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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

New state budget could have big impact on Long Island's 'failing schools'

An Oct. 2014 file photo shows Merryl Tisch,

An Oct. 2014 file photo shows Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, center, visiting Roosevelt's Washington Rose Elementary School. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The new state budget could have a significant impact on Long Island schools that persistently rank lower than most state schools in student achievement.

As a result of a last-minute change during negotiations, the budget would allow the state to put individual schools -- potentially two in Suffolk and three in Nassau -- under new management. An earlier proposal would have enabled schools or entire districts to be placed under outside control.

The state is offering a carrot of sorts -- a $75 million pot of state funds for so-called "persistently failing" schools, along with time for school officials to make improvements -- before slamming down the very hard stick of placing a school into "receivership."

Under that designation, the school's operational and management control would shift from the superintendent and elected school board to a receiver -- which could be another school district, such as a BOCES; a nonprofit, such as a charter school company or a university; or an individual, such as a former school superintendent.

The receiver, appointed by the local school district and approved by the state education commissioner, would be enormously powerful.

According to a summary of legislation passed last week, the receiver could modify district budgets as they pertain to particular failing schools, which the state defines as being in the bottom 5 percent of state schools for three or more years.

The receiver could recommend that the school convert to a charter school, provided that a majority of parents voted for the move.

The receiver could modify school curriculum, fire teachers and administrators, boost staff compensation and or expand the length of the school day or year.

The receiver could even abolish all teaching and principal positions at the designated school, allowing staff to reapply for their jobs to a "staffing committee." That committee would be required to hire back at least 50 percent of the school's original staff.

Let's stop here to list the local schools that could be impacted by the new measure. They are: Ralph Reed Middle School in Central Islip; Hempstead High School, Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead; Roosevelt Middle School and Milton L. Olive Middle School in Wyandanch.

Roosevelt High School, which spent more than a decade under modified state control that ended in 2013, made enough academic progress in 2013-2014 to be removed from the state's priority list. Last year, the school's graduation rate for students who entered as freshmen in 2010 was 84 percent, higher than in previous years.

And now, let's stop to clue parents, staff, school board and superintendents in "priority" schools that the state's new hammer likely isn't going to slam down anytime soon.

"A lot depends on exactly what is in the details, and exactly what a school needs to do before being put under a receiver," Roger Tilles, Long Island's representative to the state Board of Regents, said yesterday.

Also, the legislation mandates that schools -- and residents, working through a "community engagement team" -- be part of the process before and after a school goes into receivership.

The state learned from more than a decade in Roosevelt -- which, in 2002, was put under state control that gradually was ceded back to local school officials in 2013 -- that a top-down approach to mandating change in a school district did not bring the kind of scholastic progress state officials thought it would.

Still, with this new legislation, local school leaders have time to step up their game, or face the possibility of winding up on the sidelines.

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