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DOE promises equal share of the pie - Despite shakeup, officials pledge school funding will be equitable

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Major changes are coming to area schools, courtesy of the New York City Department of Education (DOE). But, no matter how sweeping the restructuring may be, schools will not find themselves losing out on funding they count upon, according to one top administrator at DOE. Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor for finance and administration at DOE, told members of the District 20 school community that the Children First reforms that DOE is currently putting into place include making sure that schools are equally treated in terms of money. “We are going through the bureaucracy and we are going to drive additional money down into each school,” Grimm assured the crowd gathered in the auditorium at Public School/Intermediate School 104, 9115 Fifth Avenue, for the February meeting of the District 20 Community Education Council (CEC). “We don’t expect any school is going to get less money,” Grimm told the crowd. “We are not going to do anything that disrupts the current level of teacher funding.” Why is the change in funding formula being made? “It’s now possible to have two schools in the system with very similar populations and, on a per capita basis, one could be receiving thousands of dollars more than the other,” Grimm explained. To replace the current system, Grimm said, DOE is planning to utilize “a weighted student formula,” with each child assigned a base amount of funding, with additional amounts added, “For special needs or ELL (English language learners),” as well as other variants including poverty, academic success and, down the road, gifted and talented programs. “We want to create a fairer system,” she stressed. Overall, the key goal of the reforms, said Grimm, is to, “Put kids first, not the bureaucracy. Student performance has to be focused on. We have got to do everything to move that along.” To that end, said Grimm, DOE is offering school principals a variety of options, so they can develop their schools to meet the particular challenges that students and teachers may face. One option, she said, would be for schools to opt to become empowerment schools. Under that option, Grimm explained, principals would be able to make their own choices in areas such as professional development. A second and third option, said Grimm, would be for schools to choose to become part of either a learning support organization or a partnership support organization. In these cases, schools would align themselves with one of a cadre of four DOE superintendents who are developing different educational approaches, or outside providers doing the same, and who can provide support as the schools move ahead. “The regions are going away,” explained Grimm. “The principal will make the choice as to which organization best supports her vision for moving student performance forward in her school.” DOE will also be grading schools for their success, said Grimm, giving them report cards rating their efforts, “In moving students along.” Schools that are rated “A” will get bonuses and will be eligible to become demonstration sites. Schools that get “A” or “B” ratings will also receive additional funding for each student they take from a low performing school. Schools rated “D” or “F” could face intervention and change of leadership, as well as possible closure, as could schools that are rated “C” three years in a row. In addition to providing educators with more flexibility and holding them accountable for the progress of children under their care, DOE is also trying to make information about students’ progress accessible. To that end, said Grimm, the agency, “Is in the process of creating a system that will give parents and teaches real time information about children.” The system, ARIS, “Should be in schools by September, 2007,” said Grimm, with parents able to utilize it for their children’s information by the following year. This system, she explained, “Will break down the progress each child is making in different areas. Is the child doing well in understanding the main idea but not doing as well separating fact from opinion? Depending on what the problem is, the child needs different intervention. And, it’s not a year-end report card, so if there’s a problem we can take steps.” Besides providing information, DOE is seeking input from parents, Grimm added. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here tonight,” she told the crowd. Besides urging her listeners to make their opinions known to DOE, Grimm said that the agency will be conducting surveys of parents, high school students, principals and teachers later this year. Those present at the meeting made their concerns clear. There were questions about whether parents will still have a local office to go to with issues, now that the regions created four years ago are being dissolved (“We are looking to see where we can add parent support in the district,” replied Grimm), as well as whether the CEC and presidents council would be asked for input when a district superintendent is appointed (“I don’t know the answer to that,” Grimm acknowledged). One question, from Ellen Driesen, the UFT representative to District 20, was whether the new system would ensure adequate funding to keep experienced teachers where they currently are, or whether the chancellor planned to tap expected CFE money to get the necessary bucks. “No school will get less money,” reiterated Grimm, who said, “We are taking money out of the bureaucracy to put more money into schools.” Another question, from Presidents Council President Nancy Gasparino, centered on the shift whereby English language learners are forced to take the standardized English Language Arts exam before they have been graduated from ELL classes. How can a school “Get a fair assessment when the test is not fair?” Gasparino wanted to know. The answer, said Grimm, is that DOE is not relying exclusively on standardized testing to rate schools. “We are trying to build into the system many different levels of evaluation, so we are not just looking at the test,” Grimm stressed, adding, “We are taking into account the demographics of each school.”

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