hiring squad

Principals union head questions Klein's Oct. 30 hiring ultimatum

Principals union president Ernest Logan is raising questions about Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s threat to take money away from principals who don’t fill their vacancies by Oct. 30.

The point of Klein’s threat, made in an e-mail to principals yesterday and first reported by the Web site Insideschools, is to get principals who might be trying to outlast the hiring freeze to pick up “excessed” teachers from the ATR pool. Those teachers, who currently number more than 1,500, are drawing full salaries even though they don’t have permanent positions in schools. Their salaries are “a fiscal liability we cannot sustain in this budget climate,” Klein said in his letter.

But principals can’t hire teachers who aren’t eligible for their vacancies or who don’t apply for jobs, Logan emphasized in a response today to Klein’s hiring deadline. “We would like to know more about what the DoE will do if appropriate licensing matches are not made or if excessed teachers fail to show up at the recruitment fairs,” he said.

The Department of Education is requiring teachers in the ATR pool to attend borough-based hiring fairs next week, according to an e-mail obtained by union activist Norm Scott. Ann Forte, a DOE spokeswoman, confirmed that the fairs are compulsory for ATRs. But teachers in the pool are not required to apply for jobs, a contractual quirk that has made the pool a lightning rod for critics of the teachers union.

Forte said the department has granted 125 exemptions to the hiring freeze to principals who have made a compelling case about why they cannot fill their vacancies using available teachers who are already in the system.

Logan’s full response to Klein’s letter is below, followed by the letter itself:

Our school Principals have done a fine job of trying to face the daunting task of honoring the hiring freeze and still hiring the best possible teachers for their students’ educational needs. We are pleased that the DoE’s Human Resources Department will be stepping up to the plate by hosting teacher recruitment fairs for excessed teachers.

However, we would like to know more about what the DoE will do if appropriate licensing matches are not made or if excessed teachers fail to show up at the recruitment fairs.

to principals:

Budget Situation and Hiring Restrictions

Thanks to federal stimulus funds, last year we were able to avoid massive teacher lay-offs and severe budget cuts that could have decimated school programs. I know the budget cuts we had to impose were painful, but keep in mind that in the years leading up to this economic crisis, we invested heavily in our schools and we’re still in much better shape than we were seven years ago. 

The hiring restrictions that remain in place helped us avoid deeper cuts and have allowed you to retain your hiring power, even if they limited the talent pool. Right now, however, there are still more than 1,500 centrally-funded excessed teachers in our system, about 500 more than last year. This is a fiscal liability we cannot sustain in this budget climate, and we must reduce it. Meanwhile, there are still about 1,100 vacancies in the system in about half of our schools.

As a result, I am imposing an October 30 deadline to fill teacher vacancies. Hiring restrictions will remain in place, and for most subject areas vacancies must be filled with internal staff. Within these limitations, you may still hire whomever you choose, and you may still choose not to hire anyone. But if you don’t fill a vacancy and have that teacher finalized on your school budget by October 30, we may be forced to take back the dollars budgeted for those positions to pay for the increase in teachers in the excess pool. 

In order to help you fill your vacancies, this month we are hosting borough-based recruitment fairs for excessed teachers. These events are during the school day and excessed teachers are mandated to attend the fair for their borough. Principals who have remaining vacancies that need to be filled are strongly encouraged to attend or send a representative. You should register in advance. For more information, call (718) 935-4080 or e-mail hiringsupport@schools.nyc.gov

Nobody dislikes this situation more than I do. Limiting your hiring freedom goes against what I stand for, but because of the economic reality we must control costs and protect our schools from deeper budget cuts.

Despite these challenges, I am so optimistic about where we are headed. For the first time in decades, this nation is uniting around the power of education, and thanks to you, New York City is a model for what can be achieved through vision, collaboration, and hard work on behalf of our students.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”