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Monday, October 12, 2009

Fair Student Fudging In The New York City BOE Money Department

If something doesn't seem right, my mom used to tell me, then it's not.

What, may I ask, is the reason for the hiding of where all the federal stimulus money is going? Any voter thinking about the next four years may want to know that the next Mayor handles our financial resources wisely, and not SECRETLY????? I think that Mr. Domanico's editorial below is misleading. Of course everyone is favorable to "Fair Student Funding" if that is indeed what the financial picture is all about. But we New Yorkers know that the NYC BOE is expanding their public relations office and hiring people for positions at Tweed that may or may not be needed, while kids in public schools dont get anything that they need - like new buildings to lower class size, books, safe environments, art, music, dance, sports, etc. Oh, dont forget about all the no-bid contracts, more in number now than in any previous administration.

Have you tried to file a Freedom of Information request to find out where money goes after it enters the doors of 'Central Headquarters' of the NYC BOE? Good luck. Mr. Joseph Baranello, the "new" Central Records Access Officer (CRAO) for FOIL at the NYC BOE, seems to be as willing as former CRAO Christine Kicinski was in withholding information from the public.

So, when the NY POST announces that there is a $1 Billion waste at the NYC BOE, we are supposed to "trust" that the "Fair Student Funding" formula is working?

I dont. I think the public has the right to know what is going on here, and we are not swayed any more by fancy titles of "Fair" Student ....anything. Give us the statistics and facts, and let us decide.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg's next big test: He and Klein have to prevail on Fair Student Funding
BY Raymond Domanico, SPECIAL TO THE NEWS, October 12th 2009

Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have passed the test of mayoral control. It was difficult, but the issue was simple: Who's in charge?

Their next test is very different.

The mayor and chancellor must now preserve - and even strengthen - their Fair Student Funding formula in the face of a major challenge by the United Federation of Teachers and others.

The question of how money is allocated to schools is just as vital as the basic question of who is in charge.

In the past, before Fair Student Funding was implemented, the school system was happy to talk about the many needs of its students when it was seeking money. In fact, the old Board of Education and the corrupt local community school boards used the chronic failure of students and schools as a fund-raising device.

Once they got the money, though, the funding rarely found its way to the neediest students. Because the old formula linked funding to teachers' salaries, often schools with the greatest need received less money than schools with fewer problems and higher levels of performance. If a school served a large group of "high needs" students, it attracted teachers with less seniority and, therefore, lower salaries. At the same time, schools with fewer students with high needs but with more senior (and therefore better-paid) teachers were granted extra money to cover those salaries. When the system got more money in the old days, the rich got richer - the better schools with higher paid teachers received more money. The students and schools in the city's poorer neighborhoods received, proportionally, less.

Fair Student Funding attempts to reform this patently unfair system. Under this approach, money is allocated to schools based upon student needs. The money remains there to be used as that school sees fit. This system says that the students' needs are more important than making sure things stay convenient for teachers.

Why is the UFT so opposed to Fair Student Funding? The complaint heard most often is that Fair Student Funding is somehow responsible for the creation, or continued existence of, the so-called Absent Teacher Reserve pool - currently some 1,500 tenured teachers who have been released from their schools and who have not been picked up by other schools.

The reserve pool problem is a complicated one, and there have been many changes in a school system that has contributed to its existence. We do know that Fair Student Funding plays no role in putting teachers into the reserve pool. That happens when the Department of Education closes failing schools, or when certain programs are discontinued or when enrollment in a school declines, causing the school to cut its staff.

Many teachers go into the reserve pool temporarily and then are picked up by another school. Some stay in the pool for a year or more. That's when the problems arise. A previous round of negotiations with the teachers union led to the removal of a procedure whereby senior teachers who had been let go from their schools could "bump" junior teachers in other schools. Principals were given more discretion over whom they had to hire.

These factors are made worse by the fact that tenured teachers have ironclad job protection.

What critics are not focusing on are the ways that Fair Student Funding benefits schools with high-needs students. These schools are allowed to keep the money to which they are entitled; teachers' salaries are not an issue. If the school has lower- paid teachers, they can use any "excess" to buy other types of services or materials. They can even hire more teachers.

