News Briefs about Queens schools and issues relating to public and private education in Queens. Our coverage includes elementary schools, intermediate schools, high schools and colleges in LIC, Sunnyside, Astoria, Jackson Heights, Flushing, Jamaica, Corona Queens
People Power & Queens Public Schools
Group Self Organizes to Improve Neighborhood Public Schools
On the afternoon of March 12th, I attended a series of workshops organized by the Jackson Heights People for Public Schools at the Community United Methodist Church. As I entered the building there was a swirling of human activity ranging from youngsters to not-so-old parents.
The purpose of the workshops was to engage not just parents, but anyone interested in helping make Jackson Heights public schools better. The group had reached out to several municipal and state government officials for help, but I was informed that only NY City Council Member Daniel Dromm responded affirmatively to their solicitation for help.
What will follow later today is a report about some of the issues addressed at the Jackson Heights Schools workshop, as well as a deeper dive into some of the issues facing the Jackson Heights, Queens and NYC public school system including the Core Curriculum, testing and the charters versus public schools debate.
Albany Legislative Session To End Friday
Pending Bills: Public School Funding & Rent Stabilization Law
There are two important bills expected to be finalized by the New York State Legislature this week: 1) one having to do with taxation and funding for the public schools and 2) the second having to do with NYC rent stabilization law.
I've been paying some modest measure of attention to both of these bills, and the following is a brief snapshot of a critical talking point in each bill.
Use Public Money To Fund Private Education?
From what I can gather, perhaps the most contentious item in the public education funding bill is the provision for sizeable tax deductions for those who choose to send their children to private, not public schools.
As I understand it, these tax deductions would be included as part of the funding for the public schools budget and therefore will reduce what's left for the NYS / NYC public school systems.
It's worth noting that private school tuition in NYC can cost in the range of about $5,000 to $30,000 per year per student. And that there are about 900 private schools in NYC alone, so depending on how these proposed deductions are ultimately structured, the funds reallocated from the public schools to private individuals would be in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars and possibly more.
You might want to contact Governor Cuomo's office at 1.518.474.8390 to let him know you support or oppose the measure, since we understand that he's been the major force pushing for this public school funding change. You can also send him an email via the Governor's contact form.
Albany & Expiring Rent Stabilization Laws
The Rent Stabilization Laws are due to expire tonight, June 15, 2015.
There was talk earlier this year that there would be a push to expand or strengthen the Rent Stabilization Laws given the rapid growth in homelessness in New York City. The NYC homeless population is currently estimated at over 60,000 or nearly 1% of the entire NYC population. About 70% of New York City residents are renters, of which about two million of less than eight and a half million residents, live in rent stabilized apartments.
Over the past decade or so, the Rent Stabilization Laws have been curtailed in the favor of the free market and landlords. The curtailment of rent price control legislation is believed to have spurred additional real estate development investment, as the profits of most new buildings are no longer affected by rent stabilization laws.
Much of the rapid growth in homelessness over the past decade is believed to be the result of tenants losing their rent stabilized apartments, as new owners of buildings have found ways to circumvent the laws. A recent NYU Furman Center Study has shown the loss of over 330,000 unsubsidized affordable apartments since 2002, due in part to the rent stabilization legislative changes referenced above.
NYS legislative insiders told me that tenants rights supporters were hoping to make legislative gains this year, but that the NYS Assemblypeople and NYS Senators opposing the changes, were going to allow the rent stabilization laws to expire as a negotiating tactic.
Vicki Been, Commissioner of NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, informed us that the current rent stabilization laws remain in effect through the term of existing leases and leases up for renewal that are already in the hands of the tenants. She also said that tenants should call 311 with any questions or problems.
Cuomo & NYS Officials - Quinnipiac Poll
On June 3, 2015 Quinnipiac released a poll showing voters are feeling negatively about the NYS Legislature as a whole, while continuing to favor their local representatives. In the poll Governor Cuomo has only a 2% margin of those favoring him.
