Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bloomberg Race Pandering on School Funding Bounces Back

Mayor distorts school funding for black audiences

The history of the BloomKlein administration is littered with mistruths and misdirections. The debate over school funding has seen these characters at their worst.

It has always been commonly accepted that the whiter school districts had higher payrolls because they attracted and held onto their senior teachers who made much more money. (Aside: the immense gap between teacher salaries at the top and I won't say bottom, but let's say the 5th-10th year career teacher is shameful.)

Aside from teacher salaries, the poorer neighborhood schools received more money from the state and the feds (Title I). Not nearly enough to close any gaps, achievement or not. But anecdotes did come in about class sizes being lower in these schools and more services delivered.

When I first started teaching in 1967, a prep period gap was instituted, where elementary school teachers received 5 preps a week in Title I school, while the teachers in white schools only had 2 preps a week (Title I middle schools teachers also had 2 or 3 less teaching periods). With the extra preps, there was a need for lots more teachers to cover these preps. So there were certainly lots more teaching bodies in the poorer neighborhoods, even if the average salary was lower. (The prep period gap was equalized, in the late 70's I believe.)

Maybe they expected teachers in Staten Island to have a mass exodus to central Brooklyn so they could get those 3 extra periods off. Didn't happen. Here's some news: teaching in many of these schools is damn hard.

My friends who did transfer to white schools - and it took many years - found a country club attitude and teaching so immensely easier. They called it "white glove" teaching. The biggest issue for them was the level of parental interference. For so many years they had lamented the lack of parental involvement. Watch out what you wish for. They saw active PTAs that raised money galore. And the gifts they received. I remember my mother, an immigrant who had never gone to school and was barely literate, spending an enormous amount of time worrying about the Christmas gift to give my teachers, thinking my entire future depended on her making the right choice.

When Joel Klein became Chancellor he railed against the UFT contract's seniority rules as being the biggest block to progress in the schools. He claimed the UFT seniority transfer rule drained good (senior) teachers out of schools in poor neighborhoods. There were about 600 of these transfers a year, a relative drop in the bucket, but this opening salvo on teacher unions was used for a long time. It was bogus.

The second attack on the UFT transfer rule was that principals in the better neighborhood were forced to accept these senior teachers, who in this attack were now considered dregs instead of those good senior teachers deserting the poor neighborhoods so they could be closer to home. (Don't think that housing end educational issues are not interrelated.) Of course this line of attack totally contradicted the first line of attack.

Unfortunately, Randi Weingarten bought into both of them and the 2005 contract sunk seniority in favor of open market. This is capitalism, isn't it boys and girls? And these are neoliberals who do not believe in restrictions in the market place.

In fact, many schools under the old system managed to keep positions hidden from these awful/wonderful senior teacher looking to transfer. By the way, they had to put down 5 choices and if they didn't like the school they were assigned to they could not reapply for 2 years.

Those of us who taught in high need schools for many years were given some kind of double seniority and still had trouble. They used to wonder how they could keep getting turned down for Staten Island, yet saw enough young teachers in the SI schools to make them wonder what was going on. It was called nepotism and who you know.

After BloomKlein got Randi to scrap seniority, the next line of attack was to go after the very same senior teachers with high salaries - remember them? - the ones Klein claimed in his first attack were so necessary to the poor school districts. They did this with the fair funding formula, where schools for the first time would be charged for their teacher salaries, giving the totally empowered principals (when it comes to teacher matters - again, thanks Randi) an incentive to get rid of the high salaried people.

Then came the mass closing of schools and the current ATR crisis. But they and the UFT will figure out a way to deal with this annoyance.

Erin Einhorn's Daily News article, "Critics of Mayor Bloomberg say he panders to black voters on school issues" touches on this issue:

Mayor Bloomberg tells black voters he wiped out political favoritism that gave "white" schools more money than "minority" schools - but education experts say his facts are sloppy. Even a deputy mayor admits his comments go too far. "He may have overstated it to emphasize the point that a lot of schools in poorer communities did not get as much as they should," Dennis Walcott said.

I'll close with this comment from Rob Caloras, a parent leader in Bayside Queens, a majority white district, posted to the NYCEducationNews listserve:

...based on my experiences in District 26, the article accurately reflects the funding situation. Mayor Mike's claims to minority audiences have offended many in D26 as inappropriate class and race based baiting. Our schools receive very little money other than the student allotments. There have been through the years extra money given to our schools through various State programs, for example the Talented and Gifted program. This program brought, at most 250 thousand to the District. Through other such small programs, our District has obtained enough money to have a dance program at a school or an arts program or an enrichment program. But, this money is peanuts.

As the article reflects, the lion share of the budgets at middle class school, like those in D26, go toward paying teacher salaries. Had the weighted funding plan of Klein gone through without a hold harmless amount-which kept teacher salaries covered regardless of the new allocations-our schools would have had to fire many teachers. The hold harmless money merely kept in place pre-existing allocations for teacher salaries. To do otherwise would have been grossly unfair to our students and teachers.

Teachers making 80 thousand and up-a large portion of D26 teachers-would not have found many schools willing to hire them as principals sought to reduce budget pressure by hiring teachers without as many years in the system.
For over ten years I have heard from non-D26 parent leaders that I am lucky to be in such a rich school district. I have always responded that our schools receive considerably less money per student than just about every other school. I have yet to see proof that refutes this, yet, ten years later, the misperception continues.

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