School Board Details Unfunded Mandates

A roundup of the Sept. 12 meeting of the White Plains Board of Education

Let them eat cake!

In honor of the birthdays of White Plains Board of Education members Donna McLaughlin and Sheryl Brady, the board served cake before their meeting Monday night.

The celebration then turned somber as a moment of silence was taken in honor of the district’s deceased bookkeeper Helen Kislik.

At a gathering where district personnel doubled the number of attendees, things picked up as Fred Seiler, Assistant Superintendent for Business, accepted an award from the Government Finance Officers Association & Association of School Business for the quality of the district’s financial reports for fiscal year 2010.

 Board member James Hricay reported on the “organized chaos” he observed on opening day at George Washington elementary school.

“Not only were the small ones weepy, there were a lot of weepy parents as well,” he said. “It was a very nice morning.”

School Superintendent Christopher Clouet thanked the facilities people who made the school opening in the wake of the hurricanes “smooth and safe for children.”

He then delivered an update on the Middle School Redesign steering committee, which is gearing up for its first public hearing on September 22 at White Plains High School at 7:00 pm. The committee will discuss issues related to a proposed sixth grade academy in an attempt to build consensus before the board takes up the issue later in the school year.

Next came two presentations outlining the district’s responsibilities under the state’s Contract for Excellence and the national No Child Left Behind Act, a precursor to more formal and detailed discussions and workshops that will be held throughout the school year about the program’s impact on the district.

 The Contract for Excellence, or C4E, represents the “definition of an unfunded mandate,” said Clouet. The state laid out its mandates two weeks ago and the district has been scrambling to put together its program before a 30-day public comment period that begins Sept. 18, said Seiler. A draft proposal will be available on the district’s web site.

 The district will use $1.5 million of state aid, which comes from funds already provided by the state, to help students who failed state exams in grades 3 through 12; students who will not graduate in four years; pupils with limited English proficiency; students with disabilities; and students in poverty.

The district will achieve this by reducing class sizes in the high school; employ reading teachers in the high school and middle schools; hire bilingual reading teachers at George Washington Elementary School and Post Road Elementary School; and provide part-time instructional coaches and specialists at the elementary and middle school levels.

No Child Left Behind also dictates how the district must use money and is related to test scores. Delivering a presentation introducing the board to the alphabet soup of federal regulations and acronyms, Jessica O’Donovan, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Curriculum indicated that no school in the district are achieving Adequate Yearly Progress under the program’s requirements for math and English language proficiency, although students at Post Road Elementary School did reach proficiency in English Language Arts.

“Can we do better?” Donovan asked rhetorically. “Yes. We will be moving forward. We won’t be at 100 percent tomorrow, but each year we’re moving toward 100 percent proficiency for all kids. There’s a tremendous challenge in front of us but we have the capacity in this district to do it.”

Limited English proficiency students and pupils with disabilities helped weigh the district’s scoring down, said Donovan, but White Plains is not alone.

 “More schools than ever before in the history of No Child Left Behind didn’t make adequate progress,” she said, citing the district’s “great deal” of diversity.

 In addition, the program raised its benchmarks and eliminated a number of exemptions, but she does expect Church Street and Mamaroneck Avenue elementary schools to be in good standing.

To remedy the district’s deficiencies, the schools must conduct School Quality Review programs—where teams of teachers and administrators will explore many facets of school’s teaching, learning and curriculum and provide Supplemental Educational Services in schools where a large portion of students receive free or reduced lunches, including free tutoring outside school day provided by state-approved private vendors.

After Donovan detailed just a “sliver of what is entailed” under the act, said Clouet, the board moved to recommend several pro forma motions regarding personnel resignations and appointments before going into executive session. 

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