After hundreds of Queens students, parents, educators and legislators begged Mayor Bloomberg to not close eight schools in the borough, the city has gone ahead and filed the paperwork necessary to move ahead with shuttering the institutions and reopening them this summer with half the staff replaced.
The city on Monday night published its final “education impact statements,” which it is legally required to provide to the public six months prior to closing a school. The city aims to close 33 schools citywide, including August Martin High School in Jamaica, Flushing High School, Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, John Adams High School in Ozone Park, Long Island City High School, Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Richmond Hill High School, and Bryant High School in Long Island City.
“I wish I knew why the mayor came to this conclusion to close the schools because there are so many questions that went unanswered,” said Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who is Borough President Helen Marshall’s appointee on the city Panel for Educational Policy, the group that will vote on whether or not the schools should close. Because the majority of the panel members are appointed by the mayor, the closures are expected to be approved.
Bloomberg said in January that the lack of an agreement between the city and the teachers’ union on annual evaluations for educators prompted his plan to implement what is known as a “turnaround” model, which amounts to replacing about half the staff at schools that are in a federal improvement program due to low graduation rates and test scores. The move, Bloomberg said, was an attempt to salvage about $60 million in education funding specifically meant for the 33 schools that the state had withheld because of the lack of a deal on teacher evaluations.
However, Gov. Cuomo intervened at the end of last month, and a major sticking point in the negotiations was resolved — that of the appeals process for teachers who receive low marks on the assessments.
Because of this progress, the state education commissioner had said during a phone call with reporters that he expected Bloomberg and the teacher’s union to come to a full agreement on the evaluations. Despite this progress, the mayor said he did not intend to halt efforts to close the schools.
After the city announced that it had filed its final paperwork to close the schools, the teachers’ union asked the state Public Employment Relations Board to order the city Department of Education to resume talks on a teacher evaluation system. Additionally, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said at a forum in Jackson Heights last week that the union would consider legal action to stop the closures.
“It has become clear that the mayor, the chancellor and the Department of Education never planned to reach an evaluation deal, and the mayor’s only educational strategy is to close more schools than ever in New York City,” Mulgrew said in a prepared statement issued on Tuesday.
Because the eight schools in Queens were part of a federal improvement program, the city had already begun to implement changes at the schools at the beginning of this year. City officials had told they schools they had three years to implement these changes and to turn their graduation rates and test scores around before the DOE would once again consider them for closure.
“The mayor abandoned policy,” Fedkowskyj said. “He abandoned educational plans that we spent millions of dollars on getting in place in September, and then he walked away from them.”
While the mayor has said closing the schools and reopening them with about half the staff replaced could land the city millions in aid, the city principals’ union estimated that the DOE would have to pay about $180 million annually for the salaries of the teachers that it would replace.
Principals could also be replaced, and the schools may be renamed.
“The costs are exhorbitant,” Fedkowskyj said. “Where we are going to find funding to pay for that, that hasn’t been relayed to the PEP.”
Because of these costs, Fedkowskyj said he believes that the city would not hire all new teachers to replace the staff, but instead shuffle existing instructors around.
The city DOE did not respond to a request for comment.
Before the city PEP votes on the closures at its April 26 meeting, the DOE will hold hearings at each of the 33 schools.
Hearings will be held at 6 p.m. at Grover Cleveland on April 2, Bryant High School on April 3, Richmond Hill on April 5, August Martin on April 16, Newtown High School on April 17, Long Island City High School on April 17, Flushing High School on April 18, and John Adams on April 19.
News of the closures has been criticized by Queens officials, from Borough President Helen Marshall to state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), who is the ranking minority member on a state education committee.
“Shuttering Flushing High School only to replace the principal and half the staff does not provide a winning formula for our students,” Stavisky said. “Just when Flushing High School has been improving its graduation rate and appears to be on the road to improvement, it’s as if the Department of Education decides to derail it. How can we expect consistent student improvement year to year, with the mayor’s inconsistent policies?”