No new hires, a cash-strapped DOE instructed principals today

Responding to shrinking budgets and rising costs, the Department of Education is putting in place what amounts to a systemwide teacher hiring freeze, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein informed principals today.

Individual schools will still be able to use their budgets to add new teachers if they are able, but the DOE is planning to cut school budgets so far that many schools will have to shed teachers, DOE officials revealed. And any new hires, to replace teachers who leave, will have to come from teachers who are already in the system, according to new rules the department is implementing.

Klein informed principals about the hiring restrictions, which the department says should allow it to avoid actually laying off teachers, this morning during a Webcast and just now in a memo, which is included at the end of this post. The department is planning to give principals more detailed information about their schools’ budgets during the week of May 18.

Speaking to reporters today, a top DOE official, Photeine Anagnostopoulos, said she could not predict how many schools would need to eliminate teachers but said that a “high percentage” might be able to cut their budgets sufficiently by reducing non-teaching staff and axing programs. She said “the goal” for the department is for all schools to make the same percentage cut to their budgets. That size of that cut has not yet been finalized, she said, adding that principals would ultimately have discretion about how to cut their own budgets.

The new restrictions require principals to fill vacancies created by attrition by picking up current teachers who are either in a classroom elsewhere in the city or in the existing pool of excessed teachers, which already includes about 1,100 teachers. The size of the excessed teacher pool is likely to grow as principals determine that they must reduce their teaching staffs for next year because of the budget cuts.

Schools that must cut teachers will have to do so according to strict rules that include a requirement that the newest hires in each credential area go first, Larry Becker, the DOE’s head human resources executive, said today. Excessed teachers will not stay on the school’s payroll, as they have in the past, he said.

Also affected will be people who have been accepted by Teach for America or the city’s Teaching Fellows program. Becker said he anticipated that those people, who typically teach in shortage areas such as special education, would ultimately be hired by schools. But until they are, he said, the DOE will not add them to the system’s payroll.

Anagnostopoulos emphasized that the new restrictions do not represent a return to the system of forced placement, when senior teachers could “bump” newer colleagues out of positions in schools. “We are not force-placing people into schools,” she said. “We are saying that the pool from which you as principals can choose is the pool of existing teachers.”

Responding to questions about how the cuts will affect the DOE’s central administration, Anagnostopoulos said recent budget cuts have hit Tweed disproportionately hard. She said the department would continue to fill vacant positions in its central administration but would not create new positions. “I can’t tell you when the last new hire was made,” she said.

The new restrictions suggest that the department’s true budget picture is closer to what Klein described before the City Council in March than the relatively rosy picture that Mayor Bloomberg painted last week. In March, Klein told the council that although the DOE would likely escape teacher layoffs, a significant number of other staff members might have to be laid off. Anagnostopoulos confirmed that scenario today.

The reason for the discrepancy, Klein said then and DOE officials said today in a conference call with reporters, is that the DOE’s costs are set to rise significantly because of collective bargaining agreements that guarantee certain pensions and salary increases, and because of increased costs associated with educating children with special needs.

Below is the memo that principals just received from Chancellor Klein:

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 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: If you have specific questions about your school, you can always contact your ISC or CFN staff. Sincerely, Joel I. Klein