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Community Control Contested in 'Contracts for Excellence'

May 9, 2008

New York - Just weeks after the announcement of a historic increase in funding for New York's public schools, education advocates argue that New York City is not following the spirit of the plan.

The increase includes a commitment of more than $1 billion to improving deficient schools under "Contracts for Excellence," an effort to use proven techniques to improve academic performance. However, Geri Palast, with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, says the program uses a flawed system for getting money into the schools.

"Our concern at the moment is that the Department of Education is planning to distribute the money directly to the schools, and then have a planning process afterward. We feel this is putting the cart before the horse."

Palast believes the planning should come first, and that it is critical to properly apply Contracts for Excellence in New York City, because of its influence on the rest of the state.

"As a coalition, we have worked for a more centralized process, because that is how the law is designed. This would help families throughout the state, because what happens in New York City is precedent-setting. It would send a message to the rest of the districts that this is the way the process should work."

New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein defended the department's approach, saying he didn't want to micromanage schools through a centralized plan. Palast, however, says pre-planning is essential to guarantee, and to measure, the program's success.

"There should be a specific menu of options so that, at the end of the day, we can prove how the investment was made, for what purpose, and the difference it made. Otherwise, we're concerned that the money will just be commingled with all the other money, it will be diffused, and we won't be able to track its impact."

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity spearheaded the 15-year lawsuit that resulted in a $5 billion commitment to educational excellence over four years. The City of New York is receiving an extra $385 million for the plan in 2008. The Campaign, along with groups of parents, unions, and educators, has expressed concerns about the lack of pre-planning in letters to the state Education Department, legislators, and the Board of Education.

Robert Knight/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - NY