Close Edgewood School? Never Mind

Christopher Peak PhotoA day after threatening to close schools in the neighborhoods of some budget-cutting alders, Board of Education members sought forgiveness from the same alders — along with more money.

On Monday, the Finance & Operations Committee asked Superintendent Carol Birks to look at closing six elementary schools, including a top-performing magnet and a successful turnaround. On Tuesday, Darnell Goldson, the Board of Education’s president, issued an apology — and a $5 million ask — to Tyisha Walker-Myers, the Board of Alders’s president.

In a letter emailed Tuesday afternoon, Goldson said he took “full responsibility” for any “misunderstanding” that made it look like certain alders were targeted.

“I sincerely apologize for the confusion surrounding the release of that list,” Goldson wrote. “In our desire to be as transparent as possible, we erred by mislabeling the list [as school closures and consolidations] and not adequately and more clearly explaining its meaning. Additionally, any appearance of targeting certain areas, groups or individuals was merely coincidental and again was the result of our mishandled rollout.”

At the finance meeting, the committee reeled from finding out that alders intended to reject Mayor Toni Harp’s request for a $5 million increase in school spending and instead flat-line funding for next year’s budget.

Having just voted to close one high school and consolidate three alternative schools, Goldson said he was “surprised” to hear that alders wanted even deeper cuts.

Over several hours on Monday, the committee members strategized how they could come up with an additional $6.8 million on top of the $13.2 million in cuts they already had planned.

In one surprise measure, Jamell Cotto, the committee’s vice-chair, amended the agenda to request that Birks look at closing Barnard Environmental Studies Magnet in Walker-Myers’s Ward 23 (and Augusta Lewis Troup right next door in Ward 2), Wexler-Grant Community in President Pro Tempore Jeanette Morrison’s Ward 22, West Rock STREAM Academy in Majority Leader Richard Furlow’s Ward 27, Edgewood Magnet in Finance Committee Vice-Chair Adam Marchand’s Ward 25, and Quinnipiac Real World STEM Magnet in Legislation Committee Chair Rosa Ferraro Santana’s Ward 13.

At the meeting, Cotto didn’t offer any explanation for why the schools were targeted.

After adjourning, Goldson said that the schools had failing test scores, but that was true for only three of the six; Cotto said that the schools were so racially segregated that they risked state sanctions, but again, that was true for only one of the six.

Asked whether she felt Wexler-Grant had been targeted, Morrison said, “I’m going to take the high road and say I hope not.” She added that she still wants an assurance that the Board of Education plans to restart the discussion of school closures with a clearer idea of “who, what, where and why,” like she felt Birks laid out with the shuttering of Creed and consolidation of alternative schools.

Marchand said that announcement of schools had been “abrupt.”

“I think it’s really on the Board of Education to explain themselves and what their process is,” Marchand said. “I think residents and parents are going to have really good questions for the board about how they plan to proceed and how they bring up topics for discussion at a meeting — topics that aren’t even on the agenda.”

In his apology to Walker-Myers, Goldson said that the Board of Education really wanted to look at data for every single school in New Haven, but had mistakenly decided to start with a small group.

“The schools were part of a much larger list, which would eventually include ALL schools in the district. The original goal was to begin to collect information on all of the schools in the district, with an eye towards determining where we might want to focus reductions,” Goldson wrote. “The chair thought it was more prudent to request the information in smaller groups, as not to incite anxiety in the public. It obviously had the opposite effect.”

After saying sorry, Goldson pointed out that the Board of Education is still facing a major fiscal crisis and needed every dollar of the $5 million that Harp had requested, which was half of what the board originally wanted.

If the school board didn’t get the money, school closures were still on the table, he added.

“The $5 million is not a request for a wish list of items, it actually funds existing fixed costs such as rising energy costs, contractual responsibilities, etc., which have to be met,” Goldson wrote. “The result of not granting the increase will be catastrophic. We will undoubtedly have additional layoffs and perhaps school closings. We will make cuts as far away from the classrooms and students as possible, but there are no guarantees based on this current BOA finance committee recommendation.”

Goldson argued that a $5 million increase was a “modest” increase of 2.6 percent. In fact, it was similar to the raise that alders had just awarded to Mayor Harp.

