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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dear Parents: The NYC Public School of Your Choice Has No Room For Your Child. Sorry

Class size matters. Parents, teachers, and administrators know that. So, the lack of classrooms, chairs, desks, resources, etc. to assist NYC public schools provide an excellent - or at least good - public education is due to ...

(By the way, read the report "Fatal $ubtraction: How State-Mandated Property Tax Exemptions
Subsidize New York City Private Education at the Expense of Public Schools and CUNY
" to get an idea of the land grab in NYC by New York University and Columbia University - Ed.)

and, the policy of removing excellent, caring teachers from their classrooms without good reason, and sticking them in rubberized rooms unfit for human habitation and keep them there for years without charges is based upon the rationale that...

gosh, I need help understanding how this makes sense, Mike and Joel!
Let me know what you are doing to change this, or explain it to me, ok?
Parent and teacher advocate,
Betsy Combier

May 18, 2008
Manhattan Up Close (PS 116 above)
Counting Classroom Seats in a Booming City

STEPHANIE PEDERSON, an author of books on beauty and health and the mother of a kindergartner named Leif, first became aware of the problem in September. It was Leif’s first day at Public School 116, on East 33rd Street in Kips Bay, and Ms. Pederson had just arrived to drop him off.

“When I saw how large his class was, my heart just sank,” she said.

Leif’s class has 28 students, four more than the largest of last year’s kindergarten classes. Ms. Pederson says the impact is profound.

“The noise, the kids, the bodies,” she said. “The teacher has to do things over and over again just to get a response.”

While class sizes in the city as a whole have dropped in recent years, they have risen in certain areas, particularly in Manhattan, in part because of a boom in residential development. Parents unable to get their children into public schools in those places have been vocal about the problem, but less attention has been paid to parents whose already-enrolled children face more crowding.

A report issued last month by the Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer, showed that the construction approved by the city in the past eight years would bring up to 2,300 students to K-8 schools in Lower Manhattan, SoHo, Greenwich Village, the Flatiron district, Madison Square, Midtown and the Upper East Side. But the study found that the city, in the past eight years, had provided only 143 added seats in those areas.

The study portrays a 22-block part of East Midtown, in which P.S. 116 is located, as a pocket of “concentrated growth” that brings the overcrowding into “particularly stark relief.”

In a statement, the Department of Education said it was “aware of the need for seats” and expected “increased need above our current projections in several districts.” Margie Feinberg, a department spokeswoman, said these increased expectations are already being factored in as the department draws up its next capital plan. In District 2, which includes Kips Bay, the department has recently committed itself to adding 1,800 more seats, for example.

Under the current capital plan, the department has also taken measures to account for an influx of students in some districts; in February, it committed to creating 3,150 new seats in District 2, which includes Kips Bay, up from the 1,890 seats that it had originally proposed. The department plans to make these seats available by 2010.

Jane Hsu, P.S. 116’s principal, declined to be interviewed. But Laurie Posimato, a co-president of the Parent Teacher Association, said the student body had grown to 795 from 728 since 2005.

The disadvantages of crowded schools extend beyond the classroom. At P.S. 116, counselors must hold sessions with students in a cluttered supply closet. Another consequence of high enrollment is a short lunch period. Students eat in 25-minute shifts, the earliest starting at 10 a.m.

Vlad Sapozhnikov, the father of a kindergartner named Maya, said that his daughter often came home hungry. “Just yesterday,” he said, “she asked me if I could buy her 10 hot dogs because she couldn’t wait for supper.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Pederson’s son, Leif, is still struggling to cope with the stress of a noisy, crowded classroom. Teachers sometimes find him sitting on the floor in the hallway or bathroom, his mother said, adding, “He and several other students have become very adept at finding places to go when the room becomes too much.”
Parent power needed

New report shows city misusing $153 million in class size funds

See the new report, produced by an independent consultant for the UFT, showing that based on DOE’s own data, the city has utterly failed to reduce class size with the $153 million in state funds targeted for this purpose -- and that in one third of schools receiving class size reduction funds, class sizes actually increased. Comptroller Thompson said he would audit the use of these funds to see how they were actually spent.

The city’s misuse of these funds is a direct result of a lack of leadership, commitment and accountability on the part of the DOE.

* At the current glacial rate of decline, it will be 10 to 30 years before the city reaches its state-mandated targets of 20 on average in grades K-3 and 23 in other grades. More of the report’s other findings:

* At 43 percent of all K-8 schools citywide, class sizes increased.

* In large high schools with 1,500-plus students, there were four more students per class on average than in small schools with fewer than 1,500 students.

* Little progress was made even in the city’s low-performing city elementary and middle schools (SINI/SRAP), which need smaller classes most desperately; 51 percent saw some decreases in class size but 42 percent saw larger classes.

* In the city’s failing middle schools, class sizes remain larger than the citywide averages.

* Among the 309 K-8 schools that were allocated the class size reduction funding, the more money that was allocated for this purpose, the more likely it was that class sizes increased rather than decreased.

