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.


Newark schools would get $37.5 million boost under Gov. Murphy’s budget plan

PHOTO: OIT/Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy gave his first budget address on Tuesday.

Newark just got some good news: Gov. Phil Murphy wants to give its schools their biggest budget increase since 2011.

State funding for the district would grow by 5 percent — or $37.5 million — next school year under Murphy’s budget plan, according to state figures released Thursday. Overall, state aid for K-12 education in Newark would rise to $787.6 million for the 2018-19 school year.

The funding boost could ease financial strain on the district, which has faced large deficits in recent years as more students enroll in charter schools — taking a growing chunk of district money with them. At the same time, the district faced years of flat funding from the state, which provides Newark with most of its education money.

“This increase begins to restore the deep cuts made to teaching and support staff and essential programs for students in district schools over the last seven years,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, who noted that a portion of the increase would go to Newark charter schools.

Newark’s boost is part of a nearly $284 million increase that Murphy is proposing for the state’s school-aid formula, which has not been properly funded since 2009. In the budget outline he released Tuesday, Murphy said the increase was the first installment in a four-year plan to fully fund the formula, which calls for about $1 billion more than the state currently spends on education.

Even with Murphy’s proposed boost, Newark’s state aid would still be about 14 percent less than what it’s entitled to under the formula, according to state projections.

Murphy, a Democrat, is counting on a series of tax hikes and other revenue sources — including legalized marijuana — to pay for his budget, which increases state spending by 4.2 percent over this fiscal year. He’ll need the support of his fellow Democrats who control the state legislature to pass those measures, but some have expressed concerns about parts of Murphy’s plan — in particular, his proposal to raise taxes on millionaires. They have until June 30 to agree on a budget.

In the meantime, Newark and other school districts will use the figures from Murphy’s plan to create preliminary budgets by the end of this month. They can revise their budgets later if the state’s final budget differs from Murphy’s outline.

At a school board meeting Tuesday before districts received their state-aid estimates, Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory said he had traveled to Trenton in December to tell members of Murphy’s team that the district was “running out of things to do” to close its budget gap. He said the district wasn’t expecting to immediately receive the full $140 million that it’s owed under the state formula. But Murphy’s plan suggested the governor would eventually send Newark the full amount.

“The governor’s address offers a promising sign,” Gregory said.

Civics lesson

With district’s blessing, Newark students join national school walkout against gun violence

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Thousands of Newark students walked out of their schools Wednesday morning in a district-sanctioned protest that was part of a nationwide action calling for an end to gun violence.

At Barringer Academy of the Arts and Humanities in the North Ward, students gathered in the schoolyard alongside Mayor Ras Baraka and interim schools chief Robert Gregory, who offered support to the protesters and even distributed a “student protest week” curriculum to schools.

Just after 10 a.m., hundreds of students watched in silence as a group of their classmates stood in a row and released one orange balloon every minute for 17 minutes — a tribute to the 17 people fatally shot inside a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

While the Barringer students and faculty mourned those victims they had never met, they also decried gun violence much closer to home: siblings and relatives who had been shot, times they were threatened with guns on the street. Principal Kimberly Honnick asked the crowd to remember Malik Bullock, who was a 16-year-old junior at Barringer when he was shot to death in the South Ward last April.

“Too many lives have been lost way too soon,” she said. “It is time for us to end the violence in our schools.”

School districts across the country have grappled with how to respond to walkouts, which were scheduled to occur at 10 a.m. in hundreds of schools. The student-led action, which was planned in the wake of the Florida mass shooting, is intended to pressure Congress to enact stricter gun laws.

Officials in some districts — including some in New Jersey — reportedly threatened to punish students who joined in the protest. But in Newark, officials embraced the event as a civics lesson for students and a necessary reminder to lawmakers that gun violence is not limited to headline-grabbing tragedies like the one in Parkland — for young people in many cities, it’s a fact of life.

“If there’s any group of people that should be opposed to the amount of guns that reach into our communities, it’s us,” Baraka said, adding that Newark police take over 500 guns off the street each year. “People in cities like Newark, New Jersey — cities that are predominantly filled with black and brown individuals who become victims of gun violence.”

On Friday, Gregory sent families a letter saying that the district was committed to keeping students safe in the wake of the Florida shooting. All school staff will receive training in the coming weeks on topics including “active shooter drills” and evacuation procedures, the letter said.

But the note also said the district wanted to support “students’ right to make their voices heard on this important issue.” Schools were sent a curriculum for this week with suggested lessons on youth activism and the gun-control debate. While students were free to opt out of Wednesday’s protests, high schools were expected to allow students to walk out of their buildings at the designated time while middle schools were encouraged to organize indoor events.

In an interview, Gregory said gun violence in Newark is not confined to mass shootings: At least one student here is killed in a shooting each year, he said — though there have not been any so far this year. Rather than accept such violence as inevitable, Gregory said schools should teach students that they have the power to collectively push for changes — even if that means letting them walk out of class.

“Instead of trying of trying to resist it, we wanted to encourage it,” he said. “That’s what makes America what it is.”

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students released one balloon for each of the 17 people killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

After Barringer’s protest, where people waved signs saying “Love,” “Enough,” and “No to gun violence, several ninth-graders described what it’s like to live in communities where guns are prevalent — despite New Jersey’s tight gun restrictions.

Jason Inoa said he was held up by someone claiming to have a gun as he walked home. Destiny Muñoz said her older brother was shot by a police officer while a cousin was recently gunned down in Florida. The Parkland massacre only compounded her fear that nowhere is safe.

“With school shootings, you feel terrified,” she said. “You feel the same way you do about being outside in the streets.”

Even as the students called for tougher gun laws, they were ambivalent about bringing more police into their schools and neighborhoods. They noted that the Black Lives Matter movement, which they said they recently read about in their freshmen social studies class, called attention to black and Hispanic people who were treated harshly or even killed by police officers.

Ninth-grader Malik Bolding said it’s important to honor the victims of school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida. But the country should also mourn the people who are killed in everyday gun violence and heed the protesters who are calling for it to end, he added.

“Gun violence is gun violence — it doesn’t matter who got shot,” he said. “Everybody should be heard.”