column in The Times, looks closely at the tension between Public School 30 Hernandez/Hughes and Eva Moskowitz's Harlem Success Academy 2 Charter School over their shared space in an East Harlem building.
Though the former principal of the school, Karen Melendez-Hutt, obtained money to renovate the school playground, somehow Ms. Moskowitz also was given money for the playground.
"In retrospect, this was the moment the center of power — and money — began to shift decisively in this public school building," Mr. Powell writes, as he delves into a larger look at Ms. Moskowitz's growing charter school empire:
Ms. Moskowitz is a brigadier in the charter school wars that could define the next mayoral election. Armies mass on either side. The teachers' union, parent groups and the organization New York Communities for Change oppose charter expansion. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has sent a trusted aide, Micah C. Lasher, to work with the hedge-fund-backed group StudentsFirstNY to push expansion.
Ms. Moskowitz embraces life in wartime. She yearns not only to compete, but also to drive the teachers' union and some public schools into the East River. In e-mails several years ago to the chancellor at the time, Joel I. Klein, obtained by the columnist Juan Gonzalez of The Daily News, Ms. Moskowitz made clear her views. "We need," she wrote, "to quickly and decisively distinguish the good guys from the bad."
To this end, she has formed a network of charters that, with strict discipline and unrelenting emphasis on high test scores, have posted impressive results.
He notes that she is being amply rewarded for her steadfast march:
On Monday, the trustees of the State University of New York — which oversees charter schools — gave Ms. Moskowitz permission to open six new schools. And the trustees increased her network management fee to 15 percent, from 10 percent, which will infuse her quickly expanding empire with millions of dollars.
And that playground?
A handsome soccer field with artificial turf dominates the yard, as Ms. Moskowitz desired. P.S. 30 obtained one of its four desired basketball courts, which occupies a corner near the door.
"It was a very long, drawn-out process," Ms. Moskowitz said. "It's all about the art of compromise."
Parents, are you worried about getting your children to read this summer? In an opinion article in The New York Times, Claire Needell Hollander, an English teacher at a public middle school in Manhattan, advises, "I propose focusing on accessible nonfiction guaranteed to increase world and verbal knowledge."
Summer assignments should be about why we need to learn and why we need to talk about what we think. We have to move students away from disgust at the unknown, at the horrors visited on other human beings, and toward sympathy. Students who have immersed themselves in real-world problems become excited by current events and history as well as literature. They can make connections between academic areas that are ordinarily divided. They will understand Dickens better for having read "Iqbal," which tells the story of a boy who is sold into slavery at a carpet factory.
Reading serious nonfiction in the summer is an immersion in the world of necessary ideas. So let's try that instead of the late August nagging and the relentless complaints from parents about their child's stubborn refusal to enjoy, say, "To Kill a Mockingbird." To those parents who wish ardently to re-experience their first literary love, I say, reread it yourself.
And, in case you missed it, Gotham Schools had a delightful story and video about a parent-organized flash mob at P.S. 10 Magnet School of Math, Science and Design Technology in Park Slope last week. Enjoy.
It's never too early to begin planning for next year, and to that end, the high school choice process has officially begun, Inside Schools reports. The directory of high schools is now available, and the schedule of summer high school workshops for parents of rising eighth graders has been established.
On this Tuesday:
Mayor Bloomberg is the speaker at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College graduation, in the Bronx, at 2 p.m.
And Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott will be the speaker at the East River Academy's graduation on Rikers Island at 10 a.m., and at the GED Plus graduation at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse in Manhattan at 11:45 a.m.
The Panel for Educational Policy meets at 6 p.m. at the Prospect Heights campus, 883 Classon Avenue, Brooklyn.
Mary Ann Giordano is the editor of SchoolBook. Follow her on Twitter @magiorNYT.