Engaging parents, retaining lawyers
Of all the reforms unveiled by the Alonso administration this school year, the one presented last night -- a large-scale effort to improve parent involvement -- might be the most ambitious yet. And if it's successful, it could yield the biggest payoff. That's because getting parents involved in large numbers in schools around the city doesn't just require a change in the educational system; it requires changes in homes and communities. For details of the plan, see my story today.
Beyond the parent initiative, there's a lot to note about last night's school board meeting. Two unions complained that, with three weeks to go before the new budget year, some employees still don't know whether they'll have jobs come July 1. One of the places where a union leader said jobs are still up in the air is near and dear to me: the communications office, which handles media relations. Dr. Alonso reiterated that, in all offices, displaced employees will be offered positions in schools, but they may not be jobs the employees like (and they may involve a pay cut).
Administrators packed the board room and the lobby to support Jimmy Gittings, president of the administrators union (PSASA), as he spoke about a variety of concerns, from displaced employees to budget cuts at the school level. Gittings said he's so stressed about what's happening that he plans to retire from the system Dec. 31. Currently, he's the only leader of the city schools' four major unions who still works for the system and does his union position as a volunteer. He said, if PSASA can afford to pay him after his retirement, he'll stay on there.
Interesting items on the procurement agenda: The board approved its annual round of contracts with lawyers to represent the system on various matters, despite the frustrations expressed by member Anirban Basu that two of the three firms are raising their hourly rates faster than the pace of inflation. Miles & Stockbridge P.C. got a $110,000 contract to represent the system in contesting a federal Medicaid audit that could result in fines of up to $12 million. Hogan & Hartson, which represents the system in a quarter-century-old special education lawsuit, got a contract for $425,000 for the next year, but officials said the firm has also requested more money. Whiteford, Taylor & Preston had its contract renewed for $110,000 to continue representing the system in the Bradford school funding case.