* Districts 10, 20, 24 and 25 had among the largest classes yet all were in the bottom half for reducing class size this year. Conversely, the top five districts for reducing class size (18, 6, 19, 5 and 17) all had smaller than average class sizes to begin with.

See the media coverage in the Daily News: NY Post ; NY Sun; and NY1;

In the NY Times, (see below) the findings were buried in a longer piece about the fact that another $80 million has been wasted in the ATR system devised by Joel Klein – in which teachers who were “excessed” through no fault of their own because of school closings and the like would no longer be automatically reassigned to other schools but would be held in an “absent reserve” at full pay until they could find new jobs. Of course in the new “open market” system, principals have to pay out of their school budget for every new teacher they hire, and the more experienced the teacher, the more he or she costs -- so there’s a built-in disincentive against doing so. In the past, principals were given budgets that automatically covered the cost of their staff, no matter what their experience level, but this is no longer the case.

We filed a Freedom of Information request for the data on the ATRs and as of October, there were 800 of these teachers. Many of them are highly skilled, and should instead have been assigned to classes at no cost to principals to reduce class size. The city, of course, would rather have them sit around doing nothing so they can eventually lay them off.

The ATR teachers, along with the approximately 800 teachers sitting idle for years in the rubber rooms, many of them without even being formally charged with misconduct, as well as an explosion of out of classroom positions such as “data coaches” and “senior achievement facilitators” have led to huge inefficiencies in the system, that Klein et al should be held accountable for.

The city’s response to the new findings? The DOE doesn’t deny that class sizes may have gone up in one third of schools receiving class size reduction funding -- but insist that “schoolwide averages mask targeted class size reductions in key courses like math.”

So a school could lower class size in math, but raise class sizes in English, Social Studies and Science? What do you think: is this what our kids need? Is this what the State intended when they ordered NYC to reduce class size?

April 29, 2008

New York’s Coveted Public Schools Face Pupil Jam
By ELISSA GOOTMAN, New York Times, May 9, 2008

Of all the draws of 200 Chambers Street, a luxury TriBeCa condo with floor-to-ceiling windows and a swimming pool, Sherry Hsiung was particularly attracted by Public School 234, the celebrated elementary school next door.

But when Dr. Hsiung, a dermatologist, tried to register her son for kindergarten last month, she was shocked to hear that because of a surge in applications, he would be placed on a hold list, and could not be guaranteed a seat. Instead, he could be assigned to an elementary school elsewhere in District 2, which stretches to the Upper East Side. “I’m totally at a loss,” she said. “This is a public school.”

Parents consider it a sacred tenet of city life: If you move into a good elementary school’s zone, your children can go to the school. But Lower Manhattan’s population has experienced a post-Sept. 11 baby and building boom, and the highly regarded schools in the neighborhood — P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, in Battery Park City — are faced with a glut of children and nowhere to put them. Some three dozen children are already on the waiting lists for these schools, an unusual predicament that has surprised parents, setting off an avalanche of outrage on playgrounds, at meetings and on the Internet.

A growing chorus of public officials and parents warns that similar problems could crop up in other neighborhoods across the city where, they say, a rise in residential development is not being accompanied by a similar rise in new public schools.

They blame the city’s Education Department, saying the process it uses to figure out where to build new schools is critically flawed. Already, schools in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx and one near Lincoln Center, P.S. 199, are struggling to accommodate a wave of prospective kindergartners.

Department officials defended their $13.1 billion capital plan, saying their formula for deciding where to build new schools considered new residential construction projects as well as other factors. They noted that the plan promised 63,000 new seats in new school buildings, leased spaces or additions, and that two new schools were expected to open in Lower Manhattan in 2010.

But they said overcrowding might not be solved just by building new schools, and that in the coming months they would explore whether school zone boundaries in several neighborhoods should be adjusted — including large chunks of Manhattan that fall into Districts 2 and 3; District 10 in the Bronx, which includes Norwood, Riverdale and Fordham; and District 15 in Brooklyn, covering Park Slope and Sunset Park. As early as next week the department is expected to unveil a proposal to relieve overcrowding in District 2.

Rezoning, though, is so politically toxic that one education official referred to it as a “third rail.” And downtown, parents are already fuming.

“The whole thing has been a bitter introduction to the public school system,” said Catherine Park, whose daughter Ali is on the P.S. 89 hold list.

In a 114-page report to be issued on Friday, WILLIAM C. THOMPSON Jr., the city comptroller, derided the school system’s capital planning process as “broken,” concluding, “There are far too many neighborhoods with overcrowded schools and no hope of relief for at least several more years.”

Mr. THOMPSON said in the report that the city’s School Construction Authority did not sufficiently account for new residential construction projects when it estimated how many seats would be needed in which school districts.

He pointed to neighborhoods like the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Long Island City and Flushing in Queens, Downtown Brooklyn and Dumbo in Brooklyn, and Soundview and Throgs Neck in the Bronx, saying he was concerned that residential construction in those places was outpacing new schools.

