Hundreds pack Colonie High for ‘Save Our Schools’ advocacy event

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Watervliet City Schools superintendent Dr. Lori Caplan address local legislators.

Stakeholders from school districts around the Capital Region converged Thursday night at Colonie Central High School to continue an annual call to action on the fiscal crisis facing public schools.

Local legislators from around the region were in attendance and given prime seating – on the stage – providing them the opportunity to hear firsthand from area educators, students, parents and board members how a lack of funding, unfair assessments and performance evaluations are crippling public education.

According to organizers, the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which takes money away from schools to help balance the state budget, has cost Capital Region schools approximately $445 million in promised state aid. This loss in aid has forced many districts to lay off teachers and staff, and cut educational program offerings to students.

“Governor Cuomo said that teachers wouldn’t be impacted. Tell that to the 30,000 teachers that have been let go,” Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District teacher Laura Bellinger said.

District leaders directed their frustration at the inequitable distribution of aid and pleaded with local legislators to correct the problem.

“I’m not asking for someone else’s piece of the pie,” Watervliet City Schools superintendent Lori Caplan said. “I just want fair and equitable distribution.”

“We have to change the funding formula and make it fair to all districts,” Assemblyman James Tedisco said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all system.”

The teachers who spoke urged the legislators to use a common sense approach when it comes to student assessments and teacher evaluations.

The Governor’s budget proposal outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. Teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We all deserve better than this,” Schalmont teacher Jessica Melchior said. “Let’s use assessment how it was meant to be used; as a formative or summative tool in a professional learning community. Let’s judge teachers on things that matter.  Let’s not take Common Core out of context for a political agenda.”

Students in attendance also spoke out on testing, questioning the importance of pre-tests, which are given before any subject matter is taught in a given area, to judge how much a student knows.

“It’s a rare case that a student takes the pre-test seriously,” Schalmont student Bill Schmidt said. “We know the pre-test doesn’t factor into our grade. We know that we don’t know anything about chemistry, so we fill in all the A bubbles on our scantron. Basically, we get a day to make sure we color within the lines of the bubble marked ‘A’.”  

The legislators in attendance urged those in attendance to stay vocal and keep the pressure on the governor in order to get the change they want.

“Keep your voices strong,” Assemblyman John McDonald said. “Stay strong. We’re going to get this done.”

Cuomo releases failing schools report

More than 109,000 students are currently enrolled in New York’s 178 failing schools, according to a report released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office this morning.

The timing of the report coincides with Cuomo’s proposal to implement a Massachusetts-style program that would permit the overhaul of failing schools. The proposal would allow a nonprofit, turnaround expert or another district to take over a school after three years of poor results. This entity would be charged with overhauling the curriculum, terminating underperforming staff and recruiting high-performing educators.

A school is considered “failing” based on being among the bottom five percent in the state in ELA and math performance or having graduation rates below 60 percent. Of the 178 schools on the list, 77 have been failing for a decade. More than 250,000 students have passed through these 77 schools in the past ten years.

“This is the real scandal in Albany, the alarming fact that state government has stood by and done nothing as generation after generation of students have passed through failing schools,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This report underscores the severity and shocking nature of this problem. The time is now for the State Legislature to act and do something about this problem so we no longer are condemning our children to failing schools.”

While Cuomo was releasing his report, calling on state leaders to act in response to his failing schools announcement, many lawmakers were at the state Capitol, calling on Cuomo to be more transparent with the budget and release aid figures to school districts.

 

‘Save Our Schools’ advocacy event tonight

Tonight, Colonie Central High School will once again host stakeholders from dozens of Capital Region area school districts in what has become an annual regional call to action on the fiscal crisis facing public schools.

The event, entitled: “Save Our Schools: Quality Opportunities for Public School Children” will bring students, parents, teachers, taxpayers and school leaders together to talk about how the educational fiscal crisis has affected programs and opportunities that are important to them and their neighbors. View the agenda for the event.

The event will begin at 7 p.m. in the Mark Cornell Auditorium at Colonie Central High School, 1 Raider Blvd., Albany, NY.

Ed Speaks will be there covering the event. Follow along with us on Twitter throughout the night, @edspeaksNY #saveourNYschools.

Leading education groups call for Tax Cap changes

The New York State Educational Conference Board (ECB) has outlined a series of recommendations that would fix some of the most damaging elements of the state’s Property Tax Cap for schools.