Governor Cuomo had a 44% approval rating versus 42% disapproval rating, as voters are not satisfied with his handling of the corruption scandals that have plagued Albany this year. In February 2015 Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver [Democrat Manhattan] was indicted on federal corruption charges. And in May 2015 NYS Senate Leader Dean Skelos [Republican Long Island] was indicted by a federal Grand Jury.
Less than a year ago, NYS gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University surprised polls by garnering nearly 2 votes for every 3 won by the governor in the NYS Democratic primary. Ms. Teachout did not have much in the way of significant private backing or union support, but won nearly 40% of the vote waging an online campaign.
According to the Quinnipiac poll, voters by a margin of 52% - 32% said that with respect to Albany's corruption problem:
"... the Governor is part of the problem, not part of the solution."
As for the NYS Assemblymembers and NYS Senators the Quinnipiac Poll reported the following:
"Voters disapprove 60 - 26 percent of the job the State Legislature is doing, but approve 44 - 37 percent of their own Assembly member and approve 54 - 31 percent of their own state senator."
"At the same time, 45 percent of voters say their state senator should be thrown out in a general house-cleaning, while 40 percent say their senator deserves reelection."
"Voters are divided 41 - 41 percent on whether their Assembly member should be reelected or thrown out."
As you can see, the sentiments collected in the Quinnipiac poll seem a bit contradictory, as the answers received depend on how the questions are stated. Nonetheless, this looks to be an interesting legislative week as things wind down in Albany, and as the 2016 election cycle begins to ramp up.
A Look Inside Renaissance Charter School
One Of The Finest & One Of The First NYC Charter Schools
I spent parts of a couple of days at the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights recently. One of the visits was to hear testimony given by the community with respect to renewing the school's NYC Department of Education charter. The second visit was to tour through the school to view the classrooms, facilities and become aquainted with the curriculums. What follows is an account of these visits, supplemented by a bit of outside research into ongoing debate and battle about the role of charter schools in the NYC public school system.
I arrived around lunchtime and met Peggy Heeney of the Development & Outreach department of the school. After a brief orientation and discussion about the tour upon which we were about to embark, we headed toward the back of the building on the first floor of the school. The Renaissance Charter School is located just off 37th Avenue at 81st Street in Jackson Heights.
Peggy told me that the building was previously a department store and that the school had moved into it several years after its founding. She informed me that the Renaissance School actually preceded the incorporation of charter schools in the NYC public school system in the 1990's.
We'll have more later this week about the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights.
Battle For Public School Budget Underway
Constitutional Right To Education & Public School Funding
January 12, 2015 / Jackson Heights / Queens Schools / Queens Buzz News & Analyis. I attended a Town Hall Meeting entitled State Of Our Schools at PS 69 in Jackson Heights on Thursday evening. The town hall included a number of panelists who spoke about some of the top concerns and issues facing NYC and Queens public schools in the current round of budget negotiations currently underway in the NYS state capitol of Albany.
Cathy Nolan, NYS Assembly Chair of the Committee on Education, and Daniel Dromm, Chair of the NYC Council Education Committe, were joined by speakers representing The Alliance for Quality Education, Make The Road NY, Jackson Heights People For Public Schools, Community Education Council 30 and the Parent Association of PS 69.
The intent of the town hall was to inform residents about the issues currently being debated in the NYS State Capitol as the Assembly and Senate work on budget bills to fund public education in the state of New York.
Some of the issues discussed included every citizen's constitutional right to a quality public education, which was interpreted by the Courts to mean providing every citizen with the skills to compete in the 21st century economy and the capacity to function as a contributing member of society.
Other issues included discussion of the current tax cap bill - which would cap property taxes at 2.5% - and thus limit the money available for public education. Currently about 30% of NYC residents are property owners. Over the past decade an increasing percentage of city property has been acquired by large corporations known as Real Estate Investment Trusts. It's worth noting that one of the NYC tabloids, the NY Daily News, is owned by the billionaire founder of an NYC Real Estate Investment Trust.
Property owners say they already pay too much in taxes. One homeowner opined that government and school officials need to manage the funding more efficiently, and develop innovative / technological methods to achieve their educational goals. Many of the older, original charter schools were opened to do just that by exploring different approaches to educating the public.
