the chopping block

On the budget cuts, more that we know, and more that we don't

I live-blogged the City Council hearing on the education budget today, where school officials explained in more detail than ever before how they plan to cut $180 million from the Department of Education budget in the middle of the year. Here’s an overview of what we know now — and what we still don’t.


  • If the plan goes through as the DOE has outlined, schools will have lost about $560 million total since the mid-year cuts last year. The cuts have come from both the central bureaucracy and school budgets. How it breaks down:

  • A substantial portion of cuts will come from cutting 475 administrative positions, moves that not only cut out their salaries but also add to the “fringe” blue portion of the graph above, since the department will no longer have to cover those employees’ benefits. Of the 475 total job cuts planned for the middle of the school year, none are teaching jobs, and no full-time school positions will be cut — although principals could choose to cut back on the hours that non-teaching staff like cafeteria aides put in.
  • The largest bulk of those jobs, 284, will come from the DOE’s central offices at Tweed Courthouse. So far, 51 jobs have been selected for elimination. Those come from the Office of Portfolio Development, which manages new small schools and charter schools; the Office of Communications, which includes the press spokesmen and people who put out internal newsletters; the internal technology department; and the Office of Family Engagement, which helps parents get involved in the public schools.
  • There are three other sets of job cuts: 43 vacant positions that had been slotted for social workers monitoring pre-kindergarten programs will not be filled; 54 jobs will be lost from the Integrated Service Centers, which are strung across the boroughs and offer schools legal help, human resources staff, and other help; and 95 are jobs related to maintaining school facilities, including 71 plumbing and electrician “trade” jobs and 24 administrative jobs.
  • Schools are bearing the largest brunt of the cuts in terms of hard dollar figures, though as a percentage of total spending, central administration is cutting more — 6% of its budget compared to 1.3% for schools.
  • Other cuts are from a smattering of programs and cost-saving methods, including not hiring Teaching Fellows during the middle of the year and changing the way faculty are paid to grade standardized tests, by taking $11 million out of the $22 million that had been slated to pay teachers to grade them in their after-work hours. (Now, non-classroom teachers will be expected to grade the tests during school hours.)


  • What will schools cut from their budgets to carve out the 1.3% that’s been ordered (pending City Council approval)? Principals had to turn in plans explaining this to the Department of Education, and the DOE promised to share the details with City Council members as soon as it knows them.
  • How will the department find 233 more positions to axe at its Tweed Courthouse headquarters? That’s the number that still haven’t been identified as on the chopping block — and which, presumably, school officials still haven’t figured out.
  • Will the City Council approve the cuts as the DOE outlined them, or will it ask for revisions? Today there were some voices of dissent: Robert Jackson, the education committee chair, said that he is not yet ready to approve the plan until he sees specifically what schools are going to cut, and other members pleaded for more efficiency at the department. Still, no council member specified a cut they wanted to see that the department wasn’t making, or drew a line in the sand that a planned cut would prevent them from signing off. The strongest voice was the public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, who asked the department to cut diagnostic tests given during the year as well as the ARIS data warehouse. But she does not sit on the council.
  • The Department of Education has not yet outlined how it plans to cut its budget in the next school year, and that will be an even bigger challenge. The cut the mayor asked from that budget: $385 million.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”