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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Joel I. Klein Continues to Lie to New York City About Money, Statistics, Everything

Joel Klein is ready to give firm without offices new $95 million DOE contract
Juan Gonzales, Daily News, July 22nd 2009, 9:16 AM

After cutting the schools budget by $400 million and ordering a hiring freeze, Chancellor Joel Klein is on the verge of handing a new $95 million contract to a little-known Florida computer firm.

Future Technology Associates has enjoyed a no-bid DOE contract since its founding in 2005 to integrate the school system's financial software with those of other city agencies.

City records show the previous contract, along with several extensions, has nearly doubled in cost - to more than $40 million from an original $22 million.

Under the latest extension, which expires next month, 13 FTA consultants are being paid an average compensation of nearly $190,000 annually by the DOE.

Company President Tamer Sevintuna, for example, receives $306,000 as "senior manager." Three other FTA "managers," John Krohe, Derek Wong and Nilo Natural, each get $245,000.

With that much money flowing, you'd think the firm could afford a real office.

It appears to have none.

Sevintuna officially lists corporate headquarters as 9378 Arlington Expressway, Jacksonville, Fla., Suite 305. A Daily News check of that address revealed it to be only a rented post office box.

He also lists a Brooklyn address for the firm, 41 Schermerhorn St., Suite 275. A visit there showed it to be a small residential building - with no sign of any Future Technology Associates.

FTA's employees do all their computer work out of DOE facilities.

Sevintuna declined to discuss his firm or what it does for the school system.

"Talk to the Board of Education," he said before hanging up.

Late last year, the DOE put out a request for proposals for a new five-year contract to carry on the computer integration work FTA has been doing. This occurred after Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum blasted a DOE plan to simply hand the firm a new $38 million no-bid contract.

This, of course, is nothing new under Klein and Mayor Bloomberg. Both state Controller Tom DiNapoli and city Controller William Thompson have issued scathing reports in recent months about DOE's mushrooming use of no-bid contracts and the runaway costs that often result.

DiNapoli's report, released in May, found that the DOE awarded 291 no-bid contracts between July 2005 and June 2008 for more than $340 million and in most cases "failed to properly document" the reason why.

One of the great dangers of mayoral control of the schools, Klein's critics say, is that the chancellor gets to hand out whatever contracts he wants and pays only lip service to the age-old governmental practice of competitive bidding.

On the surface, the proposed new contract did go through a competitive process, with the bids due in February. Sources in the DOE's technology division said the bid requirements appeared to be tailored for FTA, and no one was surprised when the firm emerged as the apparent winner.

FTA's price came in at $95 million, the sources said.

DOE spokeswoman Melody Meyers denied a final price has been reached, but refused to say any more.

"We are still in negotiations and accordingly will not discuss specifics," Meyers said.

"Everyone is shocked that they're paying these outside consultants so much money for work that DOE's own people could be doing," one source said.

Once DOE officially announces the winner of the computer mega-contract in the next few days, the lucky firm will presumably hire a slew of new six-figure consultants to do the work.

Not a single one of those new hires will appear in any record of the DOE as an employee. Klein will continue to tell us there is a financial crisis and a hiring freeze, and the school system must tighten its belt.

Salaries of Future Technology Associates

From Betsy Combier: I love the articles below. Joel Klein gives what seems to be his opinion on building new public schools in Brooklyn, 2008, to handle overcrowding (Klein: no need for this); he supports charter schools because kids perform better in these schools; he praised the new pre-k admissions process (that left thousands of kids without seats for Sept. 2009); etc., etc.