“We have made structural changes towards reducing our deficit. We intend to do more. Our staff, particularly those in the classrooms — our teacher and assistant teachers — deserve to receive the tools needed to teach. We need to make sure our schools are secure and safe for students and staff, and that too has a cost. We have books in our schools declaring Bill Clinton as the current president. We have dated computers which essentially serve as paperweights. We actually have schools which have no budgets for supplies; teachers are buying their own and are raising money through crowdfunding,” Goldson concluded.

“We have to structurally fix the system to correct these problems. But our jobs become much more difficult if the BOA does not adequately fund education. On behalf of the BOE I respectfully request that the BOA make education the number-one priority, return the $5 million to our budget and work with us to reform education to better meet the needs of our New Haven families.”

In response to Goldson’s plea, Marchand stressed that the city is facing difficult financial circumstances and has limited cash to spread around. He said that the committee’s decision to flat-fund schools wasn’t meant to spite anyone.

“We are in very difficult circumstance. It’s not like the board decided in the Finance Committee to say no to that request [for a $5 million increase] because we wanted to punish anybody. We’re in a tight spot, and we have to make some really hard decisions that require some sacrifices from lots of different parts of our government,” he said.

Marchand added that he was open to hearing proposals for increasing school funding before the full board votes on the budget next Tuesday.

“I know there’s going to be lots and lots of conversation, and I can’t predict how that’s going to go,” he said. “If people have other ideas and proposals to deal with the challenges we face, I and others will be more than happy to hear those, but there’s not going to be a single easy decision to make in this budget process.”

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posted by: anonymous on May 23, 2018  1:17pm

“In one surprise measure, Jamell Cotto, the committee’s vice-chair, amended the agenda to request that Birks look at closing Barnard Environmental Studies Magnet in Walker-Myers’s Ward 23 (and Augusta Lewis Troup right next door in Ward 2), Wexler-Grant Community in President Pro Tempore Jeanette Morrison’s Ward 22, West Rock STREAM Academy in Majority Leader Richard Furlow’s Ward 27, Edgewood Magnet in Finance Committee Vice-Chair Adam Marchand’s Ward 25, and Quinnipiac Real World STEM Magnet in Legislation Committee Chair Rosa Ferraro Santana’s Ward 13.”

“Any appearance of targeting certain areas, groups or individuals was merely coincidental”

LOL

posted by: West.ville on May 23, 2018  1:31pm

Goldson is unwilling to send his own children to our schools. He is proof of the flight that would have begun. Thank you for apologizing and understanding. I hope for better in the future.

posted by: FacChec on May 23, 2018  1:44pm

What difference or sense does it make that the proposed school closing is in a particular Alders ward…that’s right none at all. The only aspect of this story that suggest that Goldson, Cotto and the rest of this crew seems to have gotten right is the continued begging for the $5M reduction voted by the finance committee, which contrary to the article is not headed by Adam Marcrand, but, by Evettet Hamilton. So why all the apologies? schools somewhere in an Alders ward will have to be reduced, this is not a political football Goldson. Two facts are made clear by the Governors FY 18/19. The BOA will receive the same amount it received last FY= $154M for ECS, including Special education budget. That magnet schools will receive an increase, and non statutory grants will be reduced, but not for alliance districts like New Haven. The second FAC is that New Haven city while receiving a reduction in pilot and colleges aid overall, New Haven will receive the same amount it received last year and not a $5M cut as the Mayor’s budget suggest.

The BOA’s $14M deficit was mainly brought about due to the ending of the Teachers incentive Grant not being renewed by the federal Government. Therefore layoffs and reduction is the prudent method in this case.

