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

To and Through

Newark’s post-grad paradox: More students are entering college, but few earn degrees

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wants 25 percent of residents to have college degrees by 2025, up from 19 percent today.

When it comes to college, Newark faces a good news-bad news paradox.

More students than ever are graduating high school and enrolling in college, according to a new report. Yet fewer than one in four Newark students earns a college degree within six years of graduating high school — leaving many with limited job prospects in a city where an estimated one-third of jobs require a four-year college degree.

Now, city officials are promising to build on the report. They want to ramp up the rigor of high-school classes and create more early-college programs to increase the odds of students entering college and leaving with a degree.  

“How do we teach our children to perform — to graduate?” Mayor Ras Baraka asked at a press conference Wednesday to mark the official release of the report of Newark students’ college outcomes. “We got them in the door,” he said of students who attend college. “Now how do we make them stay?”

The city’s plans, to which Superintendent Roger León is lending his support, reflect a growing recognition that simply getting students into college is not sufficient — and can even backfire if they drop out before graduation, leaving them with college debt but no degree.

Until recently, the charge given to high schools in Newark and across the country was to foster “college-going cultures.” And these efforts showed promising results: On average, 51 percent of Newark Public School students who graduated high school between 2011 and 2016 immediately enrolled in college, up from 39 percent who did so between 2004 and 2010, according to the report by the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, or NCLC, and Rutgers University-Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.

But entering college didn’t guarantee its completion. Of those students who started college straight after high school, only 39 percent earned a degree within six years, the report found.

As a result, educators and policymakers have begun to think harder about how to help students “to and through” college — to ensure they actually earn degrees. Toward that end, Baraka and the NCLC — which includes roughly 40 colleges, schools, nonprofits, and corporations — has set a goal of 25 percent of Newark residents earning college degrees or comparable credentials by 2025.

Today, just 19 percent of Newark adults have associate degrees or higher — compared to 45 percent of adults across New Jersey and 40 percent nationally.

Superintendent León, who began overseeing the city’s schools on July 1, said his main strategy for supporting these efforts will be to expose students to challenging work early on.

“If we don’t do something dramatically in classrooms to improve instruction and make it rigorous,” León said after Wednesday’s event, then students are “getting into college but they’re not completing it.”

Source: “Post-Secondary Outcomes of Newark High School Graduates (2011-2016)” report. Note: The four-year rate is an average of the classes of 2011 to 2013. The six-year rate is from the class of 2011. Graphic: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

For starters, León said he wants high schools to offer more college-level classes. In the 2016-17 school year, just 21 percent of Newark students were enrolled in one or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes — compared to 42 percent of students statewide.

He also vowed to raise the quality of instruction in the district’s traditional high schools. Only 14 percent of their graduates earn college degrees within six years, compared to 42 percent of graduates from the city’s selective magnet schools, the report found.

To do that, León said he will create specialized academies within the traditional schools modeled on the magnets, which have specialized themes such as science, technology, or the arts. The academies, which will partner with colleges, will most likely feature admissions criteria similar to those of magnet schools, which select students based on their academic and attendance records, León added.

And, for the first time, all ninth-grade students this academic year will take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, León said Wednesday. An additional 1,100 eighth-graders who passed at least one of their seventh-grade PARCC exams will also take the PSAT when it’s administered on Oct. 10.

Since 2016, the district has provided the PSAT to all 10th and 11th-grade students. But León said that giving the test to younger students will focus their attention on college and help identity those who are ready for advanced classes. The PSAT is designed to help students prepare for the SAT, which is used in college admissions, and to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.

The district, which was under state control for 22 years until February, is getting some assistance in its effort to improve students’ college outcomes.

For instance, KIPP, the national charter-school network with eight schools in Newark, is sharing its strategies for helping students choose the right college with guidance counselors at three district high schools.

And the higher-education institutions in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, including Essex County College and Rutgers University-Newark, plan to create more “dual-enrollment” programs that allow high-school students to earn college credits, said NCLC Executive Director Reginald Lewis.

“We’re all going to do a better job,” Lewis said, “of making sure that once Newark residents get in our doors, that we help them persist.”

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”