Archive for December, 2012

A compendium of school finance items

December 28th, 2012 by Robert Lowry

In this long post:  state budget news, the Regents State Aid proposal, State Mandate Relief Council meets, reports on equity and reform, odds and ends.

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Council Statement — Advancing the Safety of Our Students

December 19th, 2012 by Robert Lowry

Below is a statement from the New York State Council of School Superintendents — Advancing the Safety of our Students.

It was developed by the Council’s President, James Langlois (District Superintendent of Putnam-Northern Westchester BOCES), with input from members of the Council’s Executive Committee and staff.

Council Statement on Advancing the Safety of Our Students

We mourn the loss of the school children of Newtown, Connecticut, and we honor the courageous educators who gave their lives protecting their students.  In the wake of this terrible event, because of our profound responsibility for the security of millions of students each day, we must ask, “What more can we do?”

Every public school superintendent in New York State begins every working day with the thought, “Have we done everything we can to keep the children entrusted to our care safe today?”  With that focus over the past several years, public schools have become more and more secure environments, ones in which evidence shows children are safer than in any other setting.

As the leaders of school districts, we are committed to the ongoing evaluation of the practices, the technology, the planning, the collaborations and the drills that strengthen the safety and security of our schools.

But there is more that must be done.

And so we call for several actions which are needed to strengthen school safety and security, but which are beyond our ability to control:

  • Our elected leaders – and all of us as voters – must reassess the choices we have made which have drastically reduced the resources available for mental health services and have kept the few remaining services too isolated from our schools. There is far too little capacity to deal with the mental health needs of our children and young people. Few are potentially violent, but some are.  We must serve them all.
  • We are not experts in criminal justice, but we must urge a newly vigorous state and national conversation about what weapons should be available and to whom – which weapons are appropriate for hunting, other recreational uses, or reasonable self-defense, and which types – like the high capacity assault rifle used in last week’s massacre – that simply have no place in the hands of ordinary citizens.
  • We also urge a robust and persistent national conversation about the consequences of an entertainment culture that relentlessly glorifies violence in movies, television, music and video games.

If the broader society can join with those of us who care for and educate its children in pursuing such an agenda, we believe that together we can move closer to making tragedies like Newtown far less likely than they are today.


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SED reports on evaluation progress, Governor holding firm on deadline

December 19th, 2012 by Robert Lowry

Governor Cuomo was emphatic and unequivocal in saying he would not alter the January 17 deadline for school districts to complete new teacher and principal evaluation plans and avoid losing increases in state aid.

The State Education Department issued a progress report on its review of evaluation plans:  665 districts have submitted plans, 27 have yet to submit.  Approval has been given to 442 districts.  Of the 223 districts with unapproved plans under review by the Department, 180 have received feedback.

Here is an Associated Press story quoting me and representatives of New York State United Teachers and the School Boards Association.  I touched on how the aid penalty might be especially damaging to poorer districts.  I also said I was encouraged that so many districts had completed their end of the process.

NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi discussed evaluations and the Newtown tragedy this morning on Susan Arbetter’s Capitol Pressroom radio show.

The Syracuse Post-Standard reports an interesting twist in local negotiations over evaluation plans:  “Teachers union leader: North Syracuse principals hold $4.7 million in state aid hostage.”

GothamSchools reports on the experience of states and districts around the country who were early adopters of new teacher evaluation procedures.

The Education Department’s reviewers will be working over the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  We encourage districts to promptly respond to any feedback from the reviewers and are available to assist.

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Home Room, December 18, 2012

December 18th, 2012 by Robert Lowry

Three leaders of the Council appeared on Time Warner Cable’s Capital Tonight show with Liz Benjamin last night to discuss school safety.

Council President James Langlois (Putnam-Northern Westchester BOCES), President-Elect Mary Beth Fiore (Elmira Heights), and 2009-10 Past President Oliver Robinson (Shenendehowa) discussed what their schools have been doing in the days following the tragedy to ensure safety and reassure students and families, and how school safety has improved in the wake of past tragedies.

The segment is worth watching, here.  A Time Warner subscription is required, however.

