City Council to examine proposed school budget cuts tomorrow

When the City Council scrutinizes the Department of Education’s planned budget cuts tomorrow (at a hearing scheduled for 1 p.m.) members might want to have aspirin on hand.

That’s because, like the budget itself, the department’s Power Point presentation of the cuts it has identified would give even the most seasoned analyst a headache. The image above is just one page of the dizzying document.

The cuts are divided into five “buckets,” ranging from the central administration to District 75, the city’s district for severely disabled students. How deeply schools and students are actually going to feel the mid-year cuts isn’t at all clear, nor is it clear exactly how the proposed cuts add up to the $185 million the mayor asked the DOE to cut from its budget by Nov. 21.

Some questions, among many, that education committee members might ask:

  • How many of the planned cuts are a result of the mayor’s budget announcement? At least a few of the programs targeted for elimination come as no surprise. The DOE quietly canceled its midyear class of Teaching Fellows earlier this fall, for example, and the citywide science test was already delayed once last year; science teachers we’ve spoken to never heard that the tests had been rescheduled.
  • What are schools cutting from their budgets? A DOE spokeswoman told me earlier this month that many schools had already allocated most of their funds for this year, and that the DOE would have to work closely with principals to help them find fat to trim.
  • How many of the cuts affect initiatives put in place since Joel Klein became chancellor? When I looked at the preliminary cuts distributed at the mayor’s budget briefing, I could only find one: the elimination of extra funds for schools that received high progress report grades.
  • At the Panel for Educational Policy meeting on Monday, where the presentation was given, Manhattan PEP member Patrick Sullivan suggested eliminating funds for interim assessments and standardized testing for the city’s youngest students. Has the DOE considered those options?
  • How much does each line item free up in the DOE’s budget? How much money has the city been spending to hold trainings about ARIS, its data system, in private locations? How much have consultants been paid to help with ECLAS, an early childhood assessment that is supposed to be easy for teachers to administer and analyze? This could be an opportunity for council members to find out budget details that the DOE hasn’t always made available.
  • What is the DOE’s plan for dealing with the state budget cuts proposed by Governor Paterson, if those in fact go through? He proposed withholding $255 million from the city this year, significantly more than the mayor has asked for. The DOE would be unlikely to be able to protect its core Children First programs should a cut of that magnitude become reality.