Mayor Backs Off Plan for School Funding Method in N.Y.C.

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After months of intense opposition to his plan for overhauling the way New York City funds its schools, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has agreed to retool a piece of his proposal that, in part, sought to put more veteran teachers in schools that serve the most disadvantaged students.

A cornerstone of the mayor’s “restructuring” plan had been to scrap the city’s practice of divvying up money to pay for staff members based on a school’s enrollment. Instead, Mr. Bloomberg had been pushing to use a method called “weighted-student funding” that distributes money for staff members to schools based not only on the number of students enrolled, but also on the needs of those students. He calls it “fair student funding.”

That proposed change—unveiled during the mayor’s State of the City address in January—had met stiff resistance, particularly from the city teachers’ union, which argued that the redistribution of money would undermine the city’s good schools.

Last month, the mayor struck a deal with the United Federation of Teachers, as well as other education advocacy and community organizations, that will essentially slow or halt any major shifting of veteran teachers from the middle-class neighborhoods where they tend to work to schools in poor neighborhoods for at least the next two years. Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican who won control over the nation’s largest school district in 2002, will finish his second term in 2009.

Protests to End

In exchange, the groups agreed to quiet what had been weeks of protests and other organized opposition to the mayor’s latest round of education proposals.

“This was extremely important to us because we felt all along that this funding method would destabilize the good schools in order to get more high-quality teachers into our high-needs schools,” said Leo E. Casey, the 120,000-member UFT’s special representative for high schools and a participant in the negotiations with the mayor’s office. “We all agree that getting more high-quality teachers into those classrooms is an important goal, but not this way.”

But with additional dollars expected to flow into the 1.1 million-student school system from the state treasury this year and next, city education officials said they will still be able to direct significant new resources to poor schools without diverting money from middle-class schools. As part of the agreement, the mayor pledged to funnel some of the new money in particular to English-language learners, satisfying a demand from the New York Immigration Coalition.

“We’ve agreed that we can use these new dollars to increase some school budgets, but not to reduce the budgets of other schools,” said Robert Gordon, the managing director for resource allocation for the city school system. “Unlike most cities that have done this, we are doing it at a time when the state has committed significant new resources to New York City.”

Mr. Gordon would not say last week how much new money the system will receive. New York City’s overall education budget is roughly $16 billion, he said.

Under the agreement, Mr. Bloomberg pledged to honor a “hold harmless” provision that will ensure that no schools have their budgets reduced by any changes to school funding formulas, Mr. Casey of the UFT said. The mayor also agreed to let schools keep money for teachers who may retire or choose to leave their schools. For example, if a senior teacher who makes $100,000 retires, a principal can opt to hire a similar replacement at the same salary level or a less experienced teacher at a lower salary, leaving the leftover money for other school expenses.

At the insistence of the union, Mr. Bloomberg also said he would continue to allocate money to schools so that they could cover the costs of faculty members as their salaries increased.

Joseph Olchefske, a former superintendent in Seattle who steered that district through its adoption of weighted-student funding several years ago, said Mayor Bloomberg’s agreement not to cut the budgets of any school goes against the basic philosophy of the finance strategy.

“The agreement seems to violate a pretty deep philosophical principle, which is that for some schools to get more, others have to get less,” said Mr. Olchefske, who is now a managing director for school district consulting at the American Institutes for Research in Washington. “So by funding all schools at the same amount as before, in effect they are funding some students more than they quote ‘deserve,’ ” he said.

Modifications Common

However, he noted, the handful of school districts that have managed to convert to weighted-student funding—in cities such as Houston and San Francisco, as well as Seattle—all have made modifications.

“No one has been able to implement this with absolute religious integrity,” Mr. Olchefske said.

Weighted-student funding has been described by its supporters as the fairest and best way to ensure that students with the greatest educational needs—poor children, English-language learners, and special education students—get the resources necessary to improve their academic performance. Mostly, that means securing senior teachers to work in schools that serve large numbers of such students. ("‘Weighted’ Funding of Schools Gains Favor," Nov. 3, 2004.)

Mayor Bloomberg also agreed to drop his bid to require that student test scores be among the criteria for judging whether a teacher wins tenure. Instead, he promised to form a committee that includes teachers’ union members to develop criteria for awarding tenure.

He also said he would pay for a pilot reform program in at least 50 middle schools next year and would work closely with students to establish more “success centers,” which offer counseling and other services to help prepare students for college and work.

“Some of this agreement is aspirational,” said Norm Fruchter, the director of the community-involvement program at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform in New York City, “and we have to keep our fingers crossed.”

Vol. 26, Issue 35, Page 8

Published in Print: May 2, 2007, as Mayor Backs Off Plan for School Funding Method in N.Y.C.
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