divining the future

Guessing at size of state cuts, city plans for drastic layoffs

Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed cutting 6,400 city teaching jobs today — but he said without action from Albany, the exact number of layoffs is still anybody’s guess.

The mayor’s annual budget proposal would leave 2,000 teaching jobs unfilled and lay off another 4,400 teachers. And Chancellor Joel Klein urged principals to begin preparing for massive reductions that could cause classes to grow by nearly 20 percent.

But Bloomberg and Klein emphasized that all of the numbers could change depending on what happens in Albany, where legislators are now a month overdue in setting a budget for the state.

The city based its budget proposal on the governor’s proposed state budget, which cuts nearly $500 million from school aid to New York City and is more severe than the State Assembly’s proposed plan.

“If we don’t have any specificity in Albany, we have to act on what is a conservative best guess,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg said even if the state passes a less austere budget after teachers are already laid off, the city might not use the extra funds to hire the teachers back. “I’m not sure it’s worth a second round of disruption,” he said

In an email sent to schools today, Klein said principals would get preliminary budgets by June 1 but should start planning now for cuts that far exceed this year’s nearly 5 percent reduction. Klein told reporters today that the layoffs could mean an increase of three to four students in elementary school classes.

Bloomberg said that there is “no drop-dead date” for determining exactly how many teaching positions will eventually have to go. “We certainly don’t have to do anything before the budget is approved at the end of June,” he said.

Klein and Bloomberg used the draconian budget predictions to reiterate their wish for legislative changes to end the “last in-first out” requirement for teacher layoffs. The mayor also issued a warning that if the state budget ends up more dire than predicted, the city may have to reduce its commitment to raises for city teachers even further than it already has. In January, the city halved funds budgeted for 4 percent teacher pay raises to mitigate mid-year school budget cuts. Teacher raises are among the items at issue in the city’s current contract negotiations with the union, which are stalled.

The latest layoff estimates are lower than Bloomberg and Klein’s earlier estimates that the city would lose 8,500 teaching positions under the governor’s proposed cuts to state school aid. The reduction comes in part from more refined estimates and from a city commitment to help cover some of the DOE’s pension and benefit costs from its wider budget, spokeswoman Ann Forte said.

Here’s the full letter that Klein sent to principals today outlining the current budget plan:

From: Klein Joel I.
Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2010 3:08 PM
To: &All Principals
Subject: Budget Update

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier today, Mayor Bloomberg released the City’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. While the Mayor has done his best to insulate schools during these tough economic times, our Department still faces a cut in State funding as large as $500 million. As a result, we will need to absorb substantial budget cuts for the 2010-2011 school year.

OUR BUDGET SITUATION

Lawmakers in Albany have yet to pass a budget, even though their own deadline was April 1. For that reason, our fiscal picture remains uncertain. I do not yet have all the answers about how our budget will ultimately be resolved, but I do know that the coming school year will be extremely challenging for us all. We continue to have cost increases that are beyond our control for mandated special education services, contractual pay differentials for educators, facilities operations, and transportation services. As in past years, these rising costs come in addition to funding cuts from the State, and therefore make deeper school-level budget reductions unavoidable.

As you know, over the last two years, we have already endured several rounds of budget cuts. Each time, we’ve made every effort to protect schools and students. We have cut the central administrative budget by more than $116 million, or 18 percent-that’s double the percentage of cuts taken by schools. This includes headcount reductions of 550 positions in central and field offices. For the coming school year, we will cut an additional $38 million from our administrative budgets and eliminate another 5 percent of our current positions. The central budget, however, represents only three percent of the Department’s total spending. Facing a loss of $500 million from the State, we have no choice but to find significant savings in our schools and classrooms.

SCHOOL BUDGETS

We plan to send you your preliminary 2010-2011 school year budgets by June 1. Based on what we know now, which may change depending on what happens in Albany, you will likely see a budget reduction significantly greater than the 4.9 percent cut you absorbed for the current school year.