The ECB paper released on Wednesday explains that schools have always sought a balance between a budget that meets the needs of students and addresses the concerns of taxpayers, but the tax cap signed into law in 2011 has created some fundamental challenges with the school budgeting process.

The 11 recommendations in the paper fall into two categories: (1) changes to the policy framework that supports the tax cap and (2) technical corrections that adjust for shortcomings that are now evident based on three years of practical experience with the cap.

The framework of New York’s tax cap is uniquely restrictive for school districts. The ECB recommendations call for redesigning of the voter approval mechanism for districts seeking to override the cap, which currently requires a 60 percent supermajority. ECB also calls for the harmful zero percent contingency budget cap to be to be adjusted. Neither of these tax cap provisions, the 60 percent voter supermajority or the zero percent contingent cap, applies to the state’s towns, cities, villages, and counties.

The paper also cites tax caps models that are at work in Massachusetts and New Jersey that do not contain the restrictive elements of New York’s cap for schools.

A second group of recommendations in the paper would address technical problems with the tax cap calculation itself. They relate to items such as improving how the formula accounts for payments-in-lieu of taxes (PILOTs), BOCES capital costs, transfers to a Capital Reserve Fund, and the carryover provision.

The paper points out that the challenges introduced by the cap have only been exacerbated by the state aid losses of recent years.

Click here to read paper [PDF]

The Educational Conference Board is comprised of the state’s seven leading educational organizations representing parents, classroom teachers, school-related professionals, school business officials, building administrators, superintendents and school boards. Its members are: the Conference of Big 5 School Districts; NYS Association of School Business Officials; NYS Council of School Superintendents; New York State PTA; NYS School Boards Association; New York State United Teachers and the School Administrators Association of NYS.

POV: Is end of GEA near? Could be, if we act now!

This Point of View was submitted by Dr. Lori Caplan, superintendent of the Watervliet City School District.

Points_viewThe Legislature has a real opportunity this year to fully end the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a measure initiated by the state that has diverted more than $9 billion in aid from schools across New York since it was first introduced in 2010.

Since that time, the GEA has essentially siphoned more than $4 million in aid from our school district—leaving us with significant budget deficits to overcome, but more importantly, cheating our students of the educational opportunities they deserve.

Both of our elected state representatives are on board with recently proposed bi-partisan legislation (Assembly bill A.2271 and Senate bill S.2743) that, if approved by both houses, would bring about a permanent end to the GEA. I commend Assemblyman John McDonald and Senator Neil Breslin for taking action and co-sponsoring this important legislation and have written letters to both encouraging them to continue fighting the good fight for our schools and for public education, in general.

Now I am asking the community to keep this momentum to end the GEA moving forward. Please send a letter, an email or even call Assemblyman McDonald and Senator Breslin and urge them to continue working diligently for the passage of Assembly bill A.2271 and Senate bill S.2743 during the 2015 Legislative Session. Their contact information can be found here.

The more legislators hear from us – their constituents – the better the chances they will make the GEA a priority issue this legislative session!

From ending the GEA to beginning the school budget process

This is typically the time of year when we begin in earnest to crunch the numbers and develop a school budget proposal to present for a public vote in May. Only this year, for the first time that anyone in education can recall, district leaders and boards of education are beginning this important process without having all the necessary numbers.

Historically, the state issues what are known as “state aid runs” or projections for the amount of state funding that school districts should reasonably expect to receive. The aid runs are traditionally provided soon after the governor presents his Executive Budget proposal in January. In an unprecedented move, however, the state’s Division of Budget announced that it will not release aid projections until the Legislature passes the education reform agenda outlined in the governor’s budget presentation. This unfairly places school districts in the cross hairs of a political power struggle and further complicates the already challenging process of developing a balanced and responsible budget.

Not only does withholding this critical information create an impediment to crafting a sound fiscal plan, but it is also a disservice to our communities as it hinders the open communication and transparency that needs to occur throughout the budget development process.

WHS student to speak at regional forum on public education

Finally, I encourage teachers, staff members, parents, students and community members—anyone invested in the future of public education—to attend the upcoming regional forum “SAVE OUR SCHOOLS: Quality Opportunities for Public School Children” on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at Colonie Central High School.

View a copy of the Feb. 26 event agenda.