June 18, 2008
Chancellor Joel Klein Discusses Brooklyn Schools

While the city's Department of Education continues to grapple with crisis-level graduation and proficiency rates, Chancellor Joel Klein is finding himself saddled with another problem: growing demand. Thousands of apartments are being added to Brooklyn and more parents are deciding to raise their children here — a positive quality of life indicator, but one that causes overcrowding at schools like P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights. Klein told us in an interview that he would add two trailer classrooms to P.S. 8 and "reduce the number of students attending the school from out of the school zone." He also said no new schools, including the middle school DUMBO parents have been asking for, are planned for that district because they aren't needed. "District 13 overall is enrolled below the total district-wide capacity, even taking into account additional planned residential units," he said. In November, the department will reveal its next five-year plan. "We plan to look at the potential need for school construction based on demographic patterns within districts ...Additionally, we will pursue partnerships with developers outside of the Capital Plan to build new schools where it makes geographic, financial, and programmatic sense."

On the controversy surrounding Pre-K admissions, he said overall the system has been "a real improvement over the days when parents had to camp outside schools to have a chance at a seat." Nevertheless, he said the process would be improved.

In other areas of Brooklyn like Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, charter schools are giving their district counterparts a run for their money, beating them in competency exams by wide margins. Klein said this is a good thing "because a charter school reaching 100 percent student proficiency in math or English with a challenging population of students forces other educators across the City to acknowledge that outstanding results are achievable." He goes into detail about why he thinks students are performing better at these schools. And finally, Klein busted out some math on potential budget cuts, including a link detailing the potential cut for each city school. Brooklyn Tech could lose the most money citywide — $1.08 million or 4.5 percent of its total budget. Other Brooklyn schools that could receive among the highest percent cut are P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights, P.S. 282 in Park Slope and the Urban Assembly academies. The city wants to spread cuts across schools equally, but can't because of state rules that favor the lowest-performing schools.

Brownstoner: The city's new Pre-K enrollment system has been hotly criticized. Parents are upset they now send their application out of state, whereas before they enrolled at the school, and are now finding siblings are separated and their children are being sent to programs far from their district. Did you know these things would happen when you changed the enrollment system?

Chancellor Klein: Because this was a new process two things were inevitable: we made some mistakes and many parents were anxious about the changes. I understand that sending your four-year-old to school is anxiety-producing to begin with. But I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we made important improvements for the parents of four-year-olds. For the first time, parents enrolling their children in pre-K programs were given information about all the programs available to them and could rank their choices on their applications. And we placed children based on a clear set of priorities. This is a real improvement over the days when parents had to camp outside schools to have a chance at a seat.

We received complaints, though far fewer than one would guess from reading the papers or blogs. Some of the alleged mistakes weren’t actually mistakes: siblings were given the highest priority, for instance, but some pre-K programs were so popular that there were more sibling applicants than available seats. We reviewed thousands of applications by hand and identified about 120 cases where a child wasn’t assigned to the appropriate school. We corrected each of these mistakes.

I should add that while we used a New York City-based vendor (with out-of-state offices) to perform bulk mailing and data entry, all of the matching and placement work was done by our enrollment office. We do not have the ability to process thousands of applications in-house; like other city agencies, we contract with vendors to perform basic services.

Do you think separating Pre-K students from their siblings or sending them to programs farther from their district has an effect on the child's education? Are you considering any new changes to the system?

To be clear, of 20,000 applicants 17,000 were placed in pre-K programs and 15,000 received their first choice. We made errors, and corrected them, on about 120 of 20,000 applications. Any parent who didn't get a placement can enter the second round starting June 23.

We will definitely work to improve the pre-K process.

Parents are complaining the system gives them a lack of control in their child's education. Coupled with their complaints about the poor quality of certain schools and the lottery system, are you concerned they will be turned off to the public education system, and ultimately the city? How would you respond to those concerns?

We want parents to be as involved in the education of their children as possible. And we’re making this happen. We put a parent coordinator in every school to assist parents in resolving school issues. We created a new Family Engagement Office to help with problems that can’t be resolved in the school, to reinvigorate the voices of parents on school leadership teams, and to support organized parent bodies in addressing larger district and system-wide issues. We are reaching out to immigrant families in their own language through Native Language Forums across the city.

