Schenectady High School could lose a $2 million School Improvement Grant if the city school district doesn’t submit required paperwork to the state Education Department by Dec. 31.
There are currently 10 districts in the state receiving SIG money and only two have complied with the end-of-the-year deadline, according to state Education Commissioner John King Jr.
“These funds are targeted to help troubled schools. The last thing the students need is to lose resources because the adults who run those schools won’t fulfill their responsibilities,” King said in a news release. “The clock is ticking. When the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the money drops off the table, and it will be difficult to get it back. We’ll take action to suspend SIG funds on Jan. 1.”
Schenectady was awarded the grant money in August after being identified as one of the state’s persistently lowest achieving districts. The high school has a graduation rate of about 59 percent.
It received a “transformation model” grant that included a requirement that the unions representing teachers and principals agree to new evaluation standards. The school district has been negotiating with the unions over the new evaluations. The evaluations would require the high school to be ranked based on four possible categories, with student growth being responsible for at least 20 percent of the total evaluation score.
Schenectady City School District Superintendent John Yagielski acknowledged that the district had agreed to complete this process, but he feels as though the state should recognize the “good faith” efforts being made in the negotiations with principals and teachers and delay freezing the funds.
“What’s at risk … if they choose to by the first of the year freeze the dollars, we do not have local funds to make up the difference,” Yagielski said. “The implications for students are terrible.”
A spokesman for the state Education Department indicated that it’s possible the state might try to recoup funds already spent by the district.
Yagielski said he tried on Friday to talk with King about the upcoming deadline and plans to reach out to him again today to try to secure some sort of extension.
He said an agreement is not going to be reached by the deadline between the district and the two unions on a new evaluation system, which the two sides began haggling over this summer. The negotiations stem from an Annual Professional Performance Review agreement that was reached in September but had certain parts that still needed to be hashed out. “We’ve been making progress on that,” Yagielski said. “I don’t know many districts that have finished.”
On the other requirements of the grant, Yagielski said they have been making good progress at the high school. “We’re doing all the things we’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
Yagielski said he feels as though the state’s strict enforcement of the provisions attached to the grant money isn’t fair. “It feels like we’re being bullied,” he said.
But King expressed little sympathy for the school districts in his news release. “These districts and their local unions have known about this deadline. Now they all have to get moving and agree on revised evaluations.”
The Schenectady City School District has already lost about $4 million in state education aid because of a 2003 filing error involving contracts. Because of the error, the state should never have awarded the money to the district, and it has been recouping that money in yearly installments. Successive governors have vetoed attempts by the state Legislature to restore the funding to the city school district.
The Albany school district also has been identified by the state Education Department as not yet submitting the necessary paperwork.