Goldson confirms that KIDS never were first with his statements:

“We have books in our schools declaring Bill Clinton as the current president. We have dated computers which essentially serve as paperweights. We actually have schools which have no budgets for supplies; teachers are buying their own and are raising money through crowd funding,” Goldson concluded.

posted by: darnell on May 23, 2018  1:45pm

The BOA has 30 members. There is a a president, president pro temp, majority leader, assist majority leader, minority leader, assist min leader, 10 committee chairs and another 10 vice chairs, 11 members of the finance committee, caucus leaders, etc. it would impossible to throw a stone in the board’s direction and not hit a leader. Any school discussed would be on some leader’s list.

posted by: newhavenishome on May 23, 2018  1:55pm

Oh to be a fly on the wall!
The only thing transparent about the BOE is thier rookie retaliatory measures.
Harp needs to get rid of Cotto. He is a loose cannon and is negatively impacting her standing with New Haven voters.
Cotto created a public relations disaster. Good luck getting those coveted suburban families to send thier kids to ANY school in a New Haven after this. Who could have any faith in this BOE to do the right thing?
This is a huge complex problem. Cuts need to be made…in a thoughtful, impactful manner. Birks and Harp need to take control and slash the central office expenses first and foremost in a very public manner. Then revisit closing schools.

posted by: tmctague on May 23, 2018  2:15pm

Darnell,

If it wasn’t based on the metrics mentioned in the article (test scores, specific No Voting wards, racial segregation, etc.), then how was that exact list created?  Did you pick the names out of a hat?  When does your board typically discuss possible schools for closure?  What is the process? 

Concerned,
Terence McTague
Teacher, NHPS

posted by: NHLearner on May 23, 2018  2:21pm

Why is the headline about Edgewood? Our other schools don’t matter?? Only complaints from certain neighborhoods matter?

The fact is that there are more students in New Haven Schools than there were 5 or 10 years ago, and we get the same funding. That’s from suburban kids and those living in New Haven. If the state followed its own funding formulas for ECS and PILOT, we would be able to take in every student that applied and be able to deal with it.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 23, 2018  2:27pm

Budget on Crack Notes:

1. Just say No or face #NOvember.

2. Taxpayers have been saddled for years with runaway employment at the city level - more than 5,000 city employees. The school system has a long history of warehousing the friends, family and double dippers burying them among good and needed. It’s time to end it.

3. The BOE has been told and so has the BOA that taxpayers cannot afford higher taxes to pay for runaway spending and extravagant schools. But the BOE persisted - we had to have the biggest and the best and the BOA rubber-stamped every single new school - the first which only cost $10 million all the way to $45 and $50 million per building - and a whopping $85 million plus at ESUMS.

4. We testified against the new Strong School but the BOA and BOE persisted.

5. Stop wringing your hands. Consolidate and cut. Taxpayers don’t have the $5 million and we damn sure don’t have Mayor Harp’s $30 million tax hike. Do what we do at home. We cut. We do without. It’s time to change.

posted by: heightster77 on May 23, 2018  2:31pm

The only thing missing at these meetings are wigs, red noses, and big shoes

posted by: Noteworthy on May 23, 2018  2:33pm

Right On FAC -

So the school system is not getting the federal money - but the state money is intact. Great. Reduce staff, close schools if necessary. Get on with it. This always happens when one of our departments chases state or federal grants. One day, the grant is not there. It happens. That’s why you don’t get permanently attached to the teat. You wean yourself off - or should have.

posted by: ClassActionToo on May 23, 2018  2:37pm

Someone, please educate me. Why does the BOE need millions of dollars more every year? Is it due to increased staff salaries/benefits, transportation costs, building upkeep, etc? Seriously, why millions every year?

posted by: Molly W on May 23, 2018  3:17pm

There are so many important things to be talking about and changing in regard to our schools. New Haven has seriously committed residents that believe in public schools and want to honor and defend them and help be part of making them more equitable. When this kind of bomb-lobbing happens, it sets the district back and moves the conversations into differently urgent and really heedless areas.

We need a baseline commitment to be careful, transparent, and collaborative if we are going to harness the will, across the entire city, to talk about important issues in all of our schools: that they are under-resourced and segregated; white people talk about only 1.5 schools as being “good enough for their kids to go to”; tracking and its baked-in racism; truly restorative practices are not being widely adopted and used; test score mantling; and suspension and expulsion rates (and their baked-in racism) are far too high. But there are so many of us that don’t wish to make these demands from a distance and then expect their change from equal distance… we want to collaborate and help… but the current BOE is far too often distracting, punishing, and volatile. And many parents can be the same way, expecting things only for their own children but remain unwilling to fight for all kids. Many just leave.

