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A Memo from the NYC Schools Chancellor to School Principals

razor_blade.jpgA couple of months ago, a grim picture for schools was painted by the Schools Chancellor. Then there was the stimulus package, with a central focus on protecting jobs of teachers. Then there was a budget offered by the Mayor which projected that there would be no teacher layoffs and that the NYCDOE was being protected to a much greater degree than other agencies.

Predicting New York City’s income is probably more difficult than ever. Fair enough. That being said, yesterday Joel Klein had a webcast for all of the nearly 1500 principals where a pretty bad picture was painted, which while attempting to hold the line on teacher layoffs, will result in big cuts to non-teaching staffs and programs. Ultimately what to cut will be the decision of each school’s principal. On May 18th principals will receive their budgets for next year.

What does this mean for arts education?

Well, since the specifics will vary from school to school, it’s hard to tell until the actual budget is revealed. A few weeks ago, I was hearing about cuts of up to six percent, and that’s on top of cuts already made, and factoring in stimulus funding.

Basically, what I’ve written about previously is that the calculus is fairly simple: it’s about money in and money out for the arts organizations. We know that corporate and private philanthropy, as well as government funding is down; and cuts to contracted services lines that pay for services of arts organizations willl affect a critical lifeline for each organization working in public schools.

If contracted services, the so-called “soft money” suffers a big hit, that will spell serious trouble for most of the cultural organizations, and yes, of course, in the end the kids will suffer.

As for arts teachers, some will be lost through attrition; some may very well be laid off. And, keep in mind that last year’s Arts Count survey by the New York City Department of Education found that from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008, there was a 10% increase in the number of schools without a single arts teacher. That, of course, was before the economic crisis.

Are you wondering, what exactly did the Chancellor write in his memo? Here’s a bit of context before you read this memo. There is a no layoff clause in the contract with the United Federation of Teachers. it’s important to remember, as while a principal can excess a teacher, they would then go into a fully paid reserve pool called the Alternative Teacher Reserve. These “ATR” teachers serve as substitutes unless the get an assigment at another school, and the school that excessed them is still responsible for a portion of their salary. So, principal empowerment has its limits, as is evident in the memo. Still with me?

Okay, here it is:

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for joining me on this morning’s webcast. I thought it was
a productive conversation and I appreciated your questions. We will
post the video of the webcast on the Principals’ Portal so that those
of you who were not able to join us will have the opportunity to watch;
in the coming days, we will be following up with more answers to the
questions that you asked this morning.

In this note, I will reiterate the key points that I made during this morning’s conversation.

I don’t have all the answers-but my goal is to give you all the
information I have so that you can plan more effectively for the coming
school year. I feel strongly that principals are in the best position
to make key educational decisions for their schools, and I want to give
you the tools you need to exercise the kind of leadership that the
City’s schools and schoolchildren need in these tough times. This is a
hard year-and while the Federal stimulus package is making it more
bearable, it does not make us whole from a budget point of view. We
still face a substantial budget gap and we’re anticipating significant
cuts to school budgets. The City and the State are both facing
significant declines in revenue as a result of Wall Street and the
overall economy.

As you know, this isn’t the first year when we’ve faced budget
hardships in our school system. In the last eighteen months, we have
already taken three budget cuts. We have consistently made every effort
to protect schools and classrooms. During this time, we have eliminated
more than 550 positions, or 8%, of the total positions in our central
and field offices. We will take more cuts to central and field
administration for the upcoming fiscal year, but with our central and
field budgets representing only 3% of the total DOE budget, we have no
choice but to find savings in our schools and classrooms. Keep in mind
that we have many costs-from food and transportation to debt service
and pensions-that are the price of running a big school system like
ours. We have no control over many of these costs and cannot cut back
in these areas.

There are a number of factors that will affect the final numbers for
the 2009-10 school year, but it’s important that you know how the
budget situation will affect your hiring decisions and the budget
timeline for the rest of the school year. Here are the three most
important facts:
FIRST, as you’ve heard me say before, principals are in the best
position to know what their students and schools need to excel. This
year, even though our budget situation is far from ideal, we are
maintaining this principle of empowerment. We want to give you the
support and flexibility you need to continue focusing on academic
achievement.
SECOND, we’re expecting that the cut will be an across-the-board
percentage reduction to all schools’ total budgets. While the
percentage will be the same for all schools, schools will take the cuts
in different ways, depending on their mix of funding streams and their
mix of personnel and non-personnel allocations.
THIRD, we are going to reduce spending without laying off teachers.
This is because any layoff of teaching staff is done by seniority,
which would require us to force-place teachers until the least senior
teachers in the City were laid off. This bumping of staff would violate
the principle of empowerment and cause the kind of disruption that we
need to avoid. As a result of attrition and your individual decisions
to meet budget, the overall number of teachers is likely to go down,
but no current teachers will be laid off. This means you will need to
look carefully at cutting back other school staff and making reductions
in non-personnel areas.

