Thursday, January 22, 2015

Response to Governor Cuomo's Budget Proposal 2015:

As most folks are likely well aware throughout the state, yesterday (Wednesday, January 21st) Governor Cuomo presented his 2015-2016 New York State Budget Proposal.  Most school district officials were well attuned with the basic assumptions regarding what he would speak to . . . we were not aware of the specific details included in the contents of his speech ahead of time.

It was believed he would identify the Teacher (and Principal) performance system (APPR) as a major concern for him - especially as the scores appear inflated from his perspective.  He also identified the concept of 3-year terms for teachers earning tenure being too short; the Governor's proposal includes lengthening the non-tenure term to five (5) years and link it directly to evaluation scores.

Although, these issues identified above are not insignificant . . . the major issue Governor Cuomo included was tying these two issues (APPR & Tenure) to the State Aid provided directly to school districts.

Considering the devil is in the details -- right now, there is very little in the way of details.  Listening to the Governor’s speech yesterday, I am somewhat encouraged by some of his ideas; I am concerned by others; but, ultimately the budget did not match up several of the important details of his stated proposals.  The most important of which is the funding that schools rely on to make budgeting decisions each spring.  Without concrete details of what funds schools could expect to receive, it is impossible to determine whether any of these proposals are viable.

I am hopeful that the Governor will provide further clarity and specific details on the funding proposals that he mentioned in his speech very soon.  Without that clarity, it is impossible to say whether this budget does anything to help our school district.

Obviously, more information will follow.  As I specified in earlier blogs - we begin the budgeting process in November; the State Aid runs are "typically" provided to schools in mid to late January.  Without the State Aid formula and calculations provided - it is absolutely impossible to balance [with any certainty] the revenues with our proposed appropriations or expenses.  This mechanism of handcuffing schools within the political arena does nothing but directly impact our students negatively.

Mark F. Potter, Ed. D.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy New Year . . . I am looking forward to an eventful, exciting, fruitful, and awesome 2015!

As we begin the New Year, some changes have transpired at the State Education Department in Albany, New York.  Our "former" Commissioner of Education, Dr. John King has resigned and moved on as a senior cabinet member for the United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  This transition in leadership at the helm for the New York State Department of Education brings many more questions . . . than answers.

With that thought, New York Chancellor Merryl Tisch had recently announced her New Year resolution -- to revise the teacher evaluation system so that Common Core 3-8 test scores can trump all other forms of teacher and principal performance evaluation mechanisms.  Our current evaluation system utilizes a combination of 3 calculation factors to assimilate one's final score - based on the HEDI rubric (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, and Ineffective).  The three scores are comprised of 20% Common Core State Assessments (or SLOs), 20% Local Achievement Scores, and 60% Classroom Performance Evaluations.  It was believed by John King, Merryl Tisch, and Governor Cuomo . . . that once the APPR system was implemented (Annual Professional Performance Review) the "typical" bell curve outcome for evaluation scores for would produce about 10% ineffective educators, 10% highly effective educators, followed by the bulk of teachers and principals falling somewhere in the middle.  This has clearly not been the case - for a multitude of reasons.  

So what is to be expected for 2015?  First and foremost, a teacher (and principal) improvement and mentoring system cannot be confused with an evaluation tool.  There is very little correlation between the outcomes (or growth scores) for students --- based on the 3-8 SED methodology for students stacked together and the growth "awarded" to classroom teachers for each sub-group of students (based on socio-economics, limited English learners, and students with disabilities). Secondly, the SED's "value-added" methodology puts the effectiveness of student's growth on a trajectory which places teachers in competition amongst one another -- competing for 'limited available' scores or points, as students grow academically -- based on state-wide percentiles.  So, likely much more conversation, discussion, and debate over how to best determine if our best educators are positioned in classrooms guiding our students each and every day.

We recently kicked off the 2015-2016 budget planning cycle; our timeline provides an overview and presentation to the Liverpool Board of Education on Monday, February 23, 2015.  This early snapshot is followed by several more weeks of discussion and evaluation of the needs for all district programs weighed against the mission, vision, beliefs and goals of the school district.  District residents will have the opportunity vote on the annual operating budget on May 19th.

> What are the State's finances currently:  With recently financial windfalls (bank settlements), the state has approximately $4 billion more than expected.

> Who else is competing for state dollars:  Charter Schools, Technology Infrastructure, and the Gap Elimination Assessment are all playing significant roles for priorities from the perspective of Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature.  The question remains how does the state aid formula play in efforting an equitable (although not equal) distribution of funds across all 700 (or so) public-school districts.

> What is the Governor's commitment to public education:  The Governor has made very little commitment or commentary regarding new initiatives and priorities for the 2015-2016 budget.  He has focused (most recently from the election outcomes) on privatization of public education - especially linked to the tax cap.  He has also identified that Charter Schools will remain a mainstay for funding streams - even at the expense of public education budgets. 

> What is the Legislature's commitment to public education:  It is hopeful that the Legislature will follow their 2014-2015 measures and add modest increases to public education funding over and above the Governor's draft for education spending in the proposed budget. 

> What circumstances will come to bear to influence the process:  The "X" factors finding their way into the discussion for next year's spending unfortunately may have very little to do with academics, students, or even local school needs.  The focus in Albany may revolve around politics and future options for higher office.  The re-election support certainly seems to favor more focus on Charter Schools; there is an obvious dedication to revamping APPR and the accountability for school staff; and lastly, the Governor has decided that green/renewable energy and entrepreneurial efforts will provide some level of legacy for his reign as the leader of New York State.

The February 2015 Blog will focus on our local initiatives and efforts for guiding our students as we continue to prepare them for 21st century skills and expectations, along with College and Career Readiness.