human capital

Klein to principals: Hiring restrictions probably won't be lifted

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein warned of “unacceptable financial consequences” today if principals do not accelerate their hiring.

In an e-mail today, Klein encouraged principals to list and fill their open positions as soon as possible to help reduce the number of teachers without jobs. If a principal can’t pay for a teacher, the teacher goes into a pool of “excessed” teachers whose salaries are paid by the department. If the size of the pool swells, the department could end up shouldering thousands of teachers’ salaries — all while the teachers aren’t officially on a school’s staff.

Klein emphasized that principals should plan to fill their vacancies with teachers who already work in the system, especially the more than 2,300 who currently lack a permanent position. “You should be aware that excessing conditions make it unlikely that we will lift hiring restrictions across the board,” he wrote. Restrictions have been lifted in a handful of specific license areas, most recently in special education, where the hiring freeze was lifted yesterday.

Some have speculated that principals might try to evade the hiring restrictions by not listing their open positions publicly before the “open market” period of teacher hiring ends next week.

“That’s maybe what some of them were trying to do and that’s why we had Joel send out the e-mail today,” said Photo Anagnastopoulos, the department’s chief operating officer.

There are currently about 2,400 teaching positions open in the city schools and about 2,340 teachers who don’t have positions, according to data released by the Department of Education today.

Nearly 2,000 teaching positions were cut at the end of the school year, the “overwhelming majority” because of budget cuts that totaled as much as 8 percent of schools’ budgets over the course of the last school year, department officials said today. The numbers released today marked the first time since principals submitted their budgets June 18 that the department disclosed how many positions had been cut.

Since the end of June, fewer than 400 of the teachers whose positions were cut at the end of the school year have been hired by other schools, according to the department.

The city’s excess pool currently has 1,570 teachers whose jobs were cut this year and 770 teachers whose jobs were eliminated in the past. The latter number is down from about 1,100 teachers in the pool at the end of April. About 300 of those teachers were offered permanent positions at schools since then.

Department officials say they are “pretty confident” that the number of teachers without positions will settle back to about 1,100 by shortly after the school year begins. “Right now it’s pretty much where we thought it would be,” Anagnastopoulos said today.

In addition to the 2,340 teachers currently without positions, there are also 300 school psychologists and social workers who do not have jobs at schools but whose salaries are being paid by the department.

Teachers are protected from layoffs, even if they do not land a position in a school. No such protection exists for the 900 excessed school aides, paraprofessionals, and other people who do not belong to the city teachers union. There are only about 100 openings for those kind of positions. 

Here’s Klein’s complete letter to principals:

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to give you an update on the hiring restrictions and how they impact our overall budget situation for the upcoming school year.

When we implemented the hiring restrictions in May, we did so to ensure that the size and cost of the excessed staff pool did not grow to the point where even more cuts would be required. I am aware that these restrictions limit your choices, but this policy is the only way to preserve your ability to select your own staff, a hard fought change in school hiring that we sought and achieved based on your feedback.

We continue to monitor the excess situation on a daily basis. A number of you have already selected internal candidates, including excessed staff, to fill your vacancies. But even with these hires, we still have many teachers in excess. As a result, we need to work together before the start of the school year to avoid any year-to-year increase in the number of teachers in excess and avoid unacceptable financial consequences. I am sure some of you are waiting to either declare or fill vacancies with the hope that hiring restrictions will be lifted soon. While I understand your desire to staff your schools with the candidates you feel will be the best fit, you should be aware that excessing conditions make it unlikely that we will lift hiring restrictions across the board in any other subject areas. To date, we lifted the hiring restrictions for almost all districts in special education and for all schools in other shortage areas, such as bilingual special education, speech, and most sciences.  Prospectively, there may be some targeted lifting of restrictions – in specific districts and subjects – but I anticipate even those targeted exceptions will be very limited. As we continue to monitor the situation, we may even need to re-impose some hiring restrictions in areas where we have lifted them.