OUR BUDGET SITUATION

In January, when I testified before the State Senate Finance
Committee and the State Assembly Ways & Means Committee in Albany,
I said we faced a $1.4 billion budget gap. Thankfully, our situation
today-because of the Federal intervention-is not nearly that bad. The
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help the Department of
Education avoid the situation I outlined in January for the 2009-10
school year. This Federal Stimulus Package money will go a long way-and
help us to avoid massive layoffs. However, many of the costs over which
we have little or no control have been growing. This leaves us with a
substantial funding gap.

Between Fiscal Year 2009 and 2010, the price of education has gone
up as teachers’ salaries have risen and as the mandated costs for
special education services have grown. We also remain committed to some
key priorities that the Mayor and I believe will help our schools and
our students excel: things like giving you the tools you need to
monitor students’ performance and progress; closing down failing
schools and replacing them with new schools; and creating innovative
programs like schoolwide performance bonuses to reward teachers who are
successful at helping students make progress. As we face the 2009-10
school year, we all must start thinking about how we can cut back.

SCHOOL BUDGETS

The numbers are not set in stone; there are many variables. As we
work to firm up the numbers, I want you to be able to start planning.

For starters, you should know that we plan to send you your
preliminary 2009-10 school year budgets in the week of May 18. When you
receive your budget, you will see how much you have to spend during the
coming school year, and you will begin to make decisions about where
you should cut back. I want to make this point clear: even in this
challenging time, we are sticking with the principles that are at the
heart of Children First. Our focus, as always, remains firmly on
student achievement. We need to figure out a way to make sure our
schools and students continue making academic progress, even as we cope
with our budget situation. That may not be easy, but it’s what
leadership is about.

As you approach this decision-making process, you should know that
if you are one of the 825 schools that rolled over money from this
school year, you will be able to use these funds to offset your cuts.
In all, schools rolled over $95 million.

Even so, as you can imagine, the magnitude of the necessary cuts
across our school system will mean that most schools will need to
significantly reduce OTPS, per diem, and per session spending. This
means potentially large cuts to after school and supplemental programs.

Some schools will have to reduce non-teaching personnel. Some
schools will decide not to backfill positions, including teaching
positions, which open up due to attrition. Many schools will need to
eliminate teaching positions in order to make their cuts. As teaching
positions are eliminated and as some vacancies are not backfilled, we
predict that our system will have a couple of thousand fewer teachers
next year. Just to be clear, in a normal year, if 4,000 teachers left
the City’s public schools, we would hire 4,000 brand new teachers into
the system. This year, we anticipate that we will not hire as many new
teachers as leave through attrition. This means the number of teaching
positions in the system will drop. But while some schools will lose
teaching positions, others will not. At more than half of our schools,
between the surplus roll, relatively large OTPS budgets, and other
non-teacher funds, there will likely be enough money to implement cuts
without eliminating any teaching positions.

STAFFING

In deciding how to implement the necessary reductions, we knew we
could tell schools how to take cuts or we could allow schools to make
the best decisions for their communities. We decided against the
top-down approach, so we could give you the discretion you need to make
the best decisions for your communities. In return for giving you this
flexibility, I need to place certain restrictions in almost all school
titles for the remainder of this fiscal year and next year.

Most significantly, effective immediately, you may only hire
existing DOE staff, as opposed to people from outside the system. That
means you must hire people who are working in other schools in the same
titles or people who are in excess in those titles. Here are the
specific restrictions:
Teachers: There will be no forced placements or layoffs of teachers.
You may only hire existing DOE teachers, as opposed to people from
outside the system.
Guidance Counselors, Social Workers: At this time, there will be no
forced placements or layoffs of these employees. They will be treated
the same as teachers, so you can only hire individuals who are already
working in the same titles in our system.
School Secretaries, Paraprofessionals, School Aides, Family Workers: We
will work to place excesses in vacancies and evaluate the situation to
determine if layoffs are necessary.
Parent Coordinators: You may not eliminate your parent coordinator
position. If your parent coordinator leaves, you may hire a new one
either internally or from outside of the system.
Assistant Principals: You may not excess APs. To avoid any increases in
the excess pool overall, given the limited number of assistant
principal vacancies that we can expect, assistant principals should not
be excessed. Vacant positions may be eliminated, and you can fill
vacancies under existing procedures with any qualified candidate.

