News and Speeches

Testimony of NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on the Fiscal Year 2015 Preliminary Budget Before the NYC Council Committee on Education

3/20/2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Good morning, Chair Dromm and all the members of the City Council Education Committee here today. Thank you for this opportunity to discuss Mayor de Blasio’s proposed Fiscal Year 2015 Preliminary Budget as it relates to the Department of Education (DOE) and our public schools. Seated with me are Kathleen Grimm, Deputy Chancellor for Operations, and Michael Tragale, DOE’s Chief Financial Officer.

The Mayor’s FY2015 Preliminary Budget includes an allocation of approximately $20.5 billion of operating funds and another $5.2 billion of education-related pension and debt service funds. This represents a $1.2 billion increase in total funds from FY2014: $774 million for operating funds and $426 million for pension and debt service. Our funding is a combination of City, State and federal dollars, with City tax levy dollars making up the largest share at 56 percent, State dollars at 37 percent, and federal dollars at 7 percent.

As you know, a top priority for Mayor de Blasio is providing all of our kids with access to high quality, full-day pre-k and expanding after-school and extended learning time opportunities for middle school students. And for good reason.

We know that significant growth in speech, language, and brain development occurs before kindergarten. By getting children into language-rich environments as early as possible, pre-k serves as a foundation for academic success. Since the enrollment period for public school programs opened, we have been out in communities across the City phone-banking, leafletting, and spreading the word. Through our borough-based enrollment sessions, we’re encouraging parents to sign up and helping them find programs that are right for them. So far, we’ve received enormous demand, not only from providers to offer full-day services, but also from parents. Our pre-k application numbers for public school programs are up 27 percent over this time last year.

You have heard me talk frequently about the significance of the middle school grades. As I have visited over 25 schools, I have become more convinced that these are the very crucial years to ensure higher high school graduation rates. High school is too late to start talking about graduation—the focus and discussion needs to start in middle school, particularly in 7th grade. It’s a critical time when students develop academic habits and behaviors. As we place renewed emphasis on improving classroom instruction during the school day, our after-school programs have the potential to be a support system, academically and emotionally. Not only do they help improve academic performance, they foster a sense of community at a critical time in a child’s development. We will be adding more crucial programs, such as Summer Quest, to ensure that our adolescents do not regress over summer vacation. Our pilot in the Bronx has been successful, and we need to replicate these types of programs in other high need districts throughout the City. We have also reinstituted our guidance department under Lois Herrera to ensure that high quality support is available to all, but most especially our fragile adolescents.

You know how I feel about pre-k and middle school—they’re vital to the success of our school system. We appreciate that both the State Assembly and Senate have recently proposed a funding stream to support our expansion of universal pre-k and after-school programs. But since budgets are about shared investments, this is an opportunity to tell you about how I personally plan to invest myself in our shared priority of moving our schools forward. Throughout my time in our school system, four core pillars have guided me—and they will constitute the crux of everything we do going forward.

First, teachers, principals, and school staff need to be honored, because respect for professional staff is key. For us to move schools forward, educators doing the extraordinarily hard, on-the-ground work must be valued, thanked, and supported. For too long, teachers have voiced real concerns, be they about a dearth of professional development opportunities, curricular matters, or otherwise. The result? They often felt overlooked. Educators have clamored for more support and sought ways to hone their craft—and we’re going to deliver for them. This is a profession that commands society’s respect, and our teachers deserve to be celebrated.

To that end, we have brought on Anna Commitante to head our citywide curriculum and oversee our professional development work. Her team provides educators with instructional support, which empowers them to make certain that all of our students can meet the high bar of the Common Core Learning Standards. Anna and her team have already begun and will continue to conduct targeted professional development forums including: math and literacy content seminars with coaches to address issues with Common Core implementation and a citywide conference for 1st-3rd year principals where experienced principals will present workshops on best practices, among other training events.

Her team will include Linda Curtis Bay to work on our STEM curriculum and Dr. Esther Friedman, who will ensure that interventions that have proven successful for our struggling students are available throughout the City. There will be training on all of these strategies over the next few months and into the summer to ensure that Level 1 and 2 students have the tools they need to be successful students.

Second, we must focus on improving student achievement. Common Core will move us in this direction and demystifying its components and strategies is crucial to our efforts. We need to increase graduation rates, drive proficiency up, and ensure more students are ready for college. But I also know that preparing for life is living it. When visiting schools and listening to educators, I often hear stories about how “real” teaching, engaging projects, and exciting trips are put aside, in some cases to accommodate test prep. To improve student achievement, we need to remember that it is our job to develop the whole person and to help all students.

We must place more focus on our children who need additional supports, including our students with disabilities and our English Language Learners. We must look to expand effective programs to better serve these populations. We know what works; we just need to build on good practices.

While Dr. Esther Friedman will be developing curriculum and intervention models for our struggling students, we will also be looking at how we can better support our schools that are in most need. Sharon Rencher has joined my leadership team to make sure we are working closely with the State in assisting our struggling schools. We can no longer just call them our struggling schools, they are our priority schools. She has already developed a plan for school visits to which every deputy chancellor is committed to follow.