I know that a cut of this magnitude will undoubtedly be painful, but I am confident that you will make the least-harmful choices-albeit ones I wish you didn’t have to make-for your students. Even before budgets are finalized, I want you to begin planning for the coming school year. You will need to evaluate your overall expenditures, including personnel, professional development, and after-school programs, to set spending priorities that will best support your students’ academic needs. In some cases, this may mean excessing teachers to retain after-school programs or cutting school aides to save teaching positions.

STAFFING

Unfortunately, given these budgetary realities, we must assume that it will be necessary to layoff thousands of teachers. We currently anticipate that we’ll need to let go of 4,400 school-based personnel in addition to losing even more positions through attrition. No one, not you nor I, wants to lay off teachers. And, while we would prefer to do layoffs in a way that minimizes the negative consequences for our schools and students, current State law ties our hands from doing so.

As you know, teachers have to be laid off in reverse order of seniority. According to our analysis, this seniority requirement would force us to have to lay off most of the elementary school teachers hired since the fall of 2007.

This “last in, first out” requirement fails to consider school needs as well as differences in teacher effectiveness and their real impact on the lives of our students. We all know that experience can translate into real results in the classroom-but it is not the only criterion that should be considered.

Instead, these tough decisions should be based on existing ratings from evaluations. The 1,600 teachers who received U-ratings last year should be among the first to be laid off. I also believe that teachers in the ATR pool should be let go before teachers who are currently in the classroom. Additionally, when making layoff decisions, we should consider principal observations, absentee rates, impact on student learning, and contribution to school community. If we are indeed in the unfortunate position of having to let go of teachers, I am confident that we could work together to carry out the layoffs in a manner that would be better for our schools, rather than relying on seniority alone.

I will continue to advocate for a more rational lay off system that would allow you to protect your best teachers and the best interests of our students. I remain hopeful that the State and union will come to the table with us to work out a better layoff system. As in almost every other professional organization across the country, we should base layoffs on a rigorous evaluation of performance and system needs. Our priority should be to protect our most effective teachers from layoffs.

In the meantime, our Human Resources team will be working through the layoff process. We will notify you about how layoffs will affect your individual school soon after you get your school budget.

Lastly, I want to reiterate that hiring restrictions remain in place. We could, however, be in a position this coming school year where we need to hire teachers in certain license areas, such as special education, at the same time we are laying off teachers in other areas. If you anticipate a vacancy, you can network with and screen candidates, but you should not make any offers or commitments to external candidates at this time.

NEXT STEPS

We all have many questions and concerns. I invite you to participate in an interactive Web cast about our budget situation at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 12. At that time, we will discuss how we can work together to manage challenging budget times. Please click on the following link to get the call-in information and to RSVP: http://www.learningtimes.net/chancellor.

The coming fiscal year is shaping up to be one of the most difficult our school system has ever had to endure. Our schoolchildren aren’t to blame for the financial mess we’re facing-and it’s unacceptable for them to bear the brunt of the State’s budget shortfall. As budget negotiations continue in Albany, you can be confident that I will keep fighting for more money for our schools.

I look forward to talking with you next week. And, as always, thank you for your hard work.

Sincerely,

Joel I. Klein

Superintendent search

Former principal Roger Leon chosen as Newark’s new superintendent

Former principal and veteran administrator Roger Leon has been chosen as Newark’s new schools chief — its first since the city regained control of its schools.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the school board chose Leon — a Newark native backed by local elected officials — over two candidates with extensive experience in other large urban districts, but whose outsider status put them at a disadvantage. The son of Cuban immigrants, Leon takes the reins of a system whose population has become increasingly Hispanic: At 46 percent of the Newark Public Schools enrollment, Hispanic students now outnumber black students, who make up 44 percent of the enrollment.

In opting for Leon, the board also passed over A. Robert Gregory, another former Newark principal and the district’s interim superintendent, who rose through the ranks under the previous state-appointed superintendent, Christopher Cerf — which some critics saw as a blemish on his record. The board actually picked Leon as superintendent once before, in 2015. But the state education commissioner, who still controlled the district at that time, ignored the board’s choice and appointed Cerf.

