The floodgates of a longstanding debate were reopened recently when a group of New York City parents raised $46,000 to pay the salary of a laid off teacher.
Lauren Zangara is back in the classroom in which she began the school year. And the fourth-grade teacher at Public School 41 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan has her students' parents to thank.
The parents -- and a decision by New York City School Chancellor Rudy Crew, that is.
Just a few days earlier, Crew had refused to allow the parents to use $46,000 they had raised to pay Zangara's salary. Parent groups should not be allowed to fund teachers' jobs, Crew said. Such funding would give affluent neighborhoods an unfair advantage over poorer neighborhoods where parents cannot afford to raise such large sums.
A QUESTION OF CLASS SIZE
This story began in mid-September when Zangara's position at PS 41 was eliminated and she was transferred to another school in the district. At PS 41, Zangara's 26 students were split up among the remaining four fourth grade classrooms. That move created four classes of 32 students each, which is the average size for a fourth-grade class in New York City's District 2, which includes PS 41.
Parents, upset about the transfer of the popular teacher, asked permission to raise the funds to keep her at PS 41. Anthony Alvarado, the superintendent of District 2, apparently advised the parents that they could donate the money through the school's PTA. The parents raised $46,000 to pay Zangara's salary and benefits in four days.
"People had to dig really deep and cut a lot of corners for many months to come up with this money," said Fred Moshary. Moshary's daughter, Sarah, was in Zangara's class.
In New York City, as in many other school districts, parent groups are allowed to raise money to help pay for part-time teachers and for some school supplies. As a matter of fact, parents at PS 41 had in the past used money they raised to purchase school supplies and to pay for a track coach.
But then Chancellor Crew ordered Alvarado to reinstate Zangara to her job at PS 41. Zangara would be paid out of the district's budget, not with money raised by the parents. Alvarado had exceeded his authority in giving tentative approval to the parent group to raise the funds, said Crew.
"The parents of PS 41 acted in good faith on behalf of their children based on information provided by the school district," said Crew. "I am not willing to penalize them because of the advice they received."
But, Crew added, the moratorium on parents paying teachers' salaries stands. The issue of parent associations paying teacher salaries "steps across the line of equity so critical to or system as well as individual schools," Crew said.
PARENTS AND STUDENTS REJOICE!
"We are absolutely thrilled." said Diana Naples, whose son Noah is a student at PS 41. "I am glad Rudy Crew did open his heart up. The children will definitely benefit."
"We were all happy and smiling and we applauded in our classroom when we found out the news," said Jamie Lyn Seeman, 9. "We want kids everywhere to have small classes."
"We are ecstatic, we are beyond words," said David Smith, the parent of a fourth grader.
"This issue isnot isolated to his school," said Neal Rosenberg, the lawyer who represented the parents. "If you want to keep the middle class in public schools, you must give them a chance to improve the school. You can't welcome the middle class into public schools with open arms and then tie their hands behind their backs."
"It was more of a victory than we anticipated," added Rosenberg. "The parents received the result they wanted at no cost to themselves."
THE BOARD MUST REACT
Crew said that he and the Board must discuss formulating a policy which will "allow parents to make valuable contributions to their schools within appropriate limits." The board must adopt a policy that ensures "this practice does not adversely affect the opportunity for equity in the teaching of core curriculum throughout the New York City public schools."
"It's a tremendously emotional issue," said Gary Griffin, professor of education at Teachers College in Manhattan. "How can it be appropriate that kids in certain schools have better benefits from the system, even though it comes from the parents' pockets?"
Meanwhile, Crew's move upset many District 2 officials.
"That school gets a classroom ratio of one to 27 in the fourth grade. Every other school in the district gets one to 32," a district spokesman complained.
Article by Gary Hopkins, Education World® Editor-in-Chief from stories by the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Daily Report Card (9/30/97), and Education Week.
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