Highland Falls funding fix in education reauthorization bill

Sen. Charles E. Schumer Tuesday said his fix for Highland Falls School District funding has been inserted into the re-authorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The act was renamed No Child Left Behind under President George W. Bush.

Highland Falls district officials have long argued that the federal impact aid on tax-exempt land was inappropriately capped. About 90 percent of the district’s land is owned by either the state or federal government (in the form of nearby West Point) and is therefore off the tax rolls.

The district has seen deeper cuts and steeper tax hikes than most in the recession because of cuts to state and federal aid.

The Schumer measure would lift the aid cap, netting an additional $2 million annually for Highland Falls. Schumer built support for the fix from senators of 27 other states with districts receiving impact aid.

Schumer originally inserted this bill into the December 2010 Omnibus Spending.

The ESEA bill must pass through committee and the entire Congress before the fix becomes law.  The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is poised to act on the bill this week.

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Regents meeting: Kindergarten entrance tests, test security, waiver details

The Board of Regents P-12 Committee tackled an ambitious agenda this morning that required a straight  three hours of discussion. But in the spirit of brevity, here are the quick and notable highlights. The Board will consider approving these recommendations Tuesday.

  1. Making up failed course credits: Less 436 staffers than just a couple of years ago, the ed. department doesn’t have resources to audit whether districts are appropriately awarding credits for make-up classes, which anecdotal evidence suggests is a problem. The state will ask the comptroller’s office if their staff can take on some reviews.
  2. Pre-K Standards: It seems Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has promised $2 million to state ed. to develop a kindergarten entrance “instrument” (aka test). Cuomo is leading the state’s application for the competitive federal grant program for pre-school similar to Race to the Top. The kindergarten assessment would not be used for high stakes or bar entrance, the Regents assured. But it could be used to rate pre-school programs.
  3. Test security:  This year, the Regents will do more erasure and comparability analysis. In 2012-13 teachers won’t be allowed to grade their own students tests. This may cause some reshuffling and kerfluffling … It may even require moving the date of the Regents exam, about which several Regents members raised concerns. Shortening the school year – or shortening preparation and review time – to allow more time for grading would certainly raise eyebrows among educators.
  4. Budget requests for Regents tests: The committee didn’t ask to restore foreign language or social studies Regents cut in the last two years. But it did ask the state to fund the $1.5 million that had to be donated by Bloomberg’s wealthy pals.
  5. A No Child Left Behind Waiver: The board is readying to apply for the NCLB waivers offered by the federal education department in February. If approved Tuesday by the full board, an inquiry team will begin drafting the waiver language. There are a lot of sticky issues as the waivers turn the current system upside down. More details will emerge at future meetings.
  6. Legislative Priorities: You can read them all here. Some new ones such as backing the DREAM Act, and old ones such as a call for mandate relief.

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State superintendents’ leader calls Cuomo’s facts wrong

The deputy director of the state superintendents association Wednesday told a governor’s spokesman to check his facts.

The New York State Council of School Superintendents Tuesday released a report on the state of school districts, based on survey responses by almost 300 superintendents.

Governor’s spokesman Josh Vlasto responded with a quote that ran in Associated Press stories across the country.  He said, “The schools and school districts chose to make these reductions in the classroom rather than dip into their reserves, cut back on the bureaucracy or reduce the growing number of administrators.”

Lowry called for Vlasto – and the Governor -  to check his facts, quoting the report: “It’s hard to make good decisions off of bad information.”

Let’s compare Vlasto’s assertions with the study findings:

Vlasto says: School districts chose to make these reductions in the classroom rather than dip into their reserves

The study says:

  • School districts used more than $1.2 billion in reserves to avoid cuts and/or higher taxes, according to the 2011 Property Tax Report Card
  • Without using these reserves, districts would have had to cut an average of 4.1 percent more from budgets statewide.
  • 65 percent of districts reported reducing undesignated reserves.

Vlasto says:  School districts chose to make these reductions in the classroom … rather than cut back on the bureaucracy

The study says:

  • 34 percent of districts increased shared services
  • 44 percent changed purchasing practices
  • 60 percent increased energy conservation
  • 66 percent of administrators accepted a salary freeze or other concession

Vlasto says: “… school districts chose to make these reductions in the classroom rather than … reduce the growing number of administrators.”

The study says:

  • 30 percent of districts reduced building-level administrators in 2010-11, on top of 20 percent that made reductions in 2009-10
  • 29 percent of districts reduced in central office administration in 2010-11, on top of 23 percent with reductions in 2009-10
  • The districts reduced their administrative workforce by 7.5 percent this school year

Similar surveys by the Times Herald-Record during budget season found that districts indeed were cutting around the classroom, rather than in the classroom.