I have been asked to discuss school funding at this event and Watervliet High School senior Theresa DeChiaro also has been invited to serve as a panelist speaking on behalf of public school students about the undeniable effects inequitable and inadequate state funding have made on educational opportunities in our schools.

I am extremely proud of Theresa for serving on this panel and being a voice for students here and throughout the Capital Region, and I look forward to having Watervliet community members attend the forum and help support our message.

Dr. Lori Caplan is the superintendent of the Watervliet City School District. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University and her master’s from The College of Saint Rose. In 2010, she received her doctorate in educational leadership from Sage College and was appointed the Watervliet Superintendent of Schools in January 2012. You can read more from Dr. Caplan by visiting her blog.

Siena poll: More parental involvement, more time for tenure, voters side with teachers over Cuomo

A Siena poll released Tuesday morning shows that voters think that lack of parental involvement is the main reason why not enough high school students graduate college or are career ready.

The poll also indicates that 48 percent of voters generally side with the teachers’ union on educational issues, while 36 percent side with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A plurality, 37 percent, says that not enough parental involvement is the single biggest reason that not enough high schoolers graduate college or career ready, followed by 18 percent who say it’s insufficient education funding, 17 percent point to the effects of poverty, 12 percent say ineffective state education oversight, and only 10 percent blame the quality of New York’s teachers. By an overwhelming 62-29 percent, voters say teachers should be eligible for tenure after five years, as Cuomo has proposed, rather than the current three years.

“A plurality of voters from every party and region says the level of parental involvement is the single largest problem facing schools today, more so than education funding, poverty, oversight, or teacher quality,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said. “Downstate suburban and upstate voters think their local public schools do at least a good job of preparing students, however, New York City voters disagree more than two-to-one. A majority of all voters, including two-thirds from New York City, says that schools statewide are doing only a fair or poor job of preparing students.

“In the ongoing war of words between Cuomo and the teachers’ unions over a broad array of education issues, a plurality of voters sides with the unions, including a majority of Democrats and upstaters and a plurality of Republicans and downstate suburbanites. Independents and New York City voters are closely divided. Men and voters in non-union households are also closely divided, while women and voters in union households more strongly side with the teachers’ unions,” Greenberg said.

Comptroller releases report on tax cap

The Comptroller’s office has released a new report, detailing the effects of the state’s property tax cap over the last three years and its impact on New York school districts.

In 2011, New York state leaders responded to calls for property tax relief by enacting a law that placed new restrictions on how school districts (and municipalities) may increase their tax levies. The law does not prohibit tax levy increases greater than 2 percent. Despite how it’s been described by some politicians and the media, the legislation requires each district to calculate its own tax levy limit. Two percent (or the rate of inflation, if less) is just one of eight factors in this calculation. The law also establishes a higher threshold of voter approval for a budget to pass if a district’s proposed tax levy increase (before exclusions outlined in the law) exceeds its individual tax levy limit.

Some of the interesting findings from the Comptroller’s report:

  • The tax cap poses more of a constraint on those school districts that derive a larger portion of their revenues from the property tax.
  • Based on the individual tax levy limit calculations, 363 school districts could have increased the tax levy by more than 2 percent (if they levied right up to the tax levy limit) and, of these, 62 could have increased the tax levy by 4 percent or more while still remaining under the cap. In contrast, 69 districts were held to less than a 1 percent increase—with 17 of these actually being subject to a levy decrease from the prior year.
  • The number of school districts overriding the tax cap has declined each year. In school year 2013, 6.5 percent of school districts exceeded the tax levy limit. By school year 2015, the number of school districts overriding the tax cap decreased by more than half, to 2.8 percent. This decline may be due in part to the newly enacted Property Tax Freeze Credit (“tax freeze”). Generally, the two-year tax freeze program provides credits to qualifying taxpayers who live within taxing jurisdictions that remain within the tax cap. Taxpayers will not be eligible for the credit if their school district exceeds the tax cap—providing added incentive for districts to stay under the cap.
  • In general, school districts’ decisions to override the tax cap were based, at least in part, on necessity. Comptroller DiNapoli recently implemented a Fiscal Stress Monitoring System to evaluate and report on the level of fiscal stress being faced by localities and school districts across the State. School districts received their first round of scores in January 2014. When examining the relationship between fiscal stress and tax cap overrides, we found that in each of the three years the law has been in effect, fiscally stressed school districts were nearly three times more likely to override the tax cap when compared to school districts that were grouped in the “No Designation” category.
  • Of the 19 school districts that are overriding the tax cap for the 2014-15 fiscal year, five (26 percent) were found to be in fiscal stress.

