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.

Sincerely,

Joel I. Klein

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.”