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Levy focuses on teacher shortage, summer school

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Interim Schools Chancellor Harold Levy said last week that he plans to focus on summer school and teacher recruitment while the members of the Board of Education search for a permanent chancellor.

"It's obvious that we need to focus on the summer program," Levy told a news conference last Wednesday at Board of Ed headquarters in Brooklyn.

Last year about 35,000 students attended summer school after tough new promotion standards were put in place by Levy's ousted predecessor, Rudy Crew. This year the city expects more than 300,000 students to attend summer school since the promotion standards were extended to nearly every student in the system.

Levy requested $62.8 million in city funds and $21.9 million in state funds for summer programs in his budget plan for 2000-2001. He identified another $107 million in capital budget needs to provide air-conditioning for summer classes.

Who will teach those 300,000 students remains an open question. The city anticipates needing 17,000 teachers this summer, but pay scales and other incentives to bring in summer school teachers have not yet been set.

"We are truly in a crisis situation," said Terri Thomson, Queens representative to the Board of Ed.

Thomson asked Levy to identify the number of teachers who are currently staffing back-office positions but might be called on to teach in summer school.

"We need all hands on deck," she said.

To attract teachers to summer school, union representatives say the city will have to offer them more than just an earnest plea.

"There has to be some kind of incentive," said Bill Stamatis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, the union representing the city's 78,000 teachers.

Summer school pay is currently set at about $30 per hour, regardless of seniority, making it difficult to attract teachers whose salaries or summer teaching opportunities offer more than that, Stamatis said. The union is lobbying for summer pay that can be applied to a teacher's pension and is commensurate with experience.

The summer school teacher gap, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.

"The crisis isn't only in the summer program," Levy said.

The Board of Ed projects a need for 54,000 new teachers over the next five years that includes 14,000 retirements. But the UFT commissioned its own study concluding that 14,000 teachers planned to retire over the next two years alone.

The coming wave of retirements could have a particular impact on Queens because the borough has a higher proportion of senior teachers, Stamatis said.

Levy called the combination of a looming teacher shortage, a high proportion of uncertified teachers and high turnover in the city's lowest-performing schools "a recipe for disaster."

"This is also a collective bargaining issue," said Sandra Lerner, Bronx representative to the Board of Ed. "We cannot attract sufficient numbers because we're not competitive."

But while Levy agreed with the need for better teacher pay and better incentives to attract new graduates to teaching, it is unclear whether he will be in office long enough to implement any changes in teacher recruitment. The Board of Ed plans to choose a new chancellor by late spring.

"I'm not sure how much he can do," Stamatis said.

Levy also presented to the Board of Ed new guidelines for evaluating superintendents and touched on school overcrowding, the most pressing issue in Queens.

"There is no doubt that we do not have the physical capacity" in Washington Heights and in parts of Queens, Levy said. "This is an issue that I know well and this is an issue I feel passionately about."

He identified the need for $393 million to build more space for districts with growing student populations.

This issue raised an objection from Ninfa Segarra, one of the mayor's two appointees to the Board of Ed, during an otherwise uneventful meeting.

"The city does not have additional capital dollars to give you," Segarra said.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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