“This Year Is An Enigma.” –Notes from SBP Meeting, July 20th ☆

The Superintendent greeted us last night with, “This year is an enigma.” I sat 2nd row, house left, and wrote 6 pages of single-spaced notes. The following are highlights, but include most of what was presented. Click here to download the pdf file of the powerpoint slides. There is a lot of info in those slides, so be prepared with a snack and a cool drink before you go, but if you do, there is a lot there to learn from. I encourage you to direct any questions about them directly to the Superintendent, he made a public commitment last night to answering every question: 914-376-8100.

Thank you to Geniene P-B who updated the YPU facebook page this morning that she was told on a call to the district office that Peals letters would be mailed today. Still no word on the rest of the placement letters, though I imagine they’ll be sent at the same time, wouldn’t they?

[Brackets] are my own thoughts or editorial comments.

Where quotations appear, these are direct quotes from the Superintendent’s remarks.

The formatting is a little odd, I’m still learning how to control font size and format in these posts. I’ll get better with more practice!

Opening Comments

  • The city added $5.9 million to the budget, allowing for full-day kindergarten and 1/2 day pre-kindergarten.
  • Two unions made concessions, civil service and admin. workers took a 1-year freeze. The teachers union did nothing.
  • “We are educating more children with less money.” = Yonkers enrollment has increased 2,566 students since 2007 while Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse (RBS) school districts have decreased nearly 3,000 students on avg. Yonkers and NYC are currently the only two growing school districts in the state of New York.
  • The state does not consider prekindergarten enrollment in it’s education statistics as pre-k is not a program required by state law. This results in Yonkers enrollment numbers differing from NYS enrollment numbers for Yonkers.

Editorial:

  • This is an election year. “Shame on us if we fail to elect officials for whom education is not the top priority in our city.”
  • In polls, Yonkers taxpayers have indicated education is their #1 priority.

State Funding Formula

  • Minimum state funding for prekindergarten in New York is $2,700 per student, maximum is $5,800 per student
  • Yonkers receives the minimum
  • “We register more students in the first weeks of August than in between January and June.”
  • 1972 students registered for prekindergarten now. 391 will not be offered school placements.
  • State formula is based on 2 things:
    • Property value of the district, divided by # of students, = per capita real estate value (near $500,000 for Yonkers)
    • Total wealth of the city, divided by students = approximately $149,000
    • In this formula, we are well above the state average in our ability to fund our schools [We should be paying more of our own bills, so why aren’t we?]
    • “The formula says we have enough real estate value to fund our schools, we are saying we do not.”
    • [State formula results work like this: a “1” is the state average, and a “1” school system gets funded the state average amount. Poor districts score below a 1, richer ones score above it.]
    • Buffalo = .36, the lowest rating in the state
    • Rochester = .4
    • Yonkers = 1.3, even though 70+% of Yonkers students are on free/reduced lunch, the same as RBS schools
    • Therefore, NYS funds 90% of those city’s school system costs, but less than 50% of Yonkers’

Results of Cuts, Transportation

  • It cost $5.3 million to restore full day kindergarten; $4.3 million to restore 1/2 prekindergarten
  • “Due to the action of the mayor, $5.9 million was reintroduced into the budget.”
    • [There was a slide here with details on the sources of these funds, some from Yonkers Raceway, some from other sources, went by too fast for me to write them all down. Will look for when slides are made public.]
  • There was a nice map, with a cardboard circle that represented a 2 mile radius out from each school, he laid the circle on a school, and we could all easily see the distance, streets, and neighborhoods children would have to walk to get to that school
    • Bus monitors were restored because parents requested it as a priority [and as he said later in the presentation, this graphic tool helped him realize young children should not be crossing state highways to walk to school.]
    • [Lots of numbers, sources, and very full slides through this section, I chose to focus on what he was saying in my notes rather than slide content, but there is a lot there if you want specifics of how much each program costs, where that money comes from, and what is needed to bring specific programs back]
    • 3 schools changed their schedules to save YPS $3.5 million
      • Pearls, Dodson(?), and one other will start at 7:35am and end at 2:15pm
    • Yellow bus eliminated
      • Students who used it were charged $50 per month to cover the cost of providing it
      • 536 students used that bus, but only 240 paid for it at the beginning of the year
      • In May, 24 students paid that fee, in June, fewer than 10 paid in
      • This made it easy to cut; bus passes will be issued instead, and “we will continue to work with the parents of that one school.”
      • The $50 fee per month didn’t even cover the cost, if everyone paid in. One yellow bus costs more than $70,000 per year [I did the math, if every student paid, it would have raised $200,000+]
  • Prekindergarten “half-day” = 2.5 hours per day, five days per week. One morning session, one afternoon session.

