Calls for Equal Funding in High-Need Schools

By: Rashed Mian

Amparo Sadler, a grandmother from Central Islip, stood across the street from the Martin Luther King Jr., elementary school in Wyandanch on Wednesday and called on New York State legislators to equally allocate more than $200 million to more than two dozen high-need school districts, instead of forcing them to compete for the precious aid.

“Our children…should not have to compete against one another,” said Sadler, who also serves on the board of Alliance for Quality Education, a group that advocates for public education.

Members of AQE and Long Island Progressive Coalition joined together outside the elementary school to offer a list of recommendations to the state legislature concerning Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed executive budget that includes $805 million in school aid.

About 31 percent—$250 million—of the aid is tied to the performance grants. It also includes $113 million for average-need districts, $18 million to low-need districts and $421 million to high-need districts, according an analysis of Cuomo’s executive budget proposal by AQE.

Advocates said they are grateful for the additional aid from the state for high-need districts like Brentwood, Central Islip and Wyandanch, but they argued that having school districts compete for aid will leave some schools without proper funding.

“Wealthy districts throughout the state have received cuts as well, but they do not run as deep as the cuts that high needs districts are facing,” said Melanie Lawrence of LIPC.

Cuomo’s competitive grant program was established as an incentive to reward the school districts that improve performance.

The group also recommended that the sate redirect $53 million of competitive grant funds to expand pre-kindergarten education, which also falls in line with suggestions from the Board of Regents, they said.

Sadler said her family is looking to get her granddaughter into pre-K in September, but is concerned that she might not be selected by the lottery system that her district uses to place pre-K students.

If her granddaughter doesn’t get picked by the lottery, Sadler said they will have to look at other services, including private school.

“Albany listen to me clearly,” she said. “This is not a damn game show, education is a civil right—it is the law.”

LIPC Protests Gov. Paterson's budget cuts


Wyandanch calls proposed state aid cuts devastating

January 20, 2010

Students and staffers in the beleaguered Wyandanch school district rallied Wednesday morning against proposed cuts in state aid, warning they would force their system to lay off teachers and eliminate Advanced Placement courses, sports teams and bus rides.

“It looks like it’s going to be devastating,” said Denise Gibbs, an assistant superintendent in the 2,000-student system. She appeared along with two dozen others at a rally and news conference organized to protest Gov. David A. Paterson’s proposed school-aid reductions.

Unlike many school districts, Wyandanch has little in the way of “rainy day” funds to hedge against losses of state aid. That’s because the district ran up a budget deficit last year, and was forced to lay off workers simply to plug the fiscal hole.

Wednesday, Paterson called for $1.1 billion in school-aid reductions statewide, including about $1 million in Wyandanch. The governor contends such cuts are essential to help the state eliminate its own deficit projected at $7.4 billion.
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Wyandanch school board OKs strict anti-nepotism code

By John Hildebrand

September 17, 2009

After decades of flagrant insider hiring, a divided Wyandanch school board Wednesday night adopted one of the strictest anti-nepotism codes on Long Island.

The new policy, passed with four yes votes and three abstentions, generally requires a board “super majority” – at least five votes out of seven – to hire any school worker, from teacher to janitor, whenever the applicant is related to a board member. The provision goes well beyond state law, which requires such votes only when hiring teachers and other professionals.

Moreover, Wyandanch’s policy broadens the definition of “related persons” to include not only blood relatives, but anyone who has formed close ties with a board member. Examples include romantic relationships, work at common job sites, or mutual participation in PTAs and civic groups.

“I believe we’re making history for schools,” said board president Denise Baines, shortly before the vote.

Some veteran administrators in other districts question whether rules so broad can be enforced. But many Wyandanch residents insist such measures are necessary to stamp out patronage hiring that has demoralized a district struggling to raise test scores and graduation rates.

Supporters of the new rules, including a board majority that has solidified its control over the past two years, add that they want to promote fairer selections through public disclosure of any ties between candidates and school officials.

“Wyandanch has been riddled with nepotism for years,” said BarBara Wright-Blue, a lifetime resident active in the Long Island Progressive Coalition, a liberal grassroots organization. Another group member, Marva Worrell, said, “We’re looking for qualifications, not relations.”

The coalition helped arrange the drafting of Wyandanch’s rules by volunteers at Hofstra University Law School.

In Albany, state school officials are reviewing Wyandanch’s rules to see whether some could be incorporated into the state’s own guidelines for school boards. Those guidelines already include recommendations for avoiding financial conflicts-of-interest, but nothing on nepotism in hiring.

Albany’s review was prompted by Roger Tilles, the Island’s representative to the state Board of Regents, which sets educational policy. Tilles, who worked closely with the Progressive Coalition, said in a written statement that Wyandanch was “a groundbreaking school district.”

Experts call nepotism a widespread problem in small, suburban school districts – but particularly in communities with high poverty such as Wyandanch, where schools are the biggest local employers.

In 2008, a major issue in Wyandanch’s school board election was the fact that then-board president, the Rev. Michael V. Talbert Sr., was married to a district administrator. At the same time, then-Superintendent Sherman Roberts was under fire because his wife was a district secretary.

