New York School Districts Face Financial, Educational Insolvency: Superintendents Survey

Workers set up voting equipment in East Elementary School in Long Beach, N.Y., Monday Nov. 5, 2012, as it is readied to serve
Workers set up voting equipment in East Elementary School in Long Beach, N.Y., Monday Nov. 5, 2012, as it is readied to serve as a polling station for election day Tuesday. Officials are working to hold a national election in storm-ravaged sections of New York and New Jersey barely a week after Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

More than half of New York's superintendents say they won't be able to keep up with student instruction mandates, and 41 percent say it'll only be two to four years before they will no longer be able to survive financially, according to a recent survey.

The New York State Council of School Superintendents conducted the online member survey of 249 superintendents in August and September.

Fifty-one percent of district superintendents said they foresee educational insolvency within four years, 19 percent within two years, in which their districts will no longer be able to fund all state and federally mandated student instruction and services.

More than three-quarters of schools chiefs predict that their districts will, at some point, no longer be able to balance budgets to cover financial obligations -- 9 percent foresee financial insolvency within two years, while 41 percent predict the same within four years.

“The challenge school district leaders face is not just balancing budgets, but improving educational outcomes and providing students with the learning needed to excel in the real world,” Council Executive Director Robert Reidy said in a statement. “But under current state educational policies, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do both. We’re being forced to cut staff and eliminate programs and this has an inevitable impact on learning.”

The sentiment among school superintendents reflect a statewide push for stronger student performance while grappling with limited budgets. New York is one of 46 states and the District of Columbia to adopt the Common Core State Standards, a set of national guidelines aimed at teaching a narrower spectrum of subjects but in greater depth. The standards also require teaching some concepts in earlier grades than they were previously taught — a stipulation that has proved challenging for teachers transitioning to the Common Core.

Speaking to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission this fall, NYC Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky said both the city and other school districts require additional funding if they are to successfully implement the sweeping new guidelines.

Polakow-Suransky said the funding would go toward buying new books, software and other learning tools aligned to the Core, as well as developing more rigorous standardized assessments for each grade level.

For the first time, student results on said tests are expected to factor into teachers’ evaluations, along with additional criteria.

William Gotsch, a fourth-grade teacher at Madrid-Waddington Central School in Madrid, N.Y. has urged state officials to reconsider new education standards, saying that the common core sample math questions are too difficult for his 8- and 9-year-olds.

Gotsch told the Watertown Daily Times that fourth graders will be expected to form algebraic equations from multi-step problems and calculate geometric angles at a level “too high for fourth-graders to complete.

“I had an advanced eighth-grade student take the test. The student could not get through the first two questions,” Gotsch told the paper.

Of the small city superintendents who responded to the Council survey, 43 percent described their districts' financial condition as "poor" or "very poor," while an overwhelming majority are worried that the district is, or will, rely heavily on reserve funds.

As a third of the districts cut sports and other extracurricular activities this year -- on top of the more than 50 percent that slashed them last year, superintendents expressed hope that the state will provide mandatory relief. They also wish for reform of a law that promises teacher salary increases even after their contracts expire.

The state has increased school funding by 4 percent this year, following two years of cuts and one year of flat spending. According to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, New York has seen a 0.1 percent decrease in per-pupil spending since 2008, but has increased per-student dollars by $272 in the last year.

The concern among state superintendents also come amid the looming so-called fiscal cliff. Education advocates say that across-the-board cuts could threaten nationwide supports for America's children. A Senate report predicts that if Congress doesn't soon provide a solution to the pending automatic budget cuts, Title I funds for poor students, state grants for special education and the Head Start public pre-school program stand to lose $2.7 billion over 10 years. Teacher job losses could amount to 15,000, and as many as 10,000 special education workers could face pink slips.

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