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.

South Colonie to host regional advocacy event Feb. 26

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” promises to again bring students, parents, teachers, taxpayers and school leaders together to talk about what is at stake if state leaders do not reverse course and adequately fund schools. The event will also address the need to maintain local control of public schools and share information in regard to appropriate testing designed to evaluate and support student growth. View the agenda for the event.

“Save Our Schools” will feature the voices of parents and education leaders from throughout the Capital Region describing how the crisis has affected programs and opportunities that are important to them and their neighbors.

The event will be held on Thursday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m., in the Mark Cornell Auditorium at Colonie Central High School, 1 Raider Blvd., Albany, NY.

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.

 

Mandate relief panel goes quietly

A special panel set up by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2011 designed to examine local mandates and areas to save municipalities costs has ended with no proposals.

“There weren’t any proposals to the mandate relief council in the last year,” state Sen. Jack Martins told the Albany Times Union on Monday after speaking at the state Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials.

While some small relief efforts (including the relaxing of rules regarding purchases by school districts) were enacted, larger mandates such as the Wicks Law and Triborough Amendment were not addressed, according to the Times Union.

From the get-go, Cuomo was in charge of this panel. According to Capitol Confidential, the governor controlled the majority of appointments to the panel and according to the legislation, the council would conclude on Jan.12, 2015 or “upon departure of the fifty-sixth governor, whichever comes first.”

Groups across New York state have been pushing the governor for mandate relief since he entered office in 2011. In June, a statewide coalition of groups representing businesses, local governments and schools joined together to express their dissatisfaction with the lack of mandate relief and called for six efforts that if enacted, would have helped ease the financial burden on schools and municipalities. They included: including:

  • Freezing step increases when contracts expire
  • Controlling construction costs
  • Providing portable pension benefits
  • Redefining compulsory arbitration
  • Capping health insurance costs
  • Prohibiting new unfunded mandates

In the past, Cuomo has proposed initiatives that, on the surface, appear to benefit students, but have had the potential to become new un/underfunded mandates for schools. One example is the statewide universal full-day pre-kindergarten initiative. The state is investing $1.5 billion over five years, but many educational experts, including former education commissioner John King claim that such a program would cost at least that much to operate each year.

“If you want to get to true universality you’re probably talking on the order of about $1.6 billion a year,” King said in an interview after testifying before the joint Assembly-Senate budget hearing on education spending.

While mandates increase accountability and in many cases improve educational quality, they can also limit flexibility and affect how districts spend money. Mandates not only focus on the education, health and safety of students, but they also encompass a wide range of daily school operations. These include:

  • Annual Professional Performance Reviews for teachers and principals
  • Common Core Learning Standards adoption, implementation and realignment of existing curriculum
  • Special education mandates for Individualized Education Plans, specialized
    instruction by appropriately certified professionals and related service providers, a CSE chairperson, 504 plans and more. The state has at least 200 mandates beyond federal requirements
  • Transportation of students with disabilities to their programs (up to 50 miles); private
    school and charter school students (up to 15 miles); and homeless students to current or prior district (parental choice)
  • Availability of and staff training on using automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in school facilities
  • Purchase of graphing calculators for students taking intermediate-level and high school math and science assessments
  • Maintenance of a health record (including dental health) for every student.
  • Required collection of students’ Body Mass Indexes, including screening for eating disorders, and reports on the information to the state Department of Health

If you think that’s a long list, check out this more extensive listing of New York state mandates.

You can learn more about mandates and mandate relief in our Mandate Monday series that we launched in 2012.