New York State School Boards Association
On Board Online November 19 2012
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Districts slowly recover from Sandy

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior writer

OB111912At least 100 Long Island schools were damaged when Superstorm Sandy roared ashore overnight on Oct. 29, including about 10 that will need major renovations because of deep saltwater flooding, according to a State Education Department official who toured the region with local school leaders.

“It was painful to see,” said Assistant Commissioner Chuck Szuberla, recalling a flooded middle school where new library books had just been placed on shelves in preparation for a ribbon-cutting.

No one has yet tried to put a price tag on the school recovery costs. But Nassau BOCES District Superintendent Thomas Rogers expects it will easily reach into the tens of millions of dollars.

“There is not a school district on Long Island that has come out of this unscathed,” Nassau Suffolk School Boards Association Lorriane Deller told On Board on Nov. 8, while she was bundled against the cold in an office that remained without heat.

At least 358 districts across the state closed some or all of their schools for at least a day after Sandy hit, according to the State Education Department. Closings at dozens of districts on Long Island extended for more than a week, and several that had opened were forced to close again on Nov. 8 because of snow and ice dropped by a Nor’easter.

Students whose families lost homes have been hard to locate. Some are in shelters, some are staying with friends or relatives and some are in hotels. Some parents have taken advantage of their rights under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act and enrolled their children in other schools. 

New conversation urged about suicide prevention

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

By Merri Rosenberg
Special correspondent

OB111912-2When suicide strikes a school community, should flags be flown at half-mast? Is it appropriate to allow people to post comments on the district’s Facebook page?

Although it’s not often easy for school personnel to know the best approach to console those who are grieving, a new set of guidelines may help them respond to suicides as well as take appropriate steps to prevent them. This fall, the National Action Alliance for Suicide

Prevention and the U.S. Surgeon General released a National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

“This is relevant for schools,” said Linda Bakst, deputy director of policy services for NYSSBA. “A lot of school districts have serious concerns. Suicide is traumatic for everyone involved. When schools do have a tragedy like that, they need guidance.”

It’s not just a job for school counselors, said Christine Miara of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. “Teens are at risk of suicide. Within schools, everyone has a role to play. Staff and students need to be able to identify students who are vulnerable.”

Students need to feel they belong and know where to get help, Miara said. “The key action is having this culture that promotes connectedness, where students feel a sense of connection to the school staff and feel they have support. Everybody needs to know who the mental health contact is.”

Because bullying is considered a risk factor for suicides, a suicide prevention plan may fit in with districts’ efforts to comply with New York’s new Dignity for All Students Act.

“Local suicides of students had a bullying component,” said Kathy Miller, a certified Olweus Bullying Prevention Program trainer at Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES in Syracuse. “This is helping to raise people’s awareness. If students are being bullied and harassed, you see more people stepping up, speaking out and taking action. There are no statistics on student suicide related to past bullying, but it’s significant enough that you have to pay attention. School has to be a safe place for everybody.”

Sandy, climate change and schools

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

Thomas J. Nespeca
NYSSBA President

Thomas J. NespecaOB121912-2aHurricane Sandy swept through New York, leaving a trail of physical devastation, heartbreak and displaced lives in its wake. The storm flooded lower Manhattan and parts of Long Island, downed trees, cut off fuel supplies and left millions without power.

Last year, a similar catastrophe occurred upstate, when Tropical Storms Irene and Lee delivered a dramatic one-two punch that left schools flooded, roads unpassable and residents wondering where to turn next.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently commented that we are having a 100-year storm every two years. “It’s undeniable that the frequency of extreme weather conditions is up, and we’re going to have to learn from that, and that’s going to be the next chapter of this situation,” remarked the governor.

It is frightening to think that storms of this magnitude could occur on a regular basis.

TRS rate expected to jump in 2013-14

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

OB111912-2aSchool district contributions to the state Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) are expected to jump to at least 15.5 percent for the 2013-14 school year, according to an administrative bulletin issued by the pension plan. 

The 2013-14 rate is expected to be between 15.5 percent and 16.5 percent, up from 11.84 percent in 2012-13. This rate will apply to fiscal year 2013-14 TRS payroll and will be collected in the fall of 2014.

Four TRS representatives plan to meet with NYSSBA’s Board of Directors at its Dec. 1 meeting. They are: Thomas Lee, executive director; Wayne Schneider, general counsel; Richard Young, actuary; and Michael Kraus, board member.

The TRS board will not formally adopt a rate until next July, but provides advance notice to help school districts with planning and budgeting. TRS will issue another bulletin in February 2013 with a more precise estimate of the employer contribution rate.

Talk vs. action: Keep your eye on Pre-K

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior writer

Two lines of public conversation about education in New York – one centered on boosting student achievement and the other on helping school districts cope with a tightening financial vise – are converging in a surprising place: the pre-kindergarten classroom.