Results of Cuts, MS and HS

  • Class sizes will go to 30 students per teacher, legal state limit
  • Fewer electives offered, but current programs will not be cut
    • IB continues, medical magnet continues, trade schools at Saunders continue, etc…
    • That may have to be revisited in the future, but for now it stands
  • Pupil Support Services
    • Down to 10 school psychologists from a former 36
    • One high school guidance counselor for every 650 students, state recommendation on that is 250 t0 1, which BP felt was too many at that
    • Elementary schools get one visit per week from staff psychologists
  • No librarians in any elementary school
    • Library once per week in grades K-8
  • Special Ed. classes combined to reduce costs
    • State law requires a recommendation be made on any student referred for special education services within 90 days of the referral
    • “We are falling behing on this due to absence of support staff. We’ve shared that with the state. We’re not telling them we are complying, we are telling them that we are not able to comply.”
    • “I’ve been told by a state official that it would be a lot easier to get more support to Yonkers if it were a failing district.”
      • BP: What is the rationale? Force us into failure before giving us the help we need?
  • Sports
    • Interscholastics eliminated outright
    • Pool at Montessori returned to City of Yonkers auspices
    • All elementary school physical education eliminated
    • If no change made in 5 days, Westchester County sports councils will write Yonkers out of the fall competition schedules. Once that happens, there will be no sports, even if the money appears after that

Moving Forward: Restoration Priorities

  • Currently 400 students with no school assignment
    • “We have run out of space in every one of our schools, every 1st-3rd class, and 7th grade class is full.”
    • Leasing a parochial school in South Yonkers, projecting 334 students will be in that school
    • State only reimburses 1/2 the cost, it will cost YPS $1.8 million
    • Had already planned for DiChiaro and Gibran to add 7th grades
    • Hiring 10 secondary teachers to staff that expansion = $1 million
      • [There was some real chatter in the crowd at this. “10 teachers cost $1 million? Really? Why?]
      • [Missed opportunity there to explain an item everyone in the room seemed to want to know more about/better understand]
  • I’m recommending to the board to reinstate the 1.5 mile radius for bus transportation, instead of the current 2 miles.
    • “When I saw how far these students had to walk, and some of theneighborhoods they had to walk through, it raised my concern as a parent.”
  • These priorities are not currently funded, but are first to be restored should funding become available:
    1. Bring back 5 school psychologists
    2. 5 more special education teachers
    3. 9 more guidance counselors
    4. Varsity sports in football, soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball at a total cost of $1.5 million
  • Possible New Funding Streams:
    • If we don’t buy any new textbooks district wide this year, no new technology for classroom instruction, put the central office on hold [I assume this means a hiring freeze/salary freeze?], we save $2.3 million
    • A YFT step freeze would save YPS $4.4 million
    • If each staff member (teachers and all others) pays $80 per paycheck into the welfare fund, that’s another $4 million [This one seems unlikely to happen to me, given the current climate, but I might be wrong]
    • These measures would cover the above priority list items, if we get less than this we target the priorities above in the order they are listed