The board’s decision to again tap Leon seemed to signal a definitive break from the era of sweeping, controversial changes enacted by outsiders — namely, Cerf and his predecessor, Cami Anderson. Instead, after the state ended its decades-long takeover of the district in February and put the board back in charge of the schools, the board’s choice for superintendent suggests that it will rely on local talent and ideas to guide New Jersey’s largest school system in the new era of local control.

“After 22 years of being under state control, this is a new day,” said School Board Chair Josephine Garcia after Tuesday’s vote. “We look forward to working with the new superintendent.”

Leon grew up in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, where he attended the Hawkins Street School. He graduated from Science Park High School, the highly competitive magnet school, where he returned as a substitute math teacher while still a student at Rutgers University. He later coached the school’s renowned debate team.

He went on to teach middle-school algebra, then became principal of Dr. William H. Horton School and later University High School of the Humanities. For the past decade, he has been an assistant superintendent in the district.

As deputy chief academic officer under former superintendent Clifford Janey, he helped oversee several major policy changes, including new graduation requirements and district-wide grading standards. During that process, he recruited hundreds of parents, experts, and community members to join advisory committees to help craft the new policies.

More recently, he has played less of a policymaking role, instead helping to organize district-wide initiatives like a book-giveaway program for students. He also often authors the proclamations that the district awards to distinguished students and educators.

At a forum on Friday where the four superintendent finalists introduced themselves to the public, Leon said the district needs “a clear direction” for the future. He said his vision includes an “advanced technological curriculum” in schools, a focus on social-emotional learning, teacher training, and public-private partnerships to bring additional resources into schools.

“I will inherently be a proficient and influential agent of change,” he said, “because anything short of that is unacceptable.”

Leon arrives in his new position with a strong base of support, which was evident after Tuesday’s vote, when the audience erupted into cheers. In addition to the many parents and educators he has crossed paths with during his 25 years working in the district, he is also said to have close ties with State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, an influential lawmaker based in the politically powerful North Ward.

While Leon served under both Anderson and Cerf, he was far enough removed from the decision-making to escape the wrath of critics who opposed their policies, which included closing some district schools and overseeing the expansion of the charter-school sector. On Tuesday, John Abeigon, the head of the Newark Teachers Union, which clashed bitterly with Anderson and Cerf, said he looked forward to working with Leon.

“Once the new superintendent is sworn in,” he said, “we can begin rebuilding some of the more positive aspects of our district that were destroyed under the corporate control of Cerf.”

While the board has now officially offered Leon the position, it must still negotiate the terms of his contract. He will then start his new role on July 1.

Leon was one of four finalists selected by a search committee after a national search. A state plan had called for the board to choose from just three finalists. But someone on the search committee was unhappy with the three who were chosen and asked the state commissioner to allow a fourth finalist — despite the objections of some other committee members.

While the audience at Tuesday’s board meeting loudly cheered the board’s final decision, many people still criticized the search process. The board kept the names of the finalists secret until shortly before Friday’s forum, where audience members were not permitted to ask the candidates questions.

Still, even critics of the process said they were eager to work with the superintendent.

“The board made their decision,” said Wilhelmina Holder, a longtime parent activist. “So now we’re going to have to respect that decision and work on behalf of the children.”

Superintendent search

On eve of historic vote in Newark, questions arise about superintendent selection process

PHOTO: Newark Press Information Office

When the Newark school board votes on a new superintendent Tuesday evening, as is expected, it will choose from four finalists — a notable departure from the state’s guidelines for the search, which called for a maximum of three finalists.

The change, the result of a behind-the-scenes dispute, is likely to raise questions about the integrity of the superintendent search process at a critical juncture, as the local school board takes control for the first time in over two decades.

The fourth finalist was added after a search committee had already agreed on its shortlist, and despite the objections of some committee members who wanted to stick with the initial three finalists, according to Kim Gaddy, a committee member and school board member, and Marques-Aquil Lewis, the former school board chair, who were both involved in the process.

The addition came at the insistence of other search committee members who were upset that a “strong” candidate had been left off the shortlist, according to Lewis. The additional name was added after the state education commissioner, who is overseeing the handover to local control, agreed to revise the state-authored playbook governing the transition.  

The identities of the four finalist candidates are public, but search committee members would not confirm which of the four was added to the list late.

