In April, our blogger Jennifer Freeman wrote about the potential for parent-funded teachers' aides to be pushed out of our city's overcrowded classrooms. That looming threat has now become a reality, The New York Times reported yesterday.
Parent associations at top schools have a long tradition of raising thousands of dollars to independently hire assistants to help teachers in the classroom, run enrichment programs, or manage students in the cafeteria and at recess. Sparked by a complaint from the teachers union, however, the Bloomberg administration has told principals to put an end to the practice. Any aides hired for the coming school year must be employees of the Department of Education whose salaries are included in the school's official budget.
DOE employees will cost schools more money. While teaching assistants hired by parents earn $12 to $15 an hour, unionized paraprofessionals earn around $23 plus benefits. Even if schools want to pay their current aides the union wage, they won't be able to keep them on staff because of the citywide hiring freeze. The future of additional adults in classrooms is now up in the air.
Jennifer's April post got some great comments from our readers. Is this yet another example of Bloomberg steamrolling parental involvement in schools? Or is it a necessary measure to level the playing field citywide? Please let us know what you think!
In Albany, the State Assembly's Education Committee has passed a revised version of mayoral control which may be voted on by the entire Assembly as early as tomorrow. Over at the Senate, Hiram Montserrate, the indicted former City Council member who last week defected to the Albany Republicans, has returned to the Democratic fold, for a Senate-splitting 31-31 tie between the parties.
Meanwhile, the mayoral control endorsements continue, at the Times, the Post, and the Daily News. Even UFT president Randi Weingarten, one-time opponent of mayoral control, has come around to the Bloomberg-Klein point of view.
Locally, the city's budget has won 'handshake' approval by the City Council -- with no guarantee that schools' funds will not be hit again. It's thought that more than 2,000 school employees will find themselves out of work in 2009-2010 -- cuts that reach beyond school offices into the classroom, affecting teachers and paraprofessionals.
A big budget hurdle for charter schools was just lowered.
"Despite a prohibition on using state funds to build charter schools, the city has quietly expanded available funding for charter school construction to as much as $3.8 billion," writes the New York Post. The extra money is part of a provision in the capital construction plan.
To date, charter schools have not received public funds for facility expenses. Many charter schools in New York City have been able to survive because Mayor Bloomberg has allowed them to use Department of Education buildings rent-free. Charter school advocates have long lobbied for the ban on state funds to be lifted, since depending on who controls the school system next, charter schools could have to start paying steep city rent prices.
Last week, we asked you what you would cut from your school's budget if you had to make the difficult decision to let something, or someone, go. The most respondents, 39 percent, said that they would cut non-teaching staff, such as office workers and school aides. Twenty-two percent said that they would cut afterschool tutoring, remediation, and test prep. Letting go of arts and other specialty teachers was the least popular option, with only seven percent of respondents choosing it. Click here to see the full results.
Under Mayor Bloomberg, every school is graded annually, but this week, we want you to grade the mayor. Since the mayoral control law sunsets on June 30, school governance is being vigorously debated. Many argue that Bloomberg has staked his legacy on education - how do you think he has performed?
Last week, we asked if you had a plan for saving for college. The most respondents (35 percent) said that they would have to rely on scholarships or more moderately priced schools. Another 18 percent said “We’ve saved, but the tumultuous markets have taken a big bite out of our funds.” Almost 30 percent of respondents would like some help with their planning – 14 percent of them feel that they have no extra money to save and 13 percent said that they have tried to put a little aside but need guidance. A small fraction of respondents – 5 percent – will have family help with tuition bills, and 18 percent have been saving and feel that they are on the right track.
This week, we are wondering what you would cut from your child’s school if you were in charge of slimming down the 2009/2010 budget. Some schools will have to cut up to 5 percent of their budget, and principals will have to make some very difficult decisions. As always, we welcome your comments.
Today, Chancellor Joel Klein previewed budget cuts at the city's schools in a message sent to all principals. The news is good or bad, depending on your point of view -- and your school's fiscal status, he said.
"In aggregate," Klein wrote, "the total dollars in school budgets will be reduced by 3.8 percent."
In specifics, which he described at a briefing today at Tweed, more than 40 percent of schools may experience cuts of 4.9 percent, while others, such as the approximately 80 schools with large Title I populations, might "get a slight bump" in funding, Klein said.
Schools that managed to save and "roll over" funds from Fiscal Year 09, which ends on June 30th, will experience less severe cuts than those who spent their budgets down, said Klein.
"To be clear: if you rolled over money, the good news is you will be able to spend that money. We are not cutting the money you rolled forward," he wrote in his letter to principals. Schools were cautioned to save money from this year to plan for the next, although the rate and ability to save varies from school to school. The cut is designed to save approximately $318 million in the coming fiscal year, in addition to the $100 million in midyear cuts.