Questions

  • Several questions about prekindergarten
    • 1,340 students registered during the ballot process, they are guaranteed seats, we look at the order of registration numbers, those who registered first, up to the cutoff, will be assigned school slots [the next 182 after the 1,340 mentioned above]
    • Meeting tomorrow with the Childcare Council of Westchester to discuss options for helping parents this fall
    • “My goal is…to expand afterschool care to every school. This is not a guarantee, but we know parents have asked for this, so we’re trying to work with you on that.”
  • Funding Formula
    • “Our real estate values are inflated, so are our income levels because of our proximity to NYC.”
    • “We need to get them to revise the formula.”
    • NYS says, in turn, that Yonkers city government underfunds it’s own schools
      • “That may well be, but out of every tax dollar, .36 of every tax dollar in Yonkers goes to the schools.”
      • The Westchester average per tax dollar going to schools, is .76 per dollar.
      • “I’m not making judgments, just offering numbers.”
      • [Well, I say it’s damn time to make some judgments, then!]
      • [This whole section was too politically correct for me. If that’s part of the problem, then call them out and say that’s part of the problem. Pussyfooting around it does not help anyone.]
  • “What can we do as parents?”
    • “This is the best question. I’ve never been, and I think you know me well enough that I don’t come to any meeting unprepared. My staff and I have spent a lot of sleepless nights because we can usually come up with a solution. The question here is what can we do as parents? We have to continue to put pressure on the governor. I will attempt to go there next week. Just the veto of the TRS bill, though he may be politically or philosophically opposed to borrowing money, it is to the detriment of children in the city. Support us by calling, speak to state officials, call, email, continue our dialog. There’s an election year coming up, and we want a pro-education council and mayor, and you have to demand that.”
    • When we asked you to come out, you came out in force, and that changed the minds of our council people. They know that you care, that you are invested, and that education has to be a priority.”
    • The governor is planning regional meetings, when we found he signed the tax cap bill, we didn’t find out until too late as many wanted to be there. Yonkers is the 4th largest city in the state, and he’s visited RSB, and NYC, but not Yonkers.
    • Le him understand what we’re feeling here. It’s not mismanagement of the schools, we’ve cut 3 years straight, we’re working with the dollars we have. We can’t stretch it any more than we can stretch it.
    • If you have a YFT friend or family member, please talk to them. This is the year I’m asking. We’d like to see, to support one another, our teachers come to the table. So, please support that.
  • “What about private funding for sports?”
    • Mount Vernon had people come to their aid a few years ago.
    • My apologies to gold, swimming, and bowling…

And, that was about it. He was rushed by about 30 people up front, others filed out the back, and some went upstairs for the BOE Trustees meeting.

For me, 2 things really stood out:

  1. The difference in municipal budget expenditures on schools of .36/$1 in Yonkers to a Westchester average of .76/$1. Now, I understand that is not so simple. Scarsdale et. al. have very high formula scores, and get less from the state. Some of those communities have rejected state aid and done it alone, all by themselves, to be free of state strings tied to that money. But, .36 per dollar? Really? We can’t do better than that for our own? He danced around it, but I think that’s the real problem we can address directly, at least one real problem we can attack now, and hard.
  2. His statement, “I don’t come to any meeting unprepared.” In response to “what can we do as parents?” It felt in the room to me like he was saying, “I really don’t know what to tell you. Nothing we’ve tried as worked. I’m feeling unprepared to answer that question, and I’m a little uncomfortable admitting it to you.” I thought this was the most honest and vulnerable moment of the night on his part. Maybe calling us to some sort of action is just not his strongest suit as superintendent, it did seem to me like he was trying to promote a stance of political neutrality rather than urge direct political action, while, ironically, at the same time telling us those rallies made the biggest difference in this entire affair.

Conclusion:

There is a real opportunity to affect the outcome of this mayoral and council election cycle. Amicone won with less than 21,000 votes, Wilson Terrero with nearly 1,000. We need to talk about electoral politics and strategies. And soon.

If you’ve read this far, thanks. Share your thoughts in a comment. Call an elected official’s office. Call the Governor’s office. While imperfect, we are better informed than we were yesterday, and we should use that to our advantage when advocating for our kids and our schools.

Thanks, again.

Peace,

-KG