Priorities unveiled for Imagine 2014 just before vote
by Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 22 2009 Posted in Latest news
Just hours before the School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote on Imagine 2014, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s five-year blueprint for the School District, officials finally revealed and put a price tag on their first-year priorities -- $126 million.
At a budget briefing for local media, Chief Business Officer Michael Masch explained that the District is proposing to pursue 44 of the 170 discrete initiatives in the proposed plan in 2009-10. Masch said that the District is still unable to give a total five-year cost estimate for the plan because “we have only done the rigorous analysis” of the items that were included in the first year.
He did, however, note that his projection that the overall plan is affordable is based on an assumption that by 2014, the District's total annual revenue will be $700 million more than the $2.9 billion it is now. Masch said that will happen if there is full funding of the education aid adequacy formula used last year by the state legislature and if increases in other revenue sources are consistent with historic trends of the past six to seven years. That is a tricky assumption given the current state of the economy, and Masch himself admitted that as state budget director last year his revenue projections for 2009 were off by $2.6 billion.
Masch said that he estimates that the 44 "phase one" initiatives account for about 25 percent of the total scope of the five-year strategic plan.
Just under one-third of the money goes to early education initiatives: $32.5 million to reduce the maximum class size in kindergarten from 30 to 23, and in grades one through three to 26 (22 in the lowest-performing, so-called "empowerment" schools), coupled with an expansion of Head Start programs by 500 slots ($4.9 million) and $1.34 million to create the first of several anticipated regional early childhood centers.
Other big ticket items: $18.5 million for 206 additional counselors in middle and high schools; $16.8 million for "a more flexible high school schedule" at comprehensive high schools that will accommodate more remediation, electives, and common planning time for school staff; $12 million for a four-week summer school with expanded enrichment opportunities.
Also included in the plan is $2.4 million for the startup of the much-debated Renaissance school initiative, in which 10 schools will be prepared to be placed under new management "through a process that engages students, parents, and the community in the decision-making process and ensures a smooth transition that will lead to the success of the transformed school."
Other "phase one" items include planning for three additional career and technical high schools, expanded social services supports, additional special ed staff and training to improve the IEP process, intramural athletics at all schools with middle grades, "student success centers" in all comprehensive high schools where students can get help applying for college, and three regional "talent centers" where students can access enrichment programs after school, on Saturdays, and during the summer.
Superintendent Ackerman and Mayor Nutter are expected to make a strong push for adoption of the plan at the evening April 22 SRC meeting, while several of the city's major activist groups will be coming out to argue that the plan needs revision.