When I visit schools or attend public meetings where a lot of your readership lives, in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, or Fort Greene, parents tell me how improved the schools have become in recent years. Obviously there’s frustration as well and many of our schools aren’t close to where they should be. But what I’m hearing is that more parents than ever believe that public schools offer viable choices for their children.

Currently there are thousands of new or under construction residential units in District 13, which includes Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO and Fort Greene. Yet there are no new public schools planned. How will the department handle this growth?

The current Five-Year Capital Plan, which allocates funding for school construction projects, does not currently include new building construction in district 13 because district 13 overall is enrolled below the total district-wide capacity, even taking into account additional planned residential units. That said, there are some individual district 13 schools whose enrollment is over capacity. In the next Five-Year Plan, which we will put out in November and which begins in July 2009, we plan to look at the potential need for school construction based on demographic patterns within districts and the accessibility of existing schools. This will be a first: we haven’t previously drilled down below the district level. Additionally, we will pursue partnerships with developers outside of the Capital Plan to build new schools where it makes geographic, financial, and programmatic sense. For example, the Beekman School in Lower Manhattan is being built in conjunction with a residential project by Forest City Ratner.

Clarification: Would students at below capacity schools have the option of attending these new schools built within their district, or would districts be somehow further delineated?

The capacity of a student’s current school is not relevant to whether that student is accepted into a school that he or she is eligible for.

Could you give examples of potential partnerships with developers in Brooklyn ? What about Two Trees’ Dock Street project in DUMBO?

We don’t name our partners, in Brooklyn or elsewhere in the city, before we reach agreements.

How long, from planning to enrollment, does it take to complete a new school? Should we get a start on these new schools now, before all the families move in, or wait?

It takes about 18-24 months to build a new school, depending on the scope of work; this doesn’t include identifying a site and designing the building. The timing for construction is established by criteria in the Capital Plan. We don’t “wait” to build until schools are overcrowded, at any rate.

Despite the schools in District 13 operating at 66 percent capacity, parents are complaining the middle school in particular is of poor quality, and are asking that a new one be built. How will you address their concerns?

We recognize that in the current Capital Plan the way we look at overcrowding on a district-wide level may not take into account pockets of overcrowding in certain neighborhoods. In the next Capital Plan, we will take a look more closely at these pockets of overcrowding. A draft of the next plan is scheduled for publication in November.

Opening new schools has been an extremely effective form of improving a neighborhood’s school options. Each year, we accept proposals typically submitted by a range of educators, community members, community non-profit organizations, and other education stakeholders who are interested in opening a new public school, usually in a specific neighborhood.

With so much of the land spoken for in these communities, what types of property does the department envision using for new schools once it's determined they're needed? Why isn’t the city taking this opportunity to claim space in some of the many new buildings under construction, especially if it's being offered, like in DUMBO's Dock Street project?

We do look for alternative ways to build schools because of the challenges around finding appropriate sites for new school construction. For instance, we revived a 1969 initiative created by the State Legislature called the Educational Construction Fund, which allows the DOE to lease property to a developer in exchange for building a new school on the property.

At P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights, there are trailers out in the parking lot, enabling the school to keep its Pre-K program, but the elementary portion of the school is still overcrowded. What’s going to happen as that school continues to grow?

There aren’t any trailers at P.S. 8 this year. However, in order to maintain the school’s pre-K program and accommodate growing enrollment, the school will have two trailers containing portable classrooms next school year. We are working with the school to reduce the number of students attending the school from out of the school zone. As always, we will continue to track growth so that we can address the school’s facility needs.

There are also no new schools planned to serve the district that includes Boerum Hill and Gowanus, where 1,000 units are under construction and 700 are in advanced planning. How does the department intend to handle this growth?

Projections for residential buildings around the downtown Brooklyn area, as elsewhere in the city, anticipate fewer than one child per unit, and our current Capital Plan addresses this growth. As new development occurs, we will re-assess and, if need be, update our new school seat projections.