We are imposing these restrictions because we cannot afford to
support a growing excess pool, which currently includes 1,400 staff in
all titles. Any growth in the excess pool means less money that can go
into schools and classrooms. The goal here is to try to absorb the
reductions systemwide through attrition. We know there might not be an
exact match at each school, but systemwide, there is a high likelihood
that the number of reduced teaching positions can essentially be
matched by vacancies created due to attrition.

Although you will have the discretion to make the cuts you feel are
in the best interest of your schools, you should look carefully at
non-personnel areas such as per session and OTPS. My staff will be
reviewing your preliminary decisions regarding your budgets so that we
can get a sense of what the overall impacts are on the system. While
you will have the discretion to make the decisions you think best fit
your schools, if these decisions seem to tilt too heavily toward
excessing, I will ask that you rethink your budget priorities.

We will review our hiring restrictions weekly, and as we move
forward, we might lift them in certain geographic and subject areas.
For example, we may hire new teachers in shortage areas like special
education and science. It is possible that for some subject and
geographic areas the hiring restrictions will continue to be in effect
through the opening of school.

So, to be clear: at this point, you can interview and select any
teacher who is currently working in a public school or is in the excess
pool. As in past years, you can use the Open Market system for this
purpose until August 7, when it closes. The Open Market includes both
excessed staff and employees who wish to transfer. It is worth
remembering that teachers newly excessed by the budget cuts will, for
the most part, be new teachers who many of you have hired in the past
few years.

Some of you might have made informal commitments to prospective
candidates outside of our system. You should reach out to these people
and tell them that they will have to wait; those jobs might not
actually be there and that you are unable to hire them at this time. We
are making no commitments to candidates, including Teach for America
and Teaching Fellows candidates, although these programs are recruiting
teachers for shortage areas where there is a stronger possibility that
we will have some new needs in the coming months.

New schools will be partially subject to the new hiring
restrictions. Many new schools are already under a contractual
requirement to hire half of the qualified staff from closing school.
All new schools must hire at least 50% from current staff (from the
closing school or elsewhere in the system), but will be able to hire
50% of their teachers from outside of the system. This applies to new
schools that are ramping up during their first three years.

I want to reiterate that for our hiring restrictions to work so that
we can avoid bumping and forced placement, schools have to commit to
hiring from within the DOE. We are going to place limitations on
part-time hiring and the use of substitutes as these strategies will
also undermine our ability to avoid increases in the excess pool. In
addition, I want to emphasize that you should not, indeed may not, use
excessing as a means of removing staff with performance issues from
your schools. There is another way to deal with performance issues and
we will support you in those efforts. While these restrictions limit
your choices more than in most years, it is the only strategy that will
preserve choice. You can decide whether to hire and whom to hire, so
long as the teacher comes from within the system.

NEXT STEPS

We expect to get budgets to schools in the week of May 18. At that
point, you will be able to work with your ISC and SSO budget
representatives to plan your budget for the coming school year. Each
school will face different choices. It is important that you work with
your teachers and the other members of your school community to make
the best decisions with respect to your budget.

We will review the school budget submitted by each principal to
ensure that indicated reductions in teaching positions will be covered
by the expected attrition across the City. If not, the principals will
be provided with additional guidance to avoid some of the proposed
reductions in teaching positions.

Principals with expected teacher openings from attrition and
enrollment growth should immediately inform their ISCs. This way, we
will be able to help you plan. You, of course, retain the power to
decide who you hire.

We will hold budget meetings at the Citywide and Community Education
Councils in May and June. The Panel for Educational Policy and the City
Council vote on the budget in June. This is the moment when everything
is finalized, so until this moment, we are working in a situation of
uncertainty.

CONCLUSION

We know it’s going to be a challenging year, but working together,
I’m confident we can keep focused on our shared goal of student
achievement. During this difficult time, I would like to thank you for
your hard work and support. I don’t think there’s any group of people
better equipped to make this work than New York City principals.

If you have any follow up questions, please email DOEstaffing@schools.nyc.gov.
I also encourage you to come to one of two sessions-on May 13 and May
20-when I will be discussing more details of this year’s budget
situation with principals. You can register for one of these sessions
by clicking here: www.zoomerang.com/Survey/?p=WEB2295TMATML6. If you have specific questions about your school, you can always contact your ISC or CFN staff.

Sincerely,

Joel Klein

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