Another initiative underway is to cap charter schools expansion. As mentioned above, many of the original charter schools were founded to explore different approaches to providing a quality public school education. In recent years some of the newer charter schools, particularly the charter school groups [Ed Note: such as Success Academy Charter Schools], have been seen as limiting the promise of an equal opportunity in public school education.
Charter School groups have been accused of targeting areas where they can attract high performing students away from the publicly run schools and then demand equivalent public funding per child. Charter school groups allegedly claim their test scores are attributable to their educational efforts, not the higher quality of their student enrollment [this alleged claim is at odds with independent studies]. As of this date only a small percentage of the charter schools have been audited as one of them - Success Academy - filed and won a lawsuit that prevented the NYS Comptroller from auditing them based on a NYS Supreme Court Justice Thomas Breslin ruling in June 2013. Its worth noting that Success Academy Charter Schools also reportedly receives funding from Hedge Fund b/millionaires who may also have stakes in Real Estate Investment Trusts.
Public educators note that the schools that service the broader based demographic population have higher per student funding requirements in order to assist students with special needs. They go on to note that standardized testing doesn't account for progress made with a broad based diversified student population that includes students with special needs such as: children with disabilities, children from troubled homes, children with less aptitude or less motivation, and children who need to learn English [English Language Learners ELL] in addition to the general curriculum. Additional resources are required to fund different approaches / programs designed to reach, motivate and develop these children's intrinsic abilities [eg. band students perform higher in math] and enable them to become contributing members to their families, their employers and the community.
A tax break for private education is also being debated at the state level. The tax break for private education was portrayed by one of the speakers as another tax break for those who already have the means and have chosen to send their children to non-public schools. Just as the property tax cap is expected to limit public education funding, so too the private school tax break is expected to limit the total funding available to educate those who attend public schools.
Families who send their children to private schools argue that they are reducing the strain on public school resources. They note that they are not asking for a total reimbursement [meaning total payback of private tuition] but rather a deduction, which would reduce their tax bill by some percentage of their private school tuition payments. It's worth mentioning that according to the 2012 Census update, the NYC Public School system paid over $20,000 per student per year, which is a far higher cost per student than any other public school system in the nation. The Boston public school system was a close second and the Washington DC public school system came in third.
This is just a summary of some of the challenges and issues discussed at the Town Hall related to NYS public school education funding. We'll delve into these in a bit more detail at a later date.
High School Directories Now Available
July 31, 2014 / Queens Neighborhoods / Queens Schools / Queens Buzz. Students applying to a NYC public high school for the 2015-2016 school year can now access the 2014-2015 High School Directory online in nine languages: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu.
Click here for complete information and the English directory. Questions regarding the 2014-2015 High School Directory may be directed to the High School Admissions Team at HS_Enrollment@schools.nyc.gov.
The Following are several excerpts pertaining to NYC & Queens Schools from our Opinion Section
Charter School Owner Closes Her 22 NYC Public Schools To Bus Her Students To Albany To Serve Her Purposes
Statement by Council Member Daniel Dromm, Chair of New York City Council Education Committee
Capital New York reports that Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz “is closing all 22 of her schools for the day to attempt to rally support in Albany, and has asked teachers to provide instruction to students on buses up to the Capitol.”
I am deeply concerned about the legality of a school leader closing schools for entirely political purposes. As chair of the New York City Council Education Committee, I intend to hold an oversight hearing to investigate whether any laws or Chancellor’s regulations have been violated by Moskowitz unilaterally closing schools to effectively force children to lobby on her behalf.
This is the second time that Moskowitz has closed her schools for what seems to have been political purposes. In October, Moskowitz closed her Success Academy charter schools to lead a political march across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest Bill de Blasio. This must stop. No educator should be allowed to use children as pawns for their political agenda. Serious questions arise about closing schools for political gain.
As the recipient of public funding, I am also troubled by reports of the Success Academy paying administrators extraordinary salaries.
I also intend to use my oversight powers to investigate Moskowitz’s extensive marketing campaigns costing millions of dollars.
Field trips can be an important part of the educational experience. Dragging children to Albany to further Moskowitz’s political agenda serves no public or pedagogical purpose.