Many charter schools outperform their local districts on standardized tests by wide margins - Brooklyn Excelsior in Bushwick and Excellence Charter School for Boys in Bed-Stuy by between 15 and 48 percent last year, depending on the tests. Why do you think this is?

Charter schools must meet the same performance standards established for all public schools as well as the goals in their charter. If they don’t, they can be put on probation or shut down. Additionally, families enroll their children in charter schools entirely by choice — in other words, students are never “zoned” to attend a charter school. This means that charter schools must compete with other schools for students and must educate students well in order to continue operating. Charter schools - like Excelsior and Excellence in Brooklyn, and many others across the City - are pushing the boundaries of what students can achieve in public school. I believe that charter schools are good for the entire system because a charter school reaching 100 percent student proficiency in math or English with a challenging population of students forces other educators across the City to acknowledge that outstanding results are achievable.

Has the department studied why these schools are performing higher than their district counterparts? If so, what are the findings so far? And is the department implementing any similar solutions?

An informative report about New York City public charter schools was published last year. One significant finding published in the report is that charter school students benefit because charter schools can be flexible in the amount of time that students spend in school. It is intuitive that students who spend more time in school, learn more at school. Working with the United Federation of Teachers ⎯ the NYC teachers’ union ⎯ we increased the school week by 150 minutes in 2006, adding an extended session to the school day. We have also worked with the UFT to create salary differentials based on factors other than seniority, which is historically the only measure taken into consideration when determining teacher salary in district schools. We can now reward teachers who agree to work in our highest need schools and who reach achievement goals with students at these schools. Specifically, we offer teachers a housing stipend of $15,000 if they agree to come to work in New York City schools from another district. We also created a lead teacher position that is remunerated an additional $10,000 annually for experienced teachers who work in high-need schools and mentor their colleagues. Most recently, more than 200 high-need schools agreed to participate in a school-wide performance bonus program, which will reward teachers in schools that meet student achievement goals.

Charter schools are able to make their own decisions around things like the amount of time students spend in school and how teachers are compensated because charter schools operate outside of many rules that district schools are subject to ⎯ including Chancellor’s regulations and labor contracts. In exchange for the ability to manage more freely, charter schools are held rigorously accountable. As I described earlier, charter schools are closed down if their students are not learning. The principle of accountability is at the center of our public school reforms: school leaders must be held accountable for the results they achieve; in order to hold them accountable, they must be empowered to make the critical decisions that affect the school. You can read more about the Children First reforms here.

Which Brooklyn schools would be most affected by the proposed $400 million budget cut? What programs should be cut?

Before getting into specifics about schools, I want to give a little background about the overall education budget for next year. For Fiscal Year 2009 (which applies to the 2008-09 school year), the Department of Education will receive a $664 million budget increase over FY08. This includes $535 million in new state aid and $129 million in new city aid. Unfortunately, we also anticipate $963 million in new expenses, due to increased costs of labor, energy, food, and special education services, among others. This leaves us with a net shortfall of $299 million in school funding.

After careful review, we were able to achieve $200 million in savings from non-school budgets, leaving $99 million remaining to be trimmed from school budgets, but due to restrictions from Albany that burden cannot be shared equitably among schools. The State has provided $242 million in funding under the "Contracts for Excellence," and requires that roughly 75 percent of those funds be spent in only 50 percent of our high-need, low-performing schools. If these restrictions remain intact, some schools will face up to a 6 percent reduction in purchasing power, while others may see their budgets grow by as much as 4 percent. We are asking Albany to give us flexibility over how we can spend $63 million out of that $242 million; if it agrees, the budget cuts will be shared equitably by all schools, with each facing a manageable ⎯ though unpleasant ⎯ 1.4 percent reduction in purchasing power. Pending the outcome of our appeal, we have withheld disbursement of those $63 million in funds.

In mid-May, the DOE released preliminary school budgets. A spreadsheet detailing the impact of those cuts for every school is posted here (see clarification). If the state grants flexibility over the $63 million in withheld funds, schools currently showing budget cuts larger than 1.4 percent will see those cuts reduced to 1.4 percent. If the State denies our request, schools currently showing a 1.4 percent budget reduction will see their budgets grow.