Republican George Amedore claimed victory in the last unresolved State Senate race, a district covering part of the Capital Region and Ulster County.  Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk has not conceded, however, promising to appeal a Montgomery County judge’s decision to invalidate roughly 450 absentee and affidavit ballots.

If Amedore’s 39-vote lead stands, Democrats will have won 32 Senate seats and Republicans will have won 31.  However, one Democrat chose to organize with the Republicans and five Senators comprising the “Independent Democratic Conference” joined with the Republicans to comprise a “Bipartisan Coalition” to run the Senate.  With an Amedore victory, the Republican-IDC coalition would hold 37 of the Senate’s 63 seats.

Senate Democrats chose a new leader yesterday, replacing John Sampson of Brooklyn with Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers.  Senator Stewart-Cousins becomes the first woman to lead any of the party conferences of either chamber.

The state’s Mandate Relief Council meets today.

At a news conference after a cabinet meeting this morning, Governor Cuomo was asked if he would consider pushing back the January 17 deadline for districts which failed to have approved teacher and principal evaluations in place, despite a “good faith effort.”  The Governor’s answer was an emphatic and unequivocal no.  Districts without approved plans face the loss of any increase in School Aid they are due to receive.

Finally, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued an audit criticizing the State Education Department’s oversight of preschool special education.

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Home Room, December 17, 2012

December 17th, 2012 by Robert Lowry

President Obama delivered remarks at a prayer vigil in Newtown last evening; here is the transcript; here is video.

We’ve been getting questions about whether flags can or should be flown at half-staff today.  The President directed that flags be flown at half-staff on federal buildings through sunset, Tuesday, December 18.  It is customary to follow the direction of the federal government.  Local authorities do have discretion of their own.

On Friday Governor Cuomo and State Education Commissioner King issued statements.

From our blog over the weekend:  Can we keep everyone safe today?

The Journal News and USA Today described how New York school districts bordering the Newtown area were preparing for the return of students today.

The New York Post reported on worries that results on grade 3 through 8 assessments could drop sharply as the tests are revised to align with the Common Core standards.  Regent Kathleen Cashin said of implementation, “too much, too soon.”

Kentucky, which is a year ahead of us in Common Core implementation, experienced a precipitous drop in results in the first administration of its tests following alignment with the new standards.

GothamSchools reports that Governor Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission has completed its preliminary report, originally due December 1.  When the report might be released is unknown, however.  The recommendations are expected to feature prominently in the Governor’s State of the State address, on January 9.

Four weeks after its release, our school finance survey report is still getting media attention.  The Watertown Daily Times published a lengthy feature article on Sunday quoting local superintendents.

Finally, congratulations to the Middletown City School District, one of 16 winners in the U.S. Education Department’s Race to the Top District Competition, and the only one from New York State.  Newsday reported, “Secret to successful schools in Middletown: ‘High expectations.’”

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Can we keep everyone safe today?

December 16th, 2012 by Robert Lowry

Our world must seem a cruel and incomprehensible place to anyone who lost a child or someone else they loved on Friday morning in Connecticut.

Our hearts and our prayers go out to every one of them and to all the people of Newtown.

As Commissioner King and others have said, there seem to be no words that can make sense of what transpired.  As details emerge, they add to our horror.

Details have also revealed stories of great heroism, on the part of teachers, children, a custodian, and a school psychologist and the principal.

Here are profiles of the victims:  20 children – 12 girls, eight boys, all first graders –  and seven adults.

The State Education Department circulated a list of resources on helping students and communities cope and on securing schools.  That message is copied below.

The National Association of School Psychologists offers guidance on helping children cope with crisis.

Awhile back, we asked our members, “What do you want politicians, the media, and the public to know about your work as a superintendent of schools?”

There were many thoughtful and passionate responses.  But one stood out at the time, and even more so now:

“We wake up every day thinking about the safety of our buildings.  Can I keep everyone safe today?”

Responsibility for how we are able to answer that question goes beyond superintendents, principals, teachers and people who work in schools. Read the rest of this entry »

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