Wednesday, May 28

Middle School Muddle: When parents are political pawns

This has been a tough month for public school parents and activists in New York City, the kind who fight for better schools, support the ones their children attend and try to convince friends, neighbors and other parents to do the same.

These activists know that simply registering your child and walking away is not an option if you want enhanced art, music and science programs, to name just a few. They volunteer at lunch and at recess and run auctions, bake sales and endless fundraisers to create better programs for all children. And they are pretty sick of all the finger-pointing about whose fault it is when school budgets are cut.

Many of the most ardent public education supporters began battling for better schools in pre-kindergarten, but now they've discovered there are no certain spots in such programs -- and that even kindergarten in their zoned neighborhood schools cannot be taken for granted due to overcrowding.

They can't necessarily count on a spot a high-performing middle school either, because of a supply and demand discrepancy that exists when it comes to the best schools -- and because some districts and neighborhoods don't have a lot of appealing choices.

One of the most painful moments came last week, when Chancellor Joel Klein announced he'd have to make cuts as high as 6 percent at some of the most attractive and sought-after places like the Salk School of Science, where some 45 percent of 8th graders receive offers to attend the specialized high schools. Salk faces a cut of $133,762, or 5.25 percent. Klein told reporters that 74 schools would face cuts of more than 5 percent.

Klein is putting all the blame on state government in Albany, maintaining that state rules have restricted the way the city can spend education money, despite the historic lawsuit that was supposed to bring billions of dollars into underfunded schools. He says state officials are not allowing him to use $63 million in state aid to close a $99 million city budget deficit before that budget is due June 30.

Parents aren't buying it, as the New York Times pointed out last week, nor should they. (The City Council, which must approve the mayor's budget, isn't buying it either.) The average New York City public parent activist is too busy looking for decent public schools, fighting to maintain the ones their kids already attend and raising ever more money (like I said, it's a lot of cupcakes and rummage sales) to get caught in the middle of despicable politics as usual.

Does Klein think he's going to be a hero if he announces he suddenly won't have to make such deep cuts after all? Unlikely. Regent Merryl Tisch recently told NY1 News that the "ugly political battle'' was creating enormous uncertainty about programs and staffing for next year.

That amounts to angst on top of anxiety. Say you are an activist 5th-grade parent who has long hoped your child would get into an excellent middle school like Salk. Number one, you haven't heard yet -- for some unexplained reason, the middle school process has been delayed this year.

Number two, say you had dreamed of having your middle school graduate go on to say, the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Looking down the chancellor's list of budget cuts, you might see the Bronx Science is facing a 5.25 percent cut -- amounting to some $825,00 -- and no cupcake sale can make up that kind of deficit. For many schools, such cuts could mean the end of concerts, plays, after school clubs, sports, and at places like Stuyvesant, a lighter academic courseload.

Thousands of parents already support New York City public schools, and thousands more would like to. They do not appreciate being political pawns.

Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle


Anonymous said...

The problems with NYC public schools will always be with us, thank you Mayor Bloomberg... and thank God that our children only have to make the middle school change once.... of course it appears it will be good practice for high school and college application disappointments.

Anonymous said...

it didn't take a rocket scientist to see this coming - loads of condos being built & sold - the city reaping in the benefit of added tax dollars from those sales as well as property tax dollars - someone was counting the money and forgot to count the children...