As always, principals make decisions about their budgets in consultation with parents and teachers on their School Leadership Teams. The DOE will provide support and guidance as needed to help principals identify strategic solutions that minimize the impact of cuts on students and classroom learning.

Clarification: City schools collectively face a $99 million budget cut. The state restricts how a portion of its money can be spent to favor the lowest performing schools, so higher performing schools, like Brooklyn Tech, face an even greater budget cut, sometimes up to 6 percent, while the lowest-performing schools would see an overall increase of up to 4 percent. The city is asking for flexibility so each school would have an equal, 1.4 percent cut. That request is currently pending in Albany. The spreadsheet reflects each school's cut without flexibility, except the schools marked with a 1.4 percent cut ⎯ those schools are the ones favored by the state's formula, and could see a budget increase of up to 4 percent.
Giorgio Armani, Caroline Kennedy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor of the New York City Board of Education Joel Klein arrive for the opening of the new Armani 5th Avenue store on February 17, 2009 in New York City.

June 5, 2008
School Admissions Changes Causing 'Chaos'

This year the Department of Education changed its admissions process for pre-K'ers, according to the Brooklyn Eagle, and the shift means a lot of parents are grappling with the fact that their kids have been placed in schools far from home. About 3,000 parents, "including those in large swaths of Brownstone Brooklyn," recently found out their kids didn't get into any of the schools they'd put down on application forms. Yesterday Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Councilman Bill de Blasio held a press conference to decry the new pre-K placement system, and Gotbaum said the changes "have had some chaotic consequences for parents." The new admissions process is apparently affecting older kids, too. Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn has been writing about how her child didn't get in to any middle schools, apparently because of a DOE computer glitch. The blogger is describing the experience as traumatic: "And then [my daughter] heard me talking on the phone to the New York Times. She doesn't know who I was talking to but she can tell that I am agitated, annoyed, on edge, shakey, not happy and so on."

Pre-K Snafu Leads Brooklyn Parents To Protest at Tweed [Brooklyn Eagle]
Middle School SNAFU: My Daughter Isn't On The List [OTBKB]

Brooklyn Heights school's gone from underused to overcrowded

Brooklyn Heights might seem like an unlikely place to find trailers, but students at the neighborhood's increasingly popular public school will attend classes in two next fall.

"The school has been a victim of its own success," said Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights).

Department of Education officials told Public School 8 parents this week that portable classrooms would have to be put in the parking lot so prekindergarten classes can be offered in the fall.

The need for additional classrooms at PS 8 was quite a change from just five years ago, when scarcely any neighborhood children attended the school.

A full-fledged effort to improve the school began in spring 2003, and enrollment has since increased by 91%.

"It's a Cinderella story school," said Joanne Singleton, PTA co-president.

Former Superintendent Carmine Farina, who helped turn the school around, said all she had to do was find the right principal: Seth Phillips.

"I feel a personal connection to all schools," she said. "To me, every school should be good enough for my grandson" - who is in fact zoned for the school but is still too young to attend.

But the trailers sparked anger among some parents.

"I was one of the first families to take a chance on this school," said Melissa Milgrom, mother of two PS 8 students. "Others followed. ... This is an awful reward."

Many seemed ready for the compromise, setting their sights on the more long-term project to get a permanent annex for the school or even expand it into a middle school.

"Of course, we have to keep pre-K," said Judy Stanton of the Brooklyn Heights Association. "Of course, we're not happy with transportable units."

School officials have twice looked at a former NYPD building at 72 Poplar St., around the corner - once as recently as last week - said Yassky, who has been working to expand PS 8 into a middle school.

"That seemed to be the most promising option," said Nancy Webster, a PS 8 parent on Yassky's task force.

Department of Education officials, however, dismissed ideas they were looking to expand the school.