Principals will be responsible for making decisions about whether to cut programs -- Saturday school, after school programming and professional development were three options the Chancellor mentioned -- or to trim staff.
"Most schools will be able to find significant portions of this in OTPS [Other Than Personnel Services]." But school leaders are free to lay off staff, "if an aide or a para that they feel is more cuttable than a program," Klein explained.
Specific budgets for each school will be presented to principals tomorrow, and according to the DOE, posted to the DOE website.
The city's budget woes will force a ban on new teacher hiring, reports the Times (today and last week), the News, and others. The teacher's union has high praise for the new strategy, which aims to place 'excessed' teachers, often languishing in DOE rubber rooms, back into classrooms citywide. Multi-million dollar savings are anticipated, based on projections by the New Teacher Project, which met with significant UFT derision only last year. (The worrisome projected attrition in the profession, highlighted in an April report, seems to have been forgotten.)
Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg have long beseeched the 'best and brightest' at American colleges and universities to consider teaching as a profession. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama have often said the same, and consistently support efforts to elevate the status of teaching as a competitive, desirable career choice -- as it is in many world cultures whose students outshine their U.S. counterparts.
What's it to be? Can the city be pro-teacher and anti-hiring? Can city leaders credibly encourage talented young professionals and committed career-changers to consider teaching -- and then say, 'sorry, not this year'? It appears the answer is, "Yes, they can -- and yes, they have," although the net result, for the city's students, teachers, and schools, remains uncertain. Not to mention, a very large gamble.
Clarification: Teachers who will be hired for the coming school year are mainly those who were assigned to the reserve pool of teachers whose schools have been closed, reconfigured, or otherwise restructured so that their jobs are no longer open. Educators assigned to the "rubber rooms" face disciplinary evaluations before they may return to the classroom.
Last week, a number of LaGuardia juniors found out that their math tracks are being abruptly ended. As a junior in trigonometry this year, I was expected to take pre-calculus in the fall, and take the Math B Regents Exam in January. Now, because of budget cuts, seniors will not be allowed to take pre-calc. To learn the semester of content and prepare for the Math B exam, tutoring will be offered over the summer. This is not really an option for people (like me) who have summer jobs. Also, the only math classes being offered to seniors next year are Advanced Placement classes. For the juniors are in pre-calc this year, the situation may not be much better. Calculus may be cut next year, too, giving these juniors no way to complete their math track. A letter is being sent to all colleges explaining the sudden death of advanced, non-AP math at LaGuardia.
When I expressed my concern, the assistant principal of math told me, "Write to the Chancellor and Mayor and ask them to stop taking our money away in the middle of the year." I told her I already had, and that was the end of the conversation. But this conversation is far from over. My school has been forced to make hard choices because of circumstances outside its control. LaGuardia has done its best to maintain its unique dual mission to provide students with both good arts and academic educations. But no school should have to make the choice to end a curriculum like advanced math mid-year, without preparation or prior warning.
If, as the Chancellor and the Mayor insist, cuts must be made, they should not come from the classroom and force schools to make decisions like this one. How can these leaders say they're committed to rigor and higher standards in education, and then limit funding for motivated math students?
Perhaps the cuts could come from the testing budget. It seems that tests are multiplying faster than rabbits; kids as young as kindergarten are now being tested. Perhaps the needed savings can come from the production and administration of school Progress Reports, which are often inaccurate representations of a school.
The pattern is scary. Mid-year crunches are resulting in the loss of teachers and classes, which are the last things that ought to be taken away. If “students” were a budget item, we'd probably be the next to go.
The Post, the Times cityroom blog, and GothamSchools all highlight Comptroller (and mayoral hopeful) William Thompson's testimony on outsized Department of Education budget overruns, which he outlined at a crowded, consistently adversarial City Council hearing yesterday afternoon. At issue, in addition to overspending, is the DOE's position as an agency that's neither bound by the local laws that govern other city agencies nor beholden to state governance: The current mayoral control law effectively sets the DOE outside both structures.
Also under close Council scrutiny were no-bid contracts, like a $170 million contract awarded because the contractor was already engaged, hired by private money -- "the intertia was there," according to DOE's Chief Procurement Officer David Ross -- and book-purchasing contracts that deny local minority- and women-owned businesses and reward multi-million-dollar Midwestern publishing giants Ingram and BookSource. (See this NY1 clip for more.)
No vote was taken at this initial hearing, but many Council members expressed a desire to bring the DOE to heel, under the contract and procurement rules that govern all other city agencies, as part of a possible revision of Mayoral Control.