Given these circumstances, you should not hold back on creating and filling vacancies. The best internal candidates – both teachers in excess and other teachers seeking transfers – are available now and the widest possible pool exists during the Open Market Transfer period, which by contract closes on August 7. It is crucial that you are staffed appropriately for the opening of school and therefore should create and fill vacancies as quickly as possible from the current pool of available internal candidates. Your HR Partner and the Office of Teacher Recruitment & Quality can assist you in identifying internal candidates. Many of the teachers in excess are relatively new teachers who you and your colleagues hired one, two or three years ago; many others are also dedicated teachers who could be a good fit for your school. Some excessed teachers can be hired with a subsidy, whereby central will bear a significant part of the cost even after you hire them.

I am aware that some schools will have staffing needs for short and long term absences. Please remember that you cannot use per diems and F-status staff to cover vacancies; this is something we will be monitoring. Per our agreement with the UFT, if you need to fill a vacancy caused by a leave or a sabbatical, you can hire excessed staff on a provisional basis. A provisional hire means that you are hiring the individual for only this coming year. At the end of the school year, that teacher will return to the excess pool unless you both agree he or she should remain on your staff. Questions about this process, subsidies or other matters pertaining to excesses should be directed to your HR liaison in the ISC or CFN.

Only by working together can we successfully navigate this challenging situation. I realize that you have already had to make difficult and painful decisions as a result of current budget conditions. In the case of staffing, however, critical steps remain. To the extent that vacancies are not scheduled or that the process of filling them is being delayed, the actions of individual schools have the potential to negatively impact all of our schools. I am deeply grateful for all that you are already doing to make the best choices for your school under difficult circumstances, but I ask that you please move expeditiously to schedule and fill your vacancies.

Sincerely,

Joel I. Klein

Busing Ban

As school districts push for integration, decades-old federal rule could thwart them

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Several districts across the country want to use federal money to pay for school buses as part of their desegregation plans. A federal spending restriction could get in the way.

In Florida, officials plan to use federal money to shuttle students across vast Miami-Dade County to new science-themed magnet programs in a bid to desegregate several schools.

In South Carolina, a tiny district west of Myrtle Beach intends to spend federal funds on free busing for families who enroll at two predominantly black schools, hoping that will draw in white and Hispanic students.

And in New York, state officials want to deploy federal school-improvement money to help integrate struggling schools, believing that may be the secret to their rebirth.

But each of these fledgling integration efforts — and similar ones across the country — could be imperiled by obscure budget provisions written during the anti-busing backlash of the 1970s, which prohibit using federal funding for student transportation aimed at racial desegregation. The rules have been embedded in every education spending bill since at least 1974, as Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia pointed out in September when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provisions from the latest appropriations bill.

The rules are “a relic of an ugly history when states and school districts across the nation resisted meaningful integration,” said Scott, the top Democrat on the House education committee, during a floor speech where he called the persistence of the rules “morally reprehensible.”

After Scott’s amendment to eliminate the provisions was blocked, advocates are now working behind the scenes to convince members of the Senate from both parties to strike the rules from the latest spending bill during negotiations. More than 40 integration advocates and experts have signed onto a letter to lawmakers calling for the anti-busing language to be removed, and members of that coalition plan to meet with lawmakers in the coming days.

Advocates are especially worried about funding for magnet programs, like those in Miami and the South Carolina district, which rely on special science or art offerings or rigorous academic courses to draw students of different races into the same school — a choice-based approach that has become the primary way districts now pursue desegregation.

This is the first year districts that receive federal magnet-school grants are allowed to spend some of that money on transportation, after Congress changed the rules as part of its education-law overhaul in 2015. Among the 32 districts that received a total of nearly $92 million in magnet grants this year, at least six plan to use some of that money for transportation, according to their applications.

Now, just as those funds are about to flow to busing — which many families insist upon before they will enroll their children in magnet schools across town — the decades-old spending restriction could cut them off, advocates warn.

