Article by Ariane Ben Eli
~The PS 29 PTA’s budget represents nearly 28 percent of total funding for the school next year.
PS 29 will be adding a kindergarten class next year, from five to six. Principal Melanie Woods plans to hire a dedicated music teacher. The PTA increased its projected budget by more than ten percent since every kindergarten class has a teaching assistant, paid by the parents whose children attend the school.
In recent years, the PTA has picked up the expense of school supplies for science, art, technology and the library, music, PE and theatre. The PTA pays for office supplies, auditorium equipment, school food initiatives, welcome breakfasts and special programs. It sponsors the perennially popular Super Science Saturday, Harvest Day, and the Spring Fling. In the past, it brought visiting authors and artists to the school. As a result of the enormous investment, not just of money but of energy, PS 29 continues to thrive, to produce high performing, engaged and curious students who are well prepared for middle school and for their own inquisitive undertakings.
The school’s budget has been cut at least eight times in the last 4 years, including midyear give-backs that resulted in loss of essential money for office supplies. The PTA mobilized parents to purchase printer paper for the rest of the school year. Without that energy and commitment, the budget cut could have resulted in far greater losses.
Now, Mayor Bloomberg’s new budget is calling for the elimination of thousands of teaching jobs citywide. For PS 29, his budget will eliminate three teaching jobs at a time when the popular school is facing increased enrollment and needs to hire new teachers, not let them go.
Before anyone jumps in with “poor little rich kids” remarks, consider that the outcomes at PS 29 are exactly those sought by educational reform, of policies like No Child Left Behind and the implementation of high stakes testing and teacher rankings. Consider that in order to achieve those outcomes, the PTA’s budget represents nearly 28 percent of total funding for the school next year. Consider that the PTA isn’t merely paying for school dances and motivational speakers, but rather is paying for functions essential to the school—for paper, for assistant teachers, for school supplies, for equipment and technology, for professional development. Consider how different the school would be without the funding provided by the PTA.
PS 29 is not alone in relying on the significant contribution of its PTA. PS 321 in Park Slope reported that the PTA’s budget accounts for one-fifth of the school’s funding next year.
The Daily News ran an article recently comparing contributions to PTAs at city schools. Comments were predictably hostile and divisive. But the issue remains that schools do not receive enough funding to meet the demands imposed by testing, teacher ranking, school grades and other so-called accountability efforts without seeking private funding.
Schools with large numbers of English language learners or students who qualify for free or reduced lunch receive additional funds from the NYC Fair Student Funding act, but that funding is far less flexible than PTA funds, and the qualifications are low enough that even middle class communities don’t receive adequate compensation to meet basic needs.
Teacher layoffs do not result in shedding mediocre teachers and retaining talented and dedicated educators. They won’t succeed in emptying the rubber rooms, where problematic teachers go to collect a paycheck and wait for their suspension to run out.
Rather, the biggest impact of teacher layoffs is on the most vulnerable students. Principals, forced to make cuts, eliminate dedicated special education classes and have floating teachers address the special needs of students who find themselves placed in larger classes with more demands and greater stress. These students miss the benefits inherent in the special education classroom, particularly the trust that develops between students and teachers as they work closely together in a consistent, reliable, safe environment throughout the school year.
Special programs are at stake when principals are forced to layoff teachers. Visual art, music, and theatre—programs that address social and emotional growth and reinforce academic and intellectual skills—lose ground when principals see funding for teachers’ salaries torn away. Principals must protect that by which they are judged: testing.
Mayor Bloomberg’s current proposed budget reduces the capacity of schools to meet the needs of students and to achieve the outcomes required by city, state and federal policy. PTAs at schools like PS 29 will continue to commit energy and resources to fill the gaps, but the end result is a system that is inherently unbalanced, and unfair. The PTA can only do so much, and is constrained by the generosity and the means of its membership, and by law.
The PTA can’t, by law, pay the teachers at risk of losing their jobs. Fewer teachers equates with larger classes and less time to give each child. Teachers are already paid less than other professionals with similar levels of education. To increase class sizes and reduce support positions and specialty teachers may be just the stick that convinces promising teachers to seek a different profession.