He also faulted the city for basing its school plans on district-wide enrollment projections, even though each of the city’s 32 school districts has multiple distinct neighborhoods — some of which may be growing rapidly, even as others shrink.

The report makes a number of proposals, including giving private developers more financial incentives to build schools.

“It’s taking a step back and looking at a changing New York City, a city that is growing, a city that has more families,” Mr. THOMPSON said in an interview. “We’re not adjusting to that.”

Sharon Greenberger, president of the construction authority, said she could not comment on the comptroller’s report without seeing it. But she said the city did consider new residential construction among a stew of other factors, including demographic trends like immigration and birth rates. She said the city had already decided to address pockets of overcrowding within districts that might not be growing over all.

She added that there were a number of “imaginative and aggressive” efforts under way to create new schools, including a plan to transform the longtime headquarters of the New York Foundling, a family services agency on Avenue of the Americas at 17th Street, into a school.

Determining where and how to build new schools is supremely tricky in a city that is in continuous flux because of new development and immigration — and not exactly teeming with empty tracts of land. Many schools are under-used, but they are often considered undesirable. And rezoning school boundaries involves lengthy public hearings, and could generate a significant outcry, particularly in higher-income neighborhoods.

“We’re getting calls all the time, ‘Do you think they’re ever going to rezone?’ ” said Liz Phillips, principal of Park Slope’s popular P.S. 321, who said that one recent call came from the parent of a 2-year-old.

Marty Barr, the department’s executive director for elementary school enrollment, said that this school year about 35 elementary schools, mostly in parts of Queens and Brooklyn, turned away some students who lived in their zones. Virtually all of those children did not register until September, he said.

“What the zone gives you is the right to go to that school if in fact there is a seat,” Mr. Barr said. Parents, he added, “may think they have that right in absolute terms, but clearly we always put the caveat in that we cannot expand buildings infinitely. And I think many parents ultimately understand that as well.”

Criticism of the city’s schools capital plan is not limited to wealthy enclaves. In the High Bridge neighborhood of the Bronx, advocates are clamoring for a new middle school. And the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition has accused the department of “planning for failure” by basing its high school enrollment projections on the assumption that many students will drop out, a complaint the department disputes.

A recent Independent Budget Office report found that throughout the city, school building and renovation projects were taking longer to finish than initial plans suggested, while construction costs had “risen substantially.”

For now, though, the situation in Lower Manhattan is generating the most fury. It is an area that city planners feared would become desolate but that instead is home to gleaming condos, flotillas of strollers and businesses offering such amenities as the $25 children’s haircut.

At P.S. 234, there are 147 kindergartners this year, up from 126 the year before. But 199 children have signed up for next year. Of those, 25 have been placed on the hold list — the school’s first — until officials figure out what to do with them.

Among the options floated: supplanting the school playground with trailers, holding some classes in nearby Stuyvesant High School, or assigning children to other district schools.

“The city needed to be quicker to respond,” said Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent who is chairman of its recently formed overcrowding committee.

Ze’ev Mehler’s family moved to TriBeCa from Harlem last month, specifically to send their twins to P.S. 234. They thought they were ahead of the game. But the twins are on the hold list, while their parents, Mr. Mehler said, are “completely and totally freaked out.”

Nat Farnham, who lives in the P.S. 234 zone, said he was told not to register his son for kindergarten at P.S. 234 until hearing the results of a lottery for his first-choice school, P.S. 150. “The folks at 150 flat out say if you are in the lottery at 150 you cannot register for 234,” he said. “Now all the sudden it’s like, guess what? The rug’s pulled out from under you.”

At P.S. 89, there are 91 kindergartners this year, and 147 signed up to attend next year, 12 of whom have been placed on hold. The principal, Ronnie Najjar, has taken to scouring the school’s blueprint for places to squeeze in more classrooms, and quizzing local officials on the size and timetable for new condos on the horizon.

“They wanted people to come downtown after 9/11, revitalize downtown,” she said. “Well, guess what? They came.”

New York’s Coveted Public Schools Face Pupil Jam (May 9, 2008)

“In City’s Growing Neighborhoods, Public Schools Face Pupil Jam” (front page, May 9) describes the latest twist in New York City’s school facilities crisis.

In 1988 the New York State Legislature, before creating the School Construction Authority, found that “many of the schools are overcrowded, unsafe, unhealthy and unusable.” Ten years later, after investigating school facilities for the City Council president, I wrote a report for the Public Education Association that was titled “The Permanent School Facilities Crisis.”

And now, after another 10 years have elapsed, we have reports from the city comptroller, the Manhattan borough president and the Independent Budget Office that document serious problems with school facilities.

There have always been three truisms about New York City school buildings: Sufficient funds are never allocated; allocated funds are poorly spent; and elected and school officials point fingers at one another, but no one is ever held accountable.

John C. Fager
New York, May 9, 2008

The writer is a teacher.

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