K’Tori attorneys argue school lottery rules vague

By Michael Morton

From there, the two sides have strongly diverged, and did so again during a session of the hearing last Thursday. K'Tori's lawyers have said the lottery process, already somewhat ill-defined, had been changed for the school but never fully explained by supervisors, leading their client to believe he had some discretion in admitting extra students. An attorney for the Education Department, meanwhile, tried to show that K'Tori knew the Department's policy but deliberately circumvented it, putting into jeopardy efforts to keep the area's school district from being taken over by the state because of poor performance. PS/IS 268, then a new school, opened at 92-07 175th St. in the fall of 2003 with space for 700 to 750 students and plans to start with kindergarten-fifth and add higher grades later. At the time, it was scheduled to hold a tailored lottery for all District 29 students in order to fill 50 percent of its seats with those scoring the highest on state and city tests. But the Department of Education changed the plan when the state designated SD 29 as a district in need of improvement, meaning scores needed to come up or the state would take over. To combat the problem, which stemmed from low eighth-grade math scores, K'Tori's supervisors switched to an open lottery without performance restrictions in order to avoid a brain drain at other schools.”We were taking away from the capacity of other schools that were trying to move up,” said Walter O'Brien, a witness for the department who was 268's local instructional superintendent at the time of the designation. The department also decided not to create seventh and eighth grades, planning to fill those levels later, as younger students graduated and moved up. Many parents still asked for the higher grades, however, as they wanted all their children at one school. A non-binding resolution was later passed by the school board to that effect and K'Tori was notified.K'Tori asked a top supervisor, Region 3 head Judith Chin, for a meeting to reconsider the changes but was turned down, O'Brien said. K'Tori ran the school during its inaugural academic year of 2003-04, and won praise from parents for being both a disciplinarian and a motivator who held their children to high standards.”Parents bought into his leadership and that's why they came to the school,” O'Brien said. But when it came time to submit a budget the following summer for the 2004-05 year, K'Tori's plan for 531 students did not match up with the Education Department's projection of 381, arrived at after another lottery that spring. O'Brien said he and other supervisors “couldn't reconcile the numbers,” but added that others were in charge of later examining the apparent discrepancy. Enrollment numbers are used to allocate resources within the system.Where the students came from has not yet been addressed in the hearing. O'Brien testified that K'Tori wanted to ensure that his school received students showing talent in the arts, but did not express concern about their past performances on standardized tests. And while there was apparently confusion over plans for the seventh and eighth grades, parents at the hearing said the extra students, who were sent to other schools this fall, were all in the lower, existing grades.The Education Department attorney said K'Tori had been warned about the lottery while heading other schools.”There was an issue with Superintendent [Michael] Johnson from the 2000-2001 school year,” O'Brien testified, without providing further detail.But a lawyer for K'Tori, Bruce Bryant, has noted that lotteries at the school have failed to provide enough students and said in earlier session that “never was there a clear directive: Do not take additional students.” Testimony has revealed K'Tori reported to various supervisors, who were not necessarily in communication with one another.In addition to alleged lottery tampering, K'Tori is also charged with failing to follow procedures for ordering books at another school, not turning in a report at PS/IS 268 on time, trying to block the placement of a special education class and throwing papers at a supervisor. The Education Department, which wants K'Tori fired, is currently presenting its case, and the embattled principal will later get a chance to respond in front of the arbiter running the hearing. The arbiter will eventually rule whether K'Tori is guilty of each of the charges.Another session of the hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, with further lottery testimony expected from department witnesses. Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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