Cuomo’s office has repeated the same talking point about school districts over and over again during his tenure. With this report, the governor may have to face some facts.


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Valley Central schools hold early budget talks

The Valley Central School Board will host early budget meetings to provide voters with information on the new tax levy cap rules and solicit feedback. The board wants to explain the special challenges of the 2012-13 budget, according to a press release. The community forums are at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 3 and Jan. 12 at East Coldenham Elementary School, 286 Route 17K in Newburgh.

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School Finance Consortium makes video on tax cap

The state School Finance Consortium releases this video, arguing that the tax cap will widen the gap between wealthy and poor school district offerings.

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Finance expert calls graph presented to Regents “fabricated”

I always enjoy Bruce Baker’s cheeky commentary on bad graphing, so I was interested to see that his most recent post was about a presentation to the New York State Board of Regents.

Baker is commenting on a graph by Marguerite Roza on spending vs. educational outcomes. The graph shows outcomes improving more when spending is focused on “tech-based learning systems” and “teacher effectiveness.”

Baker writes that there’s no data to substantiate the chart, which was presented to policymakers.

Coincidentally, there have been a couple of interesting pieces in the national media lately questioning whether spending on technology is producing promised results, e.g. the New York Times’ “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores”.

And a 2010 study, resulting from three years worth of research, showed little impact of merit pay for teachers on student performance.

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School boards talk limiting influence of teacher seniority, pension contributions

The policy positions being considered this year by the state school boards association have a laser-like focus on budgets.

The school boards association is considering resolutions to support limiting seniority in teacher firing, limit retirement and health care contributions by schools, and reducing special education requirements.

The rationale on many of these policy positions is the same: money, money, money.

The most seemingly controversial is a proposal to seek legislation to limit the role of seniority in teacher layoff decisions. The rationale: “Our schools cannot attempt systemic improvement by merely preserving the status quo; particularly when the status quo significantly hinders the ability to retain the very best instructional staff available. The use of seniority alone in determining staffing reductions creates a significant barrier to a school district’s ability to retain staff that meets the programmatic needs of all students.”

School board members will debate these policies at the annual New York State School Boards Association convention in Buffalo at the end of this month.

Click here to read all the resolutions.

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A valedictorian’s criticism of public education

Erica Goldson, valedictorian of Coxsackie-Athens High School, offers a poignant critique of the system in which she succeeded.

In it she condemns rote memorization and the lack of encouragement for artistic expression and individuality.

This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.”

This video is worth 9 minutes of your time or you can read the text of the speech here.

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Charged school board member provides platform

While school board candidate, Christopher O’Brien declined to comment for our story on allegations that he threatened the high school principal, he did email his education platform.

About two hours after saying “no comment,” O’Brien replied to an email sent to him earlier in the day. The response had no context, there was simply an attachment called education platform, which we assume means that he will continue his quest for the school board seat.

If elected, here’s what O’Brien intends for Marlboro schools:

1. Cut school budget by 10% in School Year 2012-2013
2. Close the Milton Elementary School, possibly the Middlehope Elementary school. Consolidate elementary school students at the Marlboro Intermediary School facility.
3. Lease the property of Milton Elementary School to Town of Marlboro, to be used for a new Court House, Town Hall, and police station. (Revenue>$100,000.00 a year)
4. Vacate the Pinnacle building and put admin and staff for district at the MIS. (Savings of over $60,000 per year)
5. Eliminate tenure. Salaries and increases based on teacher performance, not length of employment.
6. Refuse to negotiate contracts through the Teacher’s Union. The Union is not welcome on school property. Salaries will be determined individually.
7. Require all employees of the Marlboro School District to reside within the district.
8. Recruit bids to decrease transportation costs by 25%.
9. Terminate anyone on the Board of Education who receives a salary from the Marlboro School District. (Conflict of Interest)
10. Refuse to implement unfunded federal and/or state mandates.
11. Any teacher who participates in any labor strike will be immediately terminated, and will not be reinstated.

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Lawmakers pose pension sweetners

A report out Tuesday by the Citizens Budget Commission presents more than 30 bills introduced this year by state lawmakers that sweeten pensions or protect public worker health care benefits.

The commission criticizes lawmakers for these bills, some of which would add millions to state or local costs annually. Check out the report here and the spreadsheet of bills here.

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