Educators await state funding numbers

JULIE LANE PHOTO | School Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik, like other educators around the state, is waiting to find out what aid will be on the way.
JULIE LANE PHOTO | School Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik, like other educators around the state, is waiting to find out what aid will be on the way.

Shelter Island is still waiting for a breakdown in state school aid numbers, but Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik is optimistic the district could see between $100,000 and $150,000 more than it received last year.

That includes both direct aid from the state and what he anticipates will be $60,000 to $70,000 Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) has requested for the Island.

The money — increasing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s original budget request across the board by 6.2 percent — is important. But educators are also looking at what price they might have to pay for the additional aid.

Governor Cuomo has let it be known his aim is to “bring accountability to the classroom.”
No educator disagrees with the goal of improving the readiness of students to enter college or start their careers. But how to achieve that end is the focal point of the debate that has been raging since the introduction of the Common Core curriculum.

Early criticisms were that Common Core standards were being introduced too quickly and students didn’t have time to study the materials covered by the tests. The materials the state suggested for use were inappropriate, many educators said. Former Shelter Island Superintendent Michael Hynes last year substituted a number of materials for those that had been recommended because he said they would achieve the same aim, but more effectively.

Linking the test, even in part, to teacher evaluations, critics have said, is unfair.

That was when test scores represented 20 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation, but now the governor has been campaigning to raise that to 50 percent of each teacher’s evaluation. Mr. Cuomo has threatened to establish a system for moving teachers out of the school system if they have unacceptable evaluation scores three years in a row. He has also campaigned to require five years before a teacher can be granted tenure instead of the current three.

Mr. Skuggevik has said he doubts a teacher deserving of tenure after three years is likely to be any better or worse in two addtional years.

All of Shelter Island’s teachers received excellent or high evaluations based on tests, Mr. Skuggevik said.

But he thinks the test failed to capture the true image of their abilities. His own evaluations would be more strict, he said.

Mr. Skuggevik, like many of his colleagues, is calling for more local control, while the governor and State Education Department are moving in the opposite direction, threatening to take over those schools they claim aren’t performing well and calling for an increase in the number of charter schools.

Mr. Skuggevik wouldn’t object to charter schools if they were held to the same requirements that public schools must meet, but they’re not, he said. What’s more, money to fund them comes from the public school budget, so the more students who opt out of the public school, the less money that district has to educate those left behind.

“These reforms — accompanied by an unprecedented financial investment — will put students first by bringing accountability to the classroom, recruiting and rewarding our best teachers, further reducing over-testing and finally confronting our chronically failing schools,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement accompanying the budget announcement.

Just what the State Education Department and Board of Regents will decide about policy changes the governor has proposed remains as elusive as the actual numbers.