What's wrong with this? Nothing. The students in these schools are clearly in need. If they either can't entice senior teachers, or if they are happy with the junior teachers they have, why shouldn't they be allowed to use the money allocated for their particular students' needs for more books, supplies or additional staff? Why should the needs of their students be used to bring money to the school system so that teachers in other city schools can have higher salaries?

Not only must Bloomberg and Klein resist attempts to roll back Fair Student Funding, they must put the program in place quickly, removing any restrictions. They must also seek other ways to focus the resources of the system on those students most in need.

While more complicated and less dramatic than the mayoral control challenge, this test is more important. The mayor and chancellor need to prepare well, apply themselves to the material and pass.

Domanico is senior education adviser for Industrial Areas Foundation - Metro NY.

$1B ed. 'waste'
By SUSAN EDELMAN, October 11, 2009

The $1 billion in stimulus cash being spent in city schools this year has not created new jobs, and may be one of worst uses of funds aimed at jumpstarting the economy, experts say.

The Department of Education doled out $625 million this year to 1,475 schools, instructing that most of the money go for staffers that "would otherwise have been cut." The rest is helping pay the rising cost of fringe benefits and administrative costs.

No cash is going to build or repair schools.

Chancellor Joel Klein had threatened 14,000 teacher layoffs before the stimulus, but not one has gotten a pink slip.

Instead, the DOE now has 1,400 "excess" teachers getting paid without jobs to fill.

It's fiercely debated whether the DOE's gobbling up $2 billion in stimulus funds over two years -- 36 percent of the city's total share -- is boosting the economy or bloating a bureaucracy.

"In the short run, you cushion the recession," said Paul Wachtel, an economics professor at NYU's Stern School of Business.

Even if Klein's layoff threat was "a charade -- scaring the public to boost funding," he said, keeping more educators employed will keep them spending on goods and services in the marketplace.

But Nicole Gelinas, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said the $22 billion DOE budget -- up nearly 68 percent under Mayor Bloomberg -- is already too swollen.

"Most of this money is going for personnel with higher salaries and pension costs," she said, noting that 13,157 DOE staffers make six figures.

"The city's crumbling infrastructure is getting short shrift because powerful special interests like education unions squawk the loudest."

The DOE refused to release a report detailing how it has spent the stimulus funds so far. The report had to be filed with the feds by yesterday before a public posting on Oct. 30.

In divvying up the bucks, the DOE gave a total of $459 million for "fiscal stabilization," $334 million to Title I schools, where 40 percent of kids receive free or reduced-price lunches, and $157 million for special ed.

Doug Turetsky, of the Independent Budget Office, says the DOE faces a possible crisis in 2012, when the stimulus ends.

But the department isn't worrying about it yet.

"It's too early to tell," said spokeswoman Ann Forte. "We don't know if the economy will bounce back. Or maybe Congress will pass another stimulus bill."

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to lay off low-paid school aides, add high-priced consultants
Juan Gonzalez - News, Wednesday, September 16th 2009

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein will lay off hundreds of low-paid school aides next month - mostly in the city's poorest school districts - while ramping up his army of high-priced computer consultants.

On Monday, the city's education policy board approved a new four-year, $54 million computer contract with Future Technology Associates.

Before Monday, Florida-based FTA had a no-bid contract to supply 63 consultants to the Department of Education at an average annual cost of $250,000 apiece.

Under the new contract, FTA will supply up to 10 additional consultants this year at the same $250,000 average price tag.

Amazingly, the DOE issued pink slips in the past few days to 14 of its computer department employees. Average pay for those workers is a mere $65,000.

"Our workers are capable of doing those FTA jobs, so why is the city laying them off and paying three or four times more for outside consultants?" said one leader of District Council 37, the city employees union.

Even more startling is the DOE's plan to slash nearly 600 school aides by mid-October. The part-time aides - who typically perform hallway and cafeteria duty, transport sick children and do paperwork for the school lunch program - are paid an average of $17,500 a year, including fringe benefits.

The layoffs are supposed to be part of an across-the-board 5%budget cut for all schools. An analysis of the layoffs done by DC37 reveals a disproportionate impact on the city's poorest districts.

In District 6 in Washington Heights, 17% of the aides (45 of 263) received layoff notices, while in Staten Island's District 31, less than 1% (one of 271) did.