Money spent on pre-K will help more students succeed and reduce government expenditures ranging from remedial education to prisons, advocates say.

“We have a belief that this is a place, even in a time of constrained financial resources, where we can have an impact” on college- and career-readiness, Regent James Tallon said as he led a discussion of the board’s State Aid Subcommittee last month.

Spending more on pre-K also could be a politically popular recommendation for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission. Over months of hearings throughout the state, the commission has repeatedly heard testimony citing research showing that children who attend pre-K programs are less likely to require costly remedial services later and more likely to succeed in high school and college.

NYSSBA proposes four steps for state hurricane relief

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

By David Albert
Director of Communications and Research

NYSSBA is asking state lawmakers to take up four steps to help school districts affected by Hurricane Sandy and other catastrophic events.

For one, NYSSBA is calling on lawmakers to exempt school districts from the 180-day attendance requirement for state aid. While the commissioner of education may waive up to five days, many schools will exceed those five days. In fact, dozens of school districts were closed for multiple days as a result of Sandy.

“While in a perfect world schools would make up lost time, the fact is, that just may not be possible and we should hold those districts harmless from the loss of state aid,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy Kremer.

Second, NYSSBA is asking lawmakers to grant school districts the authority to expend money during the 2012-13 school year beyond the limits approved by voters in the 2012-2013 school budget. This is necessary because many districts face unexpected costs such as leasing facilities, making tuition payments to other districts, repairing and replacing school buses, implementing new bus routes and emergency staffing levels.

Little relationship between tougher standards and higher achievement

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

Tougher curricular standards appear to have little impact on overall student achievement but may raise achievement of eighth-graders, according to a study by a professor at Harvard University.

Joshua Goodman of Harvard’s School of Government matched up data on state-level student achievement from 1994 through 2011 with measures of the quality of states’ curricular standards as judged by two independent organizations – the American Federation of Teachers and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute – at three different moments in time.

Extended learning time shows promise, but more study needed

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

Expanded learning time programs, such as longer school years and school days, show promise in improving educational outcomes, but research is too limited to make broad generalizations about their effectiveness, according to a recently published study commissioned by the Wallace Foundation.

The Child Trends study was based on an analysis of previous studies of three expanded learning time models: Extended School Day (ESD), which lengthens the school day beyond the typical 6.5 hours; Extended School Year (ESY), which lengthens the school year beyond the standard 180 school days; and Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO), which provides extra academic help during or outside of schools or outside of regular operating school-day hours.

Getting to yes in your district’s teacher contract negotiations

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

Getting to yes in your district’s teacher contract negotiations

By Howard Smith

OB111912-9aIn gearing up for teacher contract negotiations, school boards often form negotiating positions by defining a list of “gotta haves.” After the give-and-take of the negotiation process, board members can be disappointed when the agreement that they are asked to approve does not match their expectations. The key to a negotiations process that is successful and satisfies your board’s goals is working with your negotiator to develop a well-informed set of expectations.

Begin by reviewing relevant data. While comparisons with other school districts in the region are important, they tempt board members to cherry pick what they consider to be the best features of the other contracts with the unrealistic expectation that they can somehow be assembled into a single, substantially more management-friendly contract. Expanding the kind of data you consult will open new options. For example, it has become increasingly apparent to the general public that there is a growing gap between the benefits and salary guarantees offered by teacher contracts and the declining benefits packages and lack of salary guarantees for employees in other sectors. Seek salary and benefits data for other sectors, such as major private and government employers in the region. Such data are starting to make their way into fact-finding opinions that are issued when negotiations deadlock.

A journalist’s view on civics education

On Board Online • November 19, 2012

By Eric D. Randall

OB111912-13aI first met education writer Lawrence Hardy at a National School Boards Association conference more than a decade ago. Energetic and mirthful, he can find more things to chuckle over in a conversation than Joe Biden in debate mode. He has been an editor at the American School Board Journal magazine since 1997 and previously was a reporter for the Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress and the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal.

Larry wrote the cover story for ASBJ’s Nov. 2012 issue, which asked two questions of importance to school board members and anyone who cares about democracy: “Why is civics education on the wane? What can you do about it?” Below, our conversation.

Q: Not all school board members are familiar with the American School Board Journal. Tell me about it.

A:  The American School Board Journal is NSBA’s monthly magazine. It was founded in 1891 and is one of the oldest magazines in the country. NSBA acquired it in 1967. The magazine has a circulation of about 30,000 and is read by school board members, administrators, and other subscribers throughout the United States and Canada.

Q: The magazine has sent up a red flag by stating that civics education is “on the wane.” How so?

A: Yes, that’s true in a lot of school districts. A recent report by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) called students’ civic knowledge “dismal,” noting, for example, that only 27 percent of fourth graders could identify the purpose of the U.S. Constitution, and just 22 percent of eighth-graders understood the role of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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