Click here to read the entire report.

 

#FridayFlick: Stand Up 4 Public Schools

Good morning! Ed Speaks is launching a new video series on Fridays called The Friday Flick (#FridayFlick).

Each Friday, we’ll bring you a new video that showcases an interesting component of education in New York state. So sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Oh, and please silence your cell phones…unless you’re watching this on your cell phone, in which case, crank it to 10.

Around the state, many regions have been holding advocacy events, designed to raise awareness of the various issues facing public schools today. The video below, entitled Stand Up 4 Public Schools, has been shown at a few of these events and it aims to shine a light on the drastic effects of the Gap Elimination Adjustment and what community members can do to advocate on behalf of their local school district. Stand Up 4 Public Schools is the title of a national advocacy campaign created by the National School Boards Association.

New NYSUT ad calls Cuomo’s priorities ‘wrong’

NYSUT has taken to the airwaves, producing a new commercial that calls Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education priorities “wrong” and asks that he visit a classroom to learn what all kids need to get a great education.

Since the Governor released his budget proposal on Jan. 21 calling for significant changes to the teacher evaluation process, NYSUT has been on the offensive, launching new ad and social media campaigns. In a recent video address to NYSUT members, president Karen Magee said that Gov. Cuomo has declared war on the teaching profession.

“Instead of standing with educators, parents and community, the Governor has chosen to side with his billionaire friends, and with those who seek to demonize public education and service and seek to vilify and scapegoat teachers,” Magee said.

Cuomo has called for changes to how districts evaluate teachers and principals. Under the existing process, evaluation scores consist of essentially three components: classroom observations, growth on state test scores and locally-selected learning targets, and additional measures of student achievement. Scores on these components result in a rating of highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.

“They’re baloney,” Cuomo said of the current evaluations. “How can 38 percent of students be ready and 98 percent of the teachers rated effective? The problem is clear. We need real, fair, accurate teacher evaluations.”

In his budget proposal, the Governor outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. While many other details of this plan are still unknown, Gov. Cuomo did say that the elements of the scoring system for teacher observations would be set in state law, rather than locally negotiated as they are now.

Cuomo also said that teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We will stop local score inflation, which has resulted in virtually all teachers being rated effective by setting,” he said.

Under Cuomo’s plan, a teacher who has two consecutive “ineffective” ratings would be removed from their teaching position.

“The state’s systemic failure to provide enough resources for all of its students and to do so equitably – while giving all teachers the tools and support they need – is the real crisis and the one our governor is trying to sweep under the rug,” Magee said following the Governor’s budget address.

The Executive Budget Proposal now heads to the state legislature for consideration. A final state budget is expected by April 1, 2015.

NYS Allies for Public Education sends Cuomo FOIL request for state aid runs

One has to imagine that it would be easier to get a ticket to the Super Bowl on Sunday than it would be to get a hold of the 2015-16 school aid runs.

That’s not stopping some organizations from trying though.

On Thursday, the New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) submitted a FOIL request to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Records Office, calling for the release of any and all records relating to the 2015-16 state aid projections and/or corresponding school aid runs.

Last week, the Division of Budget announced that it would not be releasing school aid runs until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda.

NYSAPE believes Cuomo’s decision to withhold the aid figures “creates a hardship and undue burden on our already stressed local public school districts statewide, currently endeavoring to work diligently on their local budget development process before the May vote.”

“We believe your (Cuomo’s) actions fly in the face of democracy,” the official request reads. “We believe this information should be made accessible to the public as a matter of course first and foremost based on principles of good faith and dealing and, second, pursuant to the democratic spirit and intent of open government as codified in the NYS Public Officers Law.”

On Tuesday this week, the New York State Educational Conference Board, comprised of the seven leading educational organizations across the state, penned a letter to Cuomo demanding that state aid runs be released to school districts immediately.

“In our collective memory, it is unprecedented for the state to withhold the release of executive budget aid runs,” the letter read. “These aid runs are not simply a state budget “tradition,” they are necessary and indeed critical to the local budget development process for hundreds of school districts across the state.”

Click here to read the official FOIL request from NYSAPE.