$3 million cut from Bayside HS budget - Queens Chronicle: Queenswide

$3 million cut from Bayside HS budget

by Michael Shain, Editor | Posted: Thursday, September 19, 2019 10:30 am

“Unacceptable” was the word heard over and over again last week at a rally outside Bayside High School to protest a $3 million cut in funding to the school this year by the city’s Department of Education.

“We are being penalized by the Department of Education” for the school’s success over the last decade, Paul DiBenedetto, president of the school PTA, told a group of about 20 parents who gathered in the park across from the school..

“Ten years ago, Bayside High School had a graduation rate of 68 percent. Today, that graduation rate is 98.6 percent, third highest of all large high schools in the city” he said, as parents applauded and whistled their approval.

“Three-million dollars is a significant sum to withhold from a school and not expect negative consequences,” he said.

“Excellence should be rewarded, not punished.”

The culprit, according to officials, is the city’s complicated Fair Student Funding program, instituted in 2007 to even out expenditures among schools in well-to-do and needy neighborhoods.

Parents say Bayside is getting 90 percent of the per-student funding budgeted for all schools while less successful ones as well as elite schools such as The Baccalaureate School for Global Education and Bronx Science, are receiving 115 to 120 percent.

“Are their students worth more than our students?” DiBenedetto asked rhetorically.

The problem of uneven distribution of Fair Student Funding money has plagued other schools in Queens, including nearby Benjamin Cardozo and Francis Lewis high schools.

An analysis by Borough President Melinda Katz’s budget director, Richard Lee, released last winter discovered that Queens schools at all levels — elementary to high schools — are funded at the lowest levels in the city.

The average Queens high school last year received $10,199 per student under Fair Student Funding — $600 less than the fourth-ranked borough, Staten Island, and nearly $800 less than the citywide average. Multiplied by 220,000 public schools students in Queens, the disparity is “serious,” the report said.

Fair Student Funding money is used, for the most part, to pay teacher and staff salaries.

In years past, more experienced teachers with bigger salaries gravitated to higher-performing schools, thanks to their union seniority.

“Turned out the richest schools were getting on average $2,200 more per pupil than the poorest schools,” said Eric Nadelstern, a retired professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who was deputy schools commissioner when Fair Student Funding was instituted.

The budgeting system was intended to help poorer schools retain senior teachers and encourage richer schools to “balance their teaching staffs” with newer hires, he said.

He also noted that, under the new teachers union contract Mayor de Blasion negotiated last year, salaries got a “significant increase” this year. “The single-most important factor [in budgeting] is the salary of teachers,” Nadelstern said.