Last year, when parents and teachers rallied at hundreds of schools to call for additional school funding, one group’s voice was largely absent: principals.
But one year later, 36 New York City principals are making a direct appeal to the state. In a letter addressed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and publicized as budget negotiations are underway in Albany — the principals are demanding the nearly $2 billion they say city schools are owed.
“We as principals have found our voice,” said Jamaal Bowman of CASA Middle School in the Bronx, who penned the letter.
Bowman and two of the other 36 principals told Chalkbeat that they would use additional funds to solve one of their toughest problems: Not having enough staff members to work with students who come to school farthest behind.
Bowman’s school is currently without a teacher certified to teach English learners, he said, and more funding would mean a greater ability to recruit teachers to work with smaller groups of students.
“The teacher who worked with our English language learners left right at the start of the school year and we were stuck,” Bowman said. His two certified special-education teachers have also spread themselves thin, he said, using lunch and prep time to offer needed services.
“The funding would allow me to hire another teacher to support them,” he said.
James Bellon, the principal of CASA Elementary School who also signed the letter, said his school faces similar challenges.
Many of his youngest students need early academic intervention, and hiring someone to focus on that work could save the school money later on services the students will need as they fall further behind, he noted.
CASA Elementary also deals with a lot of students who transfer in during third, fourth, and fifth grade. Now, Bellon said he’s using some funds to pay teachers to work with students through their extra periods, during lunch, and before and after the school day. But another teacher to help those students catch up would be ideal.
“We have to be very creative with scheduling because we don’t have enough teachers,” said Bellon.
The principals’ demands for funding are in line with a years-long push from advocacy groups like the Alliance for Quality Education, who say the state must comply with the terms of a 2006 lawsuit settlement that established a formula for education funding. Schools across the state are owed an additional $2.9 billion, advocates say.
The de Blasio administration has moved to increase school budgets as the recession waned and state education spending rebounded. This year, the governor, the State Assembly, and the Senate have all proposed increasing education spending again, though not by the full amount that advocates want.
That money would help schools fill in other gaps, too, the principals said.
CASA Middle opened in 2009, and grant money helped the school offer enrichment opportunities like school trips to museums, leadership training programs for select students, and robotics classes. Those have had to stop in recent years, Bowman said.
Bellon, the elementary school principal, said his dream would be to fund an after-school band or choral program. Bowman would create at least a part-time computer science program at his school.
At Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters, Principal Brandon Cardet-Hernandez said he would use additional funds to create a laptop library and address his special-education staffing shortfalls.
“Many of our students don’t have computers at home, and the money would allow us to rethink how we use technology,” Cardet-Hernandez said. “I want to be a partner with the state, but this money belongs to our communities and we feel the missed opportunities.”