That could create a major problem for districts like Miami-Dade County.

It hopes to attract students from across the district to three heavily black and Hispanic schools by launching magnet programs that focus on zoology, cybersecurity, and mobile-app development, according to its application. To pull that off, it requested $245,000 for buses next year since, as the application notes, the “most limiting factor” for many families is “the cost associated with transporting their child to the magnet school.”

The district in Lake City, South Carolina wants to pull new families from different neighborhoods into an elementary school and a middle school that suffer from sagging enrollment and intense poverty. Previous recruitment efforts that didn’t provide transportation amounted to “failed attempts,” the district said in its application.

However, if the anti-busing provisions are not removed from the next federal spending bill, they would cancel out the new rule allowing those districts to spend some of their magnet money on transportation (though districts could still use local funds to fill in the gap). As such, magnet-school representatives are pushing hard for lawmakers to remove the provisions during budget negotiations.

“We’re hoping this doesn’t see the light of day,” said John Laughner, legislative and communications manager at Magnet Schools of America, an association of magnets from across the country. He plans to discuss the issue with lawmakers next week.

Beyond magnet schools, other desegregation efforts could be undercut by the anti-busing provision, which was included in a spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that the House approved and one the Senate has yet to vote on.

At least one state — New York — listed socioeconomic and racial integration among the ways it could intervene in low-performing schools under the new federal education law. In addition, New York officials announced a grant program this week where up to 30 districts will receive federal money to develop integration plans.

Advocates fear the anti-busing rule could disrupt any of those plans that require transportation and aim to reduce racial segregation. (New York education officials said they did not want to speculate on the impact of a spending bill that hasn’t been approved.)

A Democratic Congressional aide who has studied the issue said the provision could even block federal funding for planning or public outreach around desegregation programs that involve busing, not just busing itself.

Either way, advocates say the provision could dissuade districts from using the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, to pursue integration — even though research suggests that student achievement on tests and other measures improve when they attend less segregated schools.

“We shouldn’t have this,” said Philip Tegeler, a member of the National Coalition on School Diversity, which is leading the charge to remove the restriction. He added that the provision stemmed from mandatory desegregation busing of an earlier era: “It’s clearly an anachronism that doesn’t really fit any more with what states and districts are doing voluntarily.”

A U.S. education department spokeswoman said Secretary Betsy DeVos would be bound to enforce any funding prohibitions that Congress approves, though she noted that state and local funds are not subject to the same restrictions.

Negotiators from the House and Senate must still agree on a single spending bill, which would go before the full Congress for a vote. Until then, lawmakers have voted to temporarily extend 2017 spending levels through December. It’s possible Congress will pass another extension then, meaning a final deal — and a decision on the anti-busing language — may not arrive until early next year.

In the meantime, advocates are pressing lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee who helped craft ESSA, with the argument that the anti-busing provision limits the flexibility and local control the law was meant to provide districts.

Margaret Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the senator, would not say whether he is open to removing the provision, but said he would continue working to ensure ESSA “is implemented as Congress intended.”

The anti-busing language — found in two sections of the current appropriation bills — prohibits using federal funds for transportation “to overcome racial imbalance” or “to carry out a plan of racial desegregation,” or forcing students to attend any school other than the one closest to home. (A separate education law contains a similar restriction, but ESSA exempted magnet schools from it.) The provisions emerged in the early 1970s, just after the Supreme Court ruled that busing students to schools outside their own racially isolated neighborhoods was an appropriate tool for school desegregation.

At the time, many white parents raged against what they called “forced busing.” In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed at least one law annually from 1966 to 1977 meant to curb school integration, according to historian Jason Sokol, and in 1974 the full Congress voted in favor of an anti-busing amendment to an education bill. The restrictions in the current spending bills appear to have originated around the same time.

