Funding for failing schools suspended


| mchan@queenscourier.com |

Federal funds for the city’s failing schools are on the line following negotiation deadlocks between the city and the union.

Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. announced on January 3 that he has suspended “School Improvement Grant” (SIG) funding throughout the state. The $60 million in SIG grants would have provided “adequate resources” — including extra instructors and materials — for the city’s lowest-performing schools.

“Sadly, the adults in charge of the city’s schools have let the students down,” King said. “This is beyond disappointing. The failure to reach agreements on evaluations leaves thousands of students mired in the same educational morass. Until the grown-ups in charge start acting that way, it won’t be a very happy New Year for the students at the SIG schools in the city.”

The suspension came shortly after Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote to King, declaring disagreements in several key negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) regarding teacher evaluations.

In order to receive the funding, Walcott and the UFT had five months to agree to “implement a comprehensive and meaningful teacher evaluation system” for the state’s 44 failing schools.

However, the two parties clashed on ideas “almost every step of the way,” Walcott said in a statement, including basic negotiations over appointing arbitrators to handle cases.

“Our goal is to ensure that we have the best teachers in our classrooms. Unfortunately, the union is more interested in setting up procedural roadblocks to protect the very worst performing teachers,” Walcott said. “This disagreement — regarding both policy and principles — leads me to conclude that we will not be able to come to an agreement on a fair and progressive teacher evaluation system.”

According to UFT President Michael Mulgrew, the agreement — that has not yet been reached — must focus on creating a process to help teachers improve their performance by providing them with feedback on the specific classroom issues that need to be addressed, among other resources.

“Teachers look forward to the opportunity to improve their practice. If the DOE’s major focus is on penalizing its employees for their perceived shortcomings rather than to devise a process that will help all teachers improve, it is doing a disservice to the schools and the children they serve,” Mulgrew said.

Several struggling schools in Queens could suffer from negotiation stalemates, including The Law, Government and Community Service High School in Cambria Heights, which was the lowest scoring school in the borough and falls in the bottom 6.7 percentile of city high schools.

Other low-performing schools like Flushing High School, Richmond Hill High School and August Martin High School in Jamaica received a “D” during the most recent progress report, as well as Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village and Pan American International High School in Elmhurst.