cutting the cut

City plugs schools' budget gaps with teachers' pay raises

The day before principals were due to submit midyear budget cut plans, the city has decided to fill their budget holes with money set aside for teacher and principal pay raises.

It’s a bittersweet moment for school staff, who could lose out on the 4 percent pay raises other unions have received, but won’t see their schools stripped of money for classroom supplies and technology midyear. The city’s plan rests on its ability to pressure the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators into accepting to two percent raises over two years, half of what the unions expected and a proposal both union presidents have met with angrily worded statements.

Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for the mayor, said the city will swap the savings from halving teacher and principal’s pay raises with the savings that would have come from a midyear 1 percent cut to schools and a planned 4 percent cut for 2011.

If CSA — whose contract doesn’t expire until March — and the UFT don’t accept the lowered pay raises, the city could lose 2,500 teachers through attrition and layoffs, LaVorgna said. Mayor Bloomberg has also warned that if the state goes ahead with Governor Paterson’s budget, 8,500 teachers will be lost.

In a statement sent to reporters last night, UFT President Michael Mulgrew called the proposal “unacceptable.” CSA President Ernest Logan said he was “shocked” by the plans.

“The salary package for my members will not be independently announced by the mayor or the chancellor; it will be reached at the bargaining table with the CSA,” he said.

For Edward Tom, the principal of the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, the midyear cut would have amounted to about $33,000, and the subsequent 4 percent cut would have meant losing over $100,000 dollars.

“What would have initially required me to consider reducing spending in terms of professional development, supplies, technology, all of that is restored,” he said. “It’s big news for me, big news for my colleagues.”

Ann Forte, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said some principals had already submitted budget cut plans. “If that’s the case, the funds will be back in the budget sometime today,” she said. “The planning work they’ve done will help prepare them for the future,” when they may have to adjust to other cuts, she said.

Though he’s happy to see his school’s budget intact, Tom said he was concerned about taking a pay raise cut.

“I’m just worried about what type of precedent this would set in terms of collective bargaining agreements,” he said. “But one of the things I heard in the State of the Union last night is we all need to contribute our share. If this our share then so be it.”

Chancellor Joel Klein’s email to principals follows:

Dear Colleagues:

Several weeks ago I informed you that due to the City’s economic constraints every school was required to take a mid-year budget cut. In an effort to help you maintain vital programs and resources, however, Mayor Bloomberg and I have identified a combination of savings in the DOE’s operating budget that will prevent reductions at this time.

As you know, last month I informed DOE managers and other non-unionized staff that I would not fully fund raises already approved for these employees. That decision will help save the Department approximately $12 million this year. Additionally, following our lead, the Mayor has proposed new compensation agreements with the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators that would save another $148 million this year, for a total of $160 million. Currently, the City’s collective bargaining reserve includes funds to provide a four percent raise for educators this year and an additional four percent next year. Given budget shortfalls, however, the Mayor has asked the unions to accept a reduced increase of two percent on the first $70,000 of salary for the next two years. This increase would be slightly larger on average than the one that DOE managers received and would recognize the dedication of our educators while allowing their schools to maintain current levels of spending.

These moves will not solve all of our budget problems. The State faces huge deficits, which will likely lead to significant reductions in funding that will impact our schools. But at a time when the City-indeed, the entire country-is being forced to make do with less, this plan allows us to reward educators for their hard work while protecting our schools-allowing them to continue providing the highest level of instruction to our children.


Joel I. Klein

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.