The attacks on busing reflect how crucial free transportation is to school desegregation, said Erica Frankenberg, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies segregation. Busing was included in guidelines outlining how districts should comply with desegregation requirements in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and later upheld by the Supreme Court, she pointed out.

More recently, studies have shown that non-white parents are more likely to opt into magnet schools when they provide transportation, and that magnets that don’t offer busing are more likely to enroll students of a single race, Frankenberg said. Yet, many politicians remain reluctant to endorse busing for desegregation — which may reflect a deeper ambivalence, she added.

Resistance to busing, she said, “is a very politically acceptable way to be opposed to integration.”

Yes and No

In a first, New York officials reject 2 proposed charter schools, but sign off on 5 for New York City

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Charter-school advocates staged a rally outside the state capitol building 2015.

New York’s top education policymakers voted Monday to approve five new charter schools in New York City – but, for the first time, rejected two proposed charters.

The moves by the state Board of Regents sent a mixed message on charter schools. While the Regents have approved more this year than at any point since 2013, the rejections suggest they won’t rubber stamp applications – even those, like the two shot down Monday, that have earned the state education department’s blessing.

Four of the approved schools will be based in the Bronx, and one in Staten Island. (Technically, Monday’s vote is preliminary and the board must finalize its decision at Tuesday’s full-board meeting.)

A new charter high school on Staten Island plans to enroll a significant number of students with disabilities — an area of great need in a borough where a quarter of students have some disability. Students will have the opportunity to graduate with as many as 60 college credits through a partnership with St. John’s University.

The Bronx charters include a new elementary school that will serve high-functioning students on the autism spectrum, an all-boys middle school inspired by an Obama-era program aimed at uplifting young men of color, and a high school for students who have fallen behind academically.

The final Bronx school is KIPP Freedom, slated to open in 2018, which will mark the first time the national network has opened a new school in New York City in six years.

“The community has tremendous support for the charter,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa about KIPP, who suggested the school could even help reduce segregation if sited in the right location.

The two schools the board rejected would have been located in districts in Mount Vernon, in Westchester County, and Homer, in upstate New York.

Board members raised concerns about the applications, including that their curriculums were not very innovative. They also worried that the schools would drain resources from their surrounding districts, potentially forcing them to cut extracurricular programs from traditional schools.

Regent Judith Johnson, who represents the Mount Vernon district, expressed concern that the school only planned to serve students grades 6-8, while the district is moving towards a model that keeps children in the same school from kindergarten through eighth grade. She suggested waiting to see how the district’s efforts pan out.

“I would suggest this is premature,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to support this at this time.”

The vote comes as top state officials have been skeptical of charter schools and policies regulating them.

At past meetings, Regents have wondered aloud whether the schools are serving their fair share of high-needs students. And Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia have been on a warpath against a new policy that will allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers.

However, those concerns have not stopped the Regents from approving new charter schools. During a low point for approvals in 2015, when the state approved only four charters, few applications made it past the education department’s vetting process and to the board for final approval.

Since then, there has been a steady uptick in approvals. The board signed off on seven new schools last year, and is set to approve at least eight this year. (The board, which typically accepts applications in two or three rounds each year, approved three schools earlier this year.)

State education department officials on Monday also presented new ways to evaluate charter schools and decide whether they should remain open, based on proposals that the Board of Regents floated last month.

The additions to the state’s “Charter School Performance Framework” could include measures of student chronic absenteeism, the schools’ suspension rates, and the results of student and staff surveys. In previous meetings, Regents have also suggested surveying families who decide to leave charter schools.

Charter schools are already required to meet certain enrollment and retention targets, or to make “good faith efforts” to reach them. The state also considers the quality of a school’s curriculum and its outreach to families.

At Monday’s meeting, some Regents proposed adding yet another measure: whether charter schools are sharing innovative practices with the district schools.

“If the original intent [of charter schools] was to create opportunity for innovation,” said Regent Johnson, “we have to decide now, after those twenty plus years, did that happen?”