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

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.