The dispute over the superintendent selection process comes as the elected school board is choosing a schools chief for the first time since 1995, when the state seized control of the district. In February, the state provisionally returned control of the district to board, whose first major task is to choose a new superintendent.

Gaddy, the school board member who was on the seven-person search committee, said she did not even learn about the request for a fourth candidate until after it was sent. (Lewis, the board chairman who sent the request, disputes that.) Either way, Gaddy says the committee should have honored the process as it was written in the guidelines, which the district must adhere to in order to maintain control of its schools.

“When we finished with three members, that’s it. There should not have been any other discussion with the search committee,” said Gaddy, who declined to say who was the fourth finalist added to the list.

In order to fully return to local control, the district must follow a two-year state plan that spells out every detail of the transition. The plan stipulated that the board must conduct a national search for superintendent candidates, who would then be narrowed down to three finalists by the search committee.

During their deliberations, the committee members discussed the possibility of naming four finalists, but there was “no real consensus” on whether to ask for an additional finalist, according to Gaddy. So at its final meeting on April 21, the group decided to adhere to the plan and name three finalists.

However, immediately after that meeting, one or more members approached Lewis, who was then the chair of the school board, and asked him to send a request to the state asking for permission to name a fourth finalist, Lewis said. Lewis, who was not on the search committee, would not say who asked him to request the change. But he said they were unhappy with the shortlist of finalists.

“When the request was made, they felt there was a fourth candidate that was strong, that should have made the finals,” he said, adding that the person or persons did not tell him who the candidates were.

Lewis said he reached out to all seven committee members before making the request, but could not reach one member. (Lewis said he did speak with Gaddy, which she says she does not recall.)

Two members objected to the request, Lewis said. But he said that four agreed to it, so he sent a letter to the commissioner asking for a change to the transition plan.

Just after Lewis sent the request, he was replaced as board chair by Josephine Garcia. (Lewis did not run for re-election.) After becoming chair, Garcia re-sent the request to the state.

Once again, Gaddy said she was not informed in advance: “I found out after the fact. I was not asked to support it.” Instead, she said that Garcia said she would discuss the request at a board meeting — after it had already been sent. (Garcia did not respond to an email seeking comment.)

On April 27, Acting State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet sent Garcia a letter saying her request had been granted.

“I am in receipt of your request to amend the Transition Plan to allow the Superintendent Search Committee to submit four finalists to the full Board of Education for consideration,” Lamont wrote in the letter, which the state education department provided to Chalkbeat.

“In order to provider greater assistance to the district in finding the best candidate for the Superintendent position and to allow for consideration of all potentially qualified candidates,” Lamont continued, he agreed to amend the transition plan to allow for four finalists.

After the request was granted, four finalists were presented to the school board — including the one who did not make the original list of three. The four introduced themselves to the public on Friday, and were interviewed by the board in private on Saturday. The full board is expected to vote on which finalist to extend the offer to at its meeting Tuesday evening.

The finalists are former Baltimore city schools chief Andres Alonso; Newark Interim Superintendent A. Robert Gregory; Newark Assistant Superintendent Roger Leon; and Sito Narcisse, chief of schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee.

The search committee includes three board members: Gaddy, Garcia, and Leah Owens. Three other members were jointly chosen by the mayor and the state education commissioner: Former Newark superintendent Marion Bolden, Rutgers University-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor, and Irene Cooper-Basch, executive officer of the Victoria Foundation. A seventh person, attorney Jennifer Carrillo-Perez, was appointed by the commissioner.

Only Gaddy would agree to speak on the record for this story; the other committee members did not respond to messages or declined to comment on the record.

Gaddy said she kept the names of the candidates confidential throughout the process, as required. However, she said she felt the entire process has been tainted by the decision to change the rules of the search without the agreement of the full search committee.

The transition plan “was a roadmap,” Gaddy said, that provided clear instructions: “‘You have two years to do A, B, C, and D.’”

“Now every time you don’t agree with A or you don’t agree with B, you’re going to write a letter to the commissioner?” she asked. “How is that following the plan and inspiring confidence in the ability to run this district?”