Likewise, Districts 1, 2, and 3 - which cover lower Manhattan, the upper East Side and the upper West Side - are losing 1% of their aides (four of 286), while District4 in East Harlem faces an astonishing cut of 22% (27 of 118).

In Brooklyn, District 15 in upscale Park Slope and Gowanus will lose 6% of its aides, while District 23 in Brownsville will lose 19%.

School officials could not confirm the union's numbers. They said spending details were left to local principals.

"All schools saw an equal percentage of their budgets cut," said Klein spokeswoman Melody Meyer.

"Each school determined how they would reduce spending," Meyer said, and the central office "did not dictate how schools would meet the cuts."

As for FTA, the Daily News previously reported 19 of the firm's employees are working with H-1B immigrant visas. FTA told the U.S. Labor Department it was paying those workers an average of $65,000 - about the same as city computer workers.

FTA's chief executive, Tamer Sevintuna, has declined to talk about his contract.

DOE sources said the agency was poised in the summer to approve a much larger $95 million five-year deal with the firm. School officials said then they were still negotiating the final number.

The agency requested bids for the new contract in January. Officials acknowledged last week FTA was the only bidder. They ended up reducing the contract to four years, and the cost to $54 million.

Why, you might ask, would no other consulting company in America bid on such a large computer contract?

School officials told the education policy panel Monday that other firms were "not interested in taking on the risk and costs" of a contract that was "largely the continuation of development work done over the past two years by another vendor."

Sources in the agency tell a different story. They say the bid specifications were geared from the start to discourage any other firm from competing with FTA.

Now that the contract has been approved, the DOE will have even more $250,000-a-year consultants. Klein will move forward with his school aide layoffs and claim with a straight face that he's cutting costs.

Computer consultants for city schools earn bigger bucks than chancellor does
BY Meredith Kolodner, DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER, September 8th 2009

The city Education Department is paying dozens of high-priced computer consultants more than $1,000 a day, even as budget cuts force schools to slash programs for at-risk students.

Several of the high-priced tech workers rake in more than any other city official - including Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

"It's hard to imagine how a single consultant could be doing more work for the schools than what is expected by the chancellor," said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. "We would like to see some of those dollars be prioritized for programs in schools."

More than $178 million worth of information technology contracts have been approved since 2006 - and that doesn't include the $95 million contract the Daily News reported was in the works last month.

The education budget was cut by $400 million this year. Schools on average took a 5% budget hit, forcing many to get rid of tutoring and after-school programs.

"What's important to know is that these contractors offer people with specialized expertise whom we find difficult or almost impossible to find on our own," said Education Department spokeswoman Margie Feinberg. "All of these contracts are competitively bid, so we know we are getting the market rate."

A News analysis of the contracts found that while most were competitively bid, many were fast-tracked, a process that is supposed to be reserved for quick hires to supplement ongoing projects.

Meanwhile, hundreds of New Yorkers who have passed basic and advanced computer tech tests are sitting on a list waiting to be hired.

Feinberg said that the Education Department was planning to hire some of them, but that they were not qualified to do the work of the high-priced consultants, who must develop software, not just maintain computer systems.

Many of the consultant contracts do not refer to software creation and some of the higher-skilled titles require software development skills.

The president of the union that represents the city's roughly 200 computer techs said that there were plenty of city employees qualified to do the work.

"They live in New York City," said Robert Ajaye, president of Local 2627 of District Council 37. "They have a stake here, and they're accountable. They can't just disappear if a job gets screwed up."

The highest skilled city IT jobs start at about $70,000 a year and max out at $125,000 after a decade of service.

"How many IT specialists would $300,000 allow the [Education Department] to hire directly and have full time for the school system?" said Susan Lerner, president of Common Cause New York. "After a while the privatization push chases its own tail. It doesn't add up."