BOE, let’s please step back, talk openly about our visions, drop the vendettas, and start working together. And as a side note: I don’t think a lot of the city knows a lick about magnet schools and their compliance issues. If some schools are out of compliance, let’s start the conversation well before shutting schools down.

*A report was recently released, by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, on the 2013 Chicago school closures and how closing them did nothing to help and only set the city’s children and schools back: https://www.wbez.org/shows/wbez-news/study-2013-chicago-school-closings-failed-to-help-students/0eea4948-78dc-4fc9-9c45-0750584cb9f4

posted by: Peter99 on May 23, 2018  4:02pm

This was a stupid, blatant, kneejerk,  targeted, retaliatory attack. That said, a spread sheet with every school in New Haven should be created with columns that measure all of the key items that have meaning in making a decision to close or consolidate a school. The numbers will speak for themselves, and the schools can be ranked from high to low. The dollars it takes to run each school should also be listed in a separate column. Once a decision is made as to how many dollars can be budgeted to run the schools, the low schools on the list are scheduled to be closed until the required dollar figure is achieved. I am aware that this entire subject is packed with emotion, but decisions need to be based on facts, and reality is hard to argue with. We taxpayers are to the point where another tax increase will bury us. Expenses need to be cut across the entire budget. Politics be damned, start cutting.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 23, 2018  6:14pm

Molly - the NHPS did not convert to magnets gor any educational/best for the child rationale. It was purely about the money. We got paid more for magnets, got paid more to be inter-district, got paid more to be more integrated. It was always about the money. Only about the money. The kids? Just a vehicle for more state and federal money. Why do you think “reform” came to New Haven? Money. Federal grants. Lots of it.

posted by: Olorin on May 23, 2018  11:29pm

Noteworthy: Nope. The first magnets (HSC, Sound, CoOp, Career) were founded well before any state or federal grant money was available. They were founded absolutely with students at the center as an alternative to the big comprehensives in order to capture student interest and enthusiasm and better engage them in the educational process. They existed in temporary and reject facilities with hardly any funding at all. In some respects, those early magnets drove the subsequent money grab you describe since they were recognised statewide and nationally as exemplars to be replicated. That this happened in the early/mid 90s when the city’s fiscal situation was at least as bad as it is now meant that the city could not help but take advantage of the opportunities offered. A lot of slop crept into the process from that point forward, which you rightfully decry. But please don’t say it was solely about the cash with no regard for kids. To do so denigrates the hard and visionary work of those seminal schools of choice and their founders (Foote, Linehan, et al) and the risks they took to make school better for kids for whom it kinda sucked up to that point.

posted by: 1644 on May 24, 2018  7:24am

Molly W:  CPS did not close schools to improve student performance. It closed them for the same reason NHPS is closing them: to save money.  CPS, and, to a lesser extent,  Chicago and Cook County are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.  The problems of Illinois are well-known, and it competes with Connecticut for the most poorly managed state. CPS’s credit rating has improved somewhat since this article, but it gives one an idea of the financial condition of CPS and Illinois. 
https://www.illinoispolicy.org/sp-hits-chicago-public-schools-with-credit-downgrade/

posted by: concerned_neighbor on May 24, 2018  9:08am

While I respect those who undertake to serve in elected or appointed office, I have to remember that some do not always serve with the good of the community in mind. I have to remember that these thankless tasks, second-guessed at every turn and examined in the press, are performed largely by volunteers. Many highly qualified people do not serve because that do not want the associated headaches that go along with the job. Regrettably, that leaves open those who are unqualified and who do not necessarily have the community’s best interests at heart.

From this article I can’t tell whether Goldson and Cotto are incompetent clowns or intentional saboteurs. Dr. Birks is working hard at righting the ship at NHPS and the BOE, instead of as a board of directors, evaluating broad policy and direction (like you see at successful corporations everywhere) have taken the first step as officious inter-meddlers, micro-managing busybodies, starting to get in the way of Dr. Birks.

In any other industry, a shortfall of $20 million would result in drastic and immediate cuts TO STOP THE BLEEDING. Belt-tightening makes everyone figure out how to do more with less. Let Dr. Birks balance the budget, trim where needed, and get the finances under control. The BOE will talk this to death while millions more go down the drain. Get out of her way.