My third pillar is family engagement. We want to engage with all of those who want to work with us. Schools are often like second homes—great schools foster emotional connections with students and their families. They’re successful when parents feel ownership, when they “buy in” to the efforts of a school. It’s our goal not just to develop a parent-friendly system—we know we have a long way to go—but also to develop partners. From now until the end of the school year, the DOE will host a number of citywide parent and family-oriented conferences, workshops, and town hall meetings to help parents understand the parent-leadership structures at the school, district, and City levels and seek their assistance in moving the DOE forward.

In April, we are hosting a conference for families of students with disabilities. And over the next few months, we will host borough-based conferences for parents of English Language Learners. Additionally, we will offer Parent Academy workshops to provide families, parent leaders, and staff with information and resources to support them in helping their students learn and achieve.

The more we empower our stakeholders with information on our education policies, the better the results for our kids. To that end, this past Friday we held a training session for elected officials, Community Education Council members, and Panel for Education Policy members. The aim? To demystify the Common Core Learning Standards. There were over 50 attendees—and some of you were there. These are workshops that we will continue, and not only because their sheer existence represents a change in tone. The more educated our communities are about the inner workings of our schools, the more invested they will be in fixing them.

As Deputy Chancellor Grimm discussed with you on Tuesday, we have also established a working group to provide a practical and honest reflection of space and building utilization in our schools. This Blue Book Working Group, named after a space planning guide for our school buildings, is a result of my sincere belief that, as a tool, the Blue Book should be made more transparent, more accurate, and easier to understand. The first Blue Book Working Group meeting was held just two weeks ago and my staff and I are excited about its potential.

And for the fourth, and last pillar—we need to innovate and partner. I recently made my twenty eighth school visit as Chancellor and I was struck by one single truth: successful schools have productive partnerships. Wonderful things are happening in our schools, and by identifying and sharing best practices, we can improve the quality of schools across the City through collaboration and partnership. I will soon be meeting with many CBO’s and nonprofits to discuss how we might collaborate to improve student outcomes.

As this budget helps move our school system forward, these are the pillars that will guide me and the Department. We have a renewed emphasis on improving instructional practice and enhancing professional development for educators, which will help improve student outcomes. We are changing the way we make decisions so that all of our stakeholders feel included in the process. And that will help us innovate and develop even more partnerships.

We have an outstanding team of leaders and educators to implement these pillars. In January, Dr. Dorita Gibson assumed the role of Senior Deputy Chancellor and my second in command. In this new and expanded role, she will oversee all aspects of school support. Phil Weinberg, a 28-year veteran of our schools, will oversee our recently reinstated Division of Teaching and Learning, which will include professional development, instructional support, Common Core and college-readiness initiatives, and our efforts to develop model schools to share best practices throughout the City.

Kathleen Grimm, sitting next to me and who spoke to you Tuesday, will remain in her current role as Deputy Chancellor for Operations and her goal will be to create and foster school environments conducive to learning, both inside and outside the classroom.

And Corinne Rello-Anselmi will be the Deputy Chancellor for Specialized Instruction and Student Support where she will oversee the Office of English Language Learners and the Office of  Special Education and continue to spearhead initiatives to enhance academic support, and strengthen family engagement to ensure that our most vulnerable students have access to a rigorous academic curriculum that prepares them for college and careers. We have an excellent group of leaders. 

Many positive changes for our students are already underway, but we need the resources to accomplish our goals. You are well aware that in 2007, the New York State Legislature and Governor acted on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling. The State’s obligation to ensure every student’s constitutional right to a sound education should have ended the unfair distribution of State aid to local school districts. And yet, since 2009, the State has not met the court-ordered obligation to our City and other school districts elsewhere in the State.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Speaker Mark-Viverito, Chair Dromm and many other City Council members for reminding the Governor in a March 11 letter of the State’s obligation to this commitment. In Fiscal Year 2015 alone, there is a shortfall of over $2.7 billion of outstanding additional foundation aid to New York City schools.

Eliminating this shortfall will go a long way in moving our schools forward. And without these fiscal remedies, principals will be forced to make decisions they should not have to—about cuts to necessary programs and about sacrifices due to inadequate funding. Our students deserve better. They deserve what is rightfully, and constitutionally, theirs. We ask that the State make good on their obligation to our students.

One last note before I close: my staff and I have met with many of you in the past few weeks to discuss your priorities and concerns. And it is clear to me that you are committed to being our partners toward a shared goal—ensuring that New York City students have access to the best education possible, as early as possible, with the supports in place that will follow them through every stage of their academic careers.

It is my goal to make New York the premier education system in not just the country, but the world. We are a world-class city with world-class offerings—museums, parks, monuments, and so many other attractions. We need to create a world-class school system. That means our dollars, and our energy, needs to be focused on improving each and every classroom. With your help, we’re going to get there. Our guiding principles will be equity for all, collaboration with everyone, and capacity building to ensure success for all stakeholders.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify. I will now answer any questions you may have.