Statement by Council Member Daniel Dromm, Chair of New York City Council Education Committee
Published March 1, 2014
Editor's Notes: Moskowitz Actions, Charters & School Performance, & DOE Actions In Astoria
What would you think if the United Federation of Teachers Union [UFT] closed all NYC public schools and used the school children for a union rally [aka their own political purposes], like Eva Moskowitz / Success Academy appears to have done above in Albany on March 4th, 2014? The photo above links to the NYT story.
In a report we did a couple years ago, a Stanford University Study showed that the inclusion of charters in a school system improves overall performance, although over time the charters in their study underperformed the non-charters.
In researching the story on school closings, the one thing we learned is that there are no easy answers and that there are many factors at play in measuring school performance. However, according to the summary results of a National Education Longitudinal Study published in Education Week, the most critical factors in determining the success of a school are the children and families who enroll in the school. Parental supervision and participation in their children's academic performance is critical to both the child's and school's success.
The Bloomberg Department of Education [DOE] began an attempt to partition one of Queens most successful schools [PS 122 in Astoria] while Eva Moskowitz's Success Academy was making plans to open a charter in Queens. Many parents of the school did not find this to be coincidence. After a public outrage, the DOE quickly backed down.
It's not a big stretch to surmise that this sort of coincidence may have occurred previously. Some believe that the Bloomberg DOE may have facilitated Moskowitz's success by enabling Success Academy to make targeted enrollments at the expense of the surrounding schools / students.
Eva Moskowitz caught the public's attention during the Bloomberg Administration second and third terms, for opening a record 22 charter schools in the NYC public education system in less than seven years. This represents between 1% and 2% of all NYC public schools [there are approximately 1700 in total] and 12% of all NYC public charter schools [there are 183 as of 2013 / 2014 school year].
March 1, 2014
Editor's Update - NYC Co-location Approval Criteria / Success Academy Funding / LIC H.S.
In late February Mayor de Blasio approved 35 of 45 school co-locations. He said that he turned down the school co-locations based on the following criteria: 1) not put any elementary schools in with high schools, 2) not open schools with less than 250 students because they wouldn't receive enough resource to provide a proper education, 3) no co-locations requiring heavy construction and 4) no co-locations requiring the dislocation of the neediest kids.
De Blasio approved five of eight co-locations for Eva Moskowitz / Success Academy charter schools. Three of eight of Success Academy's co-locations were not approved because they did not take into account the needs of kids with special needs.
Moskowitz's Success Academy is funded in part by many NYC hedge fund operators. These hedge fund operators are in the tax bracket targeted to fund NYC education. Many of the public advertising campaigns launched by Eva Moskowitz / Success Academy / Charterswork.org are funded by them, pushing their point of view.
Mayor de Blasio drew attention to the fact that some charter school programs, like those funded by private sources [aka high net income / net worth individuals] at Success Academy, cannot be replicated in the remaining public schools, without receipt of the additional funding.
Editor's Suggestion: If these privately funded charter school programs are successful, perhaps the city can ask these wealthy donors to Success Academy, to increase their investments in the NYC school system to enable these programs to be replicated throughout the entire NYC public school system.
LIC High School was one of the schools targeted for a co-location that was nixed. LIC High School is one of the remaining large high schools in the city.
April 6, 2014
Editor's Update - NYS Court Bars NYS Comptroller From Auditing Charter Schools
Thomas Di Napoli, NYS Comptroller, sent us this link to a story / editorial about how the Supreme Court barred his office from auditing NYS charter schools.
Eva Moskowitz / Success Academy sued the NYS Comptroller when he made an attempt to audit them. According to Mercedes Schneider, a blogger of the Huffington Post, in 2011, just nine schools of Success Academy received about $50 million in public funding. As mentioned above, Success Academy currently operates 22 charter schools in the NYC public school system.
According to the Times Union Editorial [the Times Union is a newspaper in Albany], New York State currently has 233 charter schools, with an enrollment of 87,000 children and costs taxpayers over $1 billion per year.