Talbert was defeated in May by Nancy Holliday, a retired teacher and local civic leader. Subsequently, Holliday’s brother, Robert, was rehired as a counselor in the district, touching off complaints that the election amounted to little more than a patronage fight.

Holliday, who abstained from last night’s vote on nepotism, has insisted her brother is qualified for a job he held once before, in 2005. The conflict of interest resolution passed with five yes votes and two abstentions.
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Central Islip, Brentwood, and Wyandanch unite to support Governor Spitzer's fair funding budget

Brentwood, NY)- The members of Long Island Progressive Coalition’s Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) gathered Tuesday, March 20 to rally the communities of Brentwood, Central Islip and Wyandanch in support of Governor Spitzer’s proposed education budget. The State Senate voted for a counter budget that would largely reverse the Governor’s basic funding reforms. It was this charge that lead an overflowing crowd to voice their emphatic claim that the State Senate budget was both unfair and immoral.

A diverse mix of speakers ranging from students, parents, teachers, and school superintendents followed the theme of the night by answering the question “What if our schools had the fair funding we deserved?” Amparo Stadler a Central Islip parent said, “We’re only asking for our share, nothing more and nothing less. If we got our fair share we could at least know that every kid here has a fighting chance. The status quo has them fighting against the odds.” School superintendent Michael Cohen added, “The Governor’s budget takes bold steps to address the shameful history of separate and unequal schools right here on Long Island.”

The Governor’s education budget is nothing short of an historic investment that will deliver a $3.8 billion increase for schools on Long Island and upstate. These increases will be phased in over four years. For example, the schools in Senator Trunzo’s district alone will receive $157 million in annual classroom operating aid by 2010. More importantly, the Governor’s budget proposal would create a new funding formula that is fair and equitable and targets future investments at the state’s most needy districts. While the Senate Majority’s plan would provide many high needs districts, including many on Long Island, an increase in 2007-08 that is on par with the Governor’s plan, in future years the Senate Majority plan would mean wealthy districts receive a substantially higher percentage increase than poorer districts.

The State Senate had released their version of the budget, which they were referring to as “Foundation plus”. This budget offers 1.2 billion dollars more in school aid. Schools like Central Islip and Brentwood stand to receive little of that increase while the wealthiest school districts in the state would receive a 96% increase in school aid on average. “We support increases in school aid and we want every school district to benefit, but only if it’s given in a fair and equitable way. The Senate is purposing a bill that locks in a lifetime of inequality. Why would Senators Trunzo and Johnson support this budget?” said Leila Warren of North Bay Shore. Though the State Senate bill provides more dollars, students in high needs districts will lose out in the long run due to a fundamental shift away from basing aid on need. Bree Wright, a sophomore from Wyandanch emphatically stated, “It’s like the Senate is offering us $20 today instead of $5 more in our allowance. I’ll take the $5 extra allowance money every time.”

Just as the Governor’s budget places a focus on the educational needs of high needs districts, there is new tax relief in other parts of the budget designed to focus on the needs of those communities of average needs. The result means Long Island as a region will truly benefit. Schools that need smaller class sizes, more programs, and better strategies to boost student achievement will get the attention they need. While communities that are being crippled by property taxes, largely a result of school costs, get significant tax relief. Mr. Andres Rios, a Brentwood resident, sums it up like this, “Our kids finally get money to make sure they graduate and folks who live in districts with high graduation rates and good programs get a break on their crazy property taxes. It’s like we all get what we need.”

The Alliance for Quality education saw this last budget fight as a question of basic justice and ethics, not simple funding increases. “The lack of consideration to high needs districts is unacceptable. The Governor’s formula will give every school district an increase while targeting funds in high needs districts. Included in this are accountability measures to make sure every dollar reaches the classroom,” says Danielle Asher of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “It’s not about the money, it’s about basic fairness.”

Many of the students from Central Islip, Brentwood and Wyandanch are highly aware of the circumstance around what was being invested in this budget decision. Most of the pupils have a real interest in the future of educational achievement. Maria Peña, a senior at Central Islip high school had this to say at the end of the event, “Governor Spitzer’s proposal is the first time in all my school years I do not feel ignored by the State. We need to make sure they do right by us and the next generation.”

On April 2, 2007 Governor Spitzer held a press conference in Manhattan announcing the substantial breakthrough of our fourteen year struggle to deliver a quality education to every child. Based upon Governor Spitzer’s proposal New York State is making a record statewide increase in school funding this year. Parents have gained the strong system of accountability proposed by Governor Spitzer that will drive funding to key educational strategies including smaller classes, full day pre-kindergarten, teacher quality, after school program and other reforms.

The fair school aid formula proposed by Governor Spitzer has been adopted largely intact. We have established the essential tool we have always lacked in order to fairly and fully fund our schools. In this budget we partially use that tool, next year, we must fully use the tool. The formula adopted this year makes an historic commitment to a fivefold growth in classroom operating aid by 2010-2011 with the lion’s share of this money going to high needs schools.

“This year, by adding his voice to the struggle for quality education, Eliot Spitzer forged a fair funding formula against fierce opposition,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education. “Now the Governor and our communities must continue hand in hand to secure an enduring legacy of educational excellence by ensuring this formula becomes the centerpiece for how we distribute every dollar of classroom funding.”