2:39:31 PM
Sep 8, 2009

The way that the city handles its business always amazes me, particularly now that our mayor is such a hotshot businessman. The local government is the biggest landowner in the city, yet it rents space, and even manages to get evicted from those properties (the Franklin and Worth Street ACS offices, or the rental of Two Washington Street, for example). Wouldn't it save the city money to use an unused city school building to house one of its smaller agencies, or even better, renovate it and use the school for it's intended purpose, rather than build new ones. Generally, the city saves money on consultants by not giving them benefits, but at this rate it would be cheaper to simply hire these consultants, with benefits, at a much lower rate.
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7:25:25 PM
Sep 8, 2009

This scam at the board/dept. of ed has been going on for decades and has gotten worse under bloomberg, it should have improved since he's been charge for the last 5 years.None of the newly created systems has ever worked and has turned many of these consultants into millionaires on taxpayer has made the school system worse and this is more evidence of that, there is no real reform going on in NYC schools just smoke and mirrors on a grander scale.Dump bloomberg.
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8:25:45 PM
Sep 8, 2009

Let's pay alot to outside contractors while city employees that can do the same job at a third of the cost sit around. If Billionaireberg ran his LLP this way he'd be broke. The DOE is renting space for 191 million on a 30 year lease,who's minding the store.
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Pedro Gonzalez

9:30:23 AM
Sep 9, 2009

.........In many cases they are paid more because they are worth more than the employees and the management. They are non-unionized, like the employees, and they are not of the union mindset of go slow so you do not show your "brothers" up. I have been in business for many years and have witnessed this over and over. I ALWAYS hired non-union people on contracts because they were superior. The problem in the Public School System is (1) its public and therefore inferior, and (2) the Unions which make it so inferior. When will you people ever wake up and home school your kids and get them out of the Liberal Socialistic Communist Mind Control of Public Education????

Mayor Bloomberg says 7,000 city employees will be laid off; Albany hasn't helped city budget enough
BY Adam Lisberg, DAILY NEWS CITY HALL BUREAU CHIEF, April 8th 2009, 3:00 PM

Mayor Bloomberg says 7,000 city employees will be laid off in the coming months because unions and Albany haven't done their share to trim New York's budget.
Smith for News

Mayor Bloomberg is threatening to lay off up to 7,000 city workers, saying municipal unions and state officials haven't done enough to help New York balance its budget.

Budget Director Mark Page told agency heads Wednesday to cut $350 million from their budgets, saying previous cuts of $3.1 billion starting July 1 weren't enough.

"This next step would most likely rely heavily on additional headcount reductions, whether through attrition, or, as is more likely, through layoffs," Page wrote them in a letter.

"It is expected that these savings could result in a reduction of as many as 7,000 positions citywide."

Bloomberg's press team refused to discuss the letter, which was released just after the mayor finished his only news conference of the day.

"While it's a letter addressed to the agency heads, it's a message being sent to the union leaders," said Charles Brecher of the Citizens Budget Commission, "and to a certain extent the state Legislature."

The mayor has asked municipal unions to pay for 10% of their health care costs and find additional health cost reductions to save $557 million, in order to avoid layoffs.

"This is a ploy to get more money from Albany, and he really deserves it," said Harry Nespoli, head of the Municipal Labor Committee, which negotiates for city unions.

"We're still at the table. He just made it more difficult to negotiate."

While Bloomberg's request for $350 million in savings won't plug the $1.6 billion gap in next year's budget, Nespoli said he would tell the city's 310,000 employees that the threat is real.

"I'm going to tell my workers there's a possibility of layoffs in the city of New York. I'm not going to lie to them," said Nespoli, who heads the sanitation workers' union.

"In this crazy world today, nobody can eliminate layoffs."

Bloomberg wants approval from Albany for more than $1 billion in new revenue, such as a quarter-point increase in the sales tax, a new 5-cent tax on plastic bags and reduced pension benefits for new city workers.

"Their plan counts on a fair amount of actions that are controlled by Albany, not City Hall, so there's a lot of risk in their plan," said Doug Turetsky of the Independent Budget Office. "There's certainly a risk to municipal jobs."

New York's four uniformed departments - police, fire, sanitation and corrections - are being ordered to slice their spending by just 0.5% in the latest round of cuts, apparently reflecting Bloomberg's determination to preserve public safety and order in the recession.

Most other agencies, though, are being told to take 4% cuts - raising the potential of layoffs.

The Department of Education is being ordered to trim its budget by a flat $100 million, a 1.4% cut.

Bloomberg threatened to lay off 14,000 teachers in January, but retracted the threat after the state budget funneled federal stimulus money into city schools.
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5:39:30 PM
Apr 8, 2009

bet those half those 7000 layoffs will be from the education sector. What i wanna know is..where in the blue blaze does bloomy think the rest of us common folk are gonna get he money to pay these new taxes when so many of us are out of work because of the recession?
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