March 22, 2014
Thomas Di Napoli, NYS Comptroller, sent us this link to a story about a special education audit showing financial abuse of public funds.
DiNapoli: Special Education Provider Pleads Guilty to Felony Charges. The executive director of special education provider IncludED Educational Services pleaded guilty in Manhattan Supreme Court Friday to grand larceny charges stemming from an audit and investigation by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Morton Kramer agreed to pay $418,000 in restitution as part of his plea agreement and is banned for life from providing special education services for the state.
May 24, 2014
End of Opinion Excerpts
Queens School Changes
Educational Infrastructure Lags Population Growth
January 28, 2014 / Jackson Heights & Woodside Neighborhood / Queens Schools / Queens Buzz. I attended a Department of Education meeting to discuss the proposed changes scheduled for Intermediate Schools 230 and 145 in Jackson Heights. The plan calls for adding new space to I.S. 230, and then redrawing the district map for the two schools, so that going forward some children who would have attended I.S. 145 will enroll in I.S. 230. The children currently attending I.S. 145 will not be affected.
The intent of the plan is to alleviate the overcrowding in I.S. 145 which is operating above capacity. The overcrowding would be addressed by redrawing the school district maps following the completion of the new building at I.S. 230, so that fewer students would enroll in I.S. 145 going forward. The meeting was well attended as the I.S. 145 auditorium was fairly full when I arrived.
About half or better of the attendees were spanish language speakers and the Department of Education had not brought enough Spanish translation headsets to conduct the meeting bilingually without having the English presentation followed by a Spanish translation by a volunteer in attendance. A couple of community leaders drew my attention to this, and one of whom - an educator himself - was very irate. He explained that by not having enough headsets, the meeting would now accomplish about half as much in the same time period because of the time consumed in explaining things first in English and then in Spanish. With the headsets, the explanations would be been communicated simultaneously. He also noted that the translator was a volunteer and there wasn't any mechanism in place to ensure that the volunteer's translations were correct.
I.S. 145 recently suffered a tragic loss, as a student was killed by a motorist only blocks away from the school. Within the past six months three school age children living in the Jackson Heights vicinity have been killed by motorists, and the safety plan for the new building was one of the many concerns on the agenda. We'll post more about the meeting, and include an update about some of the proposed changes to address overcrowding in a Woodside school as well.
It seems that Queens schools, like other aspects of Queens public infrastructure [the #7 subway line / mass transit] and affordable housing, are lagging well behind Queens population growth and private development.
Battle For Control Of PS 122 Astoria
Dept of Ed Announces Big Changes & Few Details
Public Education Could Be Defining Issue Of NYC Mayoral Race
March 17, 2013 / Astoria Neighborhood / Queens Schools / Queens Buzz. The Department of Education announced its intention to make sweeping changes to PS 122 on February 28, 2013 to the PTA of the school. We were told of the general gist of these changes by PS 122 PTA members and parents. We then followed up with the Department of Education, to be sure we understood the Department of Education’s announcement correctly.
Before we discuss the general gist of the Department of Education plans for PS 122, it helps to have a bit of background to better understand what appears to be happening.
There are several important elements that seem to be at the core of the issue: 1) the Department of Education’s plans to reconfigure one of the most successful public elementary / intermediate schools in Queens and the NYC school system, 2) the Department of Education’s sudden interest in providing the school children of PS 122 grades K through 5 with the opportunity to continue matriculation within the same school [building] throughout all eight grades [6 – 8], and 3) Success Academy Charter Schools announcement that they plan to open a new charter school in Queens school district 30 in August of 2014.
Click here to read the beginning of our DRAFT report about the Department of Education Plans to reconfigure PS 122 in Astoria. Be advised that there is a Community Board One Meeting March 19, Tuesday evening beginning at 6.30 pm at the Astoria World Manor and a PEP Meeting on March 20th in Brooklyn. The large top photo above was published with permission by Nigel McKenna and the second photo was taken by Queens Buzz of PTA Board Member Anastasia Cunningham and NYC Comptroller and possible Mayoral candidate John Liu, as they listen to concerned parents at a United Community Civic Association meeting in Astoria.
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