saving and spending

Tweed trying to take back half of principals' saved funds, again

City principals might be well advised to go on spending sprees — or else pay a price for planning ahead.

For the second time in two years, the Department of Education is trying to counter budget cuts by limiting the amount of money principals can roll over from this year’s budget into next.

Typically, a program known as the “Deferred Budget Planning Initiative” allows principals to stash unused money in a rainy-day fund that they can raid in the case of unexpected expenses or midyear cuts. But this year, principals are being asked to hand over half of their unused funds to the department’s central administration.

“This year, considering the current budget climate, the Deferred Program Planning Initiative is not a prudent option as it was originally designed,” said Barbara Morgan, a DOE spokeswoman.

The announcement seems to give principals the incentive to spend their last cent, rather than plan ahead for next year, when the budget situation is projected to be worse.

“No one will roll over when they know they will only get 50 cents on the dollar,” one principal told me.

Principals must decide before March 7 how much money to roll over to next year. If they decide not to opt into the rollover program, they have until June to spend this year’s budget, Morgan said.

And that’s precisely what the principals union is encouraging its members to do.

“Your students would really be the losers if you chose not to spend the money; they would not benefit from these funds in the future,” wrote Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest Logan in an email to principals yesterday.

Logan also questioned how the DOE would use the 50 percent of rollover funds that it plans to garnish. “It would be interesting to know if the DOE would use your savings to hire additional high-priced consultants or to maintain the many very generous senior management salaries that CSA has observed in the DOE’s Management Pay Plan,” he wrote.

The announcement was buried deep inside Chancellor Cathie Black’s weekly email to principals. In dense, bureaucratic language, principals are told that they “have the option” of reserving extra funds from this year into next year’s budget, but only 50 percent of what they have accrued.

This isn’t the first time the city has tried to tap into schools’ rainy-day funds. Last year, former Chancellor Joel Klein told principals in early January that they wouldn’t be able to roll over unused funds to this school year. A week later, he reversed that decree.

The full item from the Principals’ Weekly newsletter:

Apply for Deferred Program Planning Initiative

All schools / Deadline: March 4

Schools with FY 11 accruals in select tax levy allocation categories will have the opportunity to transfer these funds into their budget for the 2011-2012 school year. You can apply for the program from now through 2:30 p.m. on March 4. Through this initiative, schools will receive 50% of their deferred funding in FY 12. For example, if you set aside $50,000 in FY 11, your school will receive a total of $25,000 in Deferred Funding FY 12. Financial criteria for participation, including guidelines regarding maximization of stimulus (ARRA) funding, and the application process can be found in the program guidelines. Participating principals can now schedule these funds in the “Deferred Program Set Aside” title in the OTPS section of their Galaxy table of organization (TO).

All Deferred Program Set Aside funds will be removed from the 2010-2011 budgets of participating schools on March 7. The “Deferred Program Set Aside” title and items associated with it will also be deleted. CFN budget liaisons will contact you regarding your school’s pass/fail status. The criteria will be updated according to the calendar in the guideline memo. If you have any questions regarding your school’s standing in respect to the program criteria, or questions about eligibility, contact your network budget liaison.

And the complete email message to principals from Logan:

Dear Colleagues,

In this week’s Principals’ Weekly, the Chancellor announced that schools that saved funds in FY 11 will be credited for only half the amount of their savings in FY 12. Their other option will be to spend all saved funds right now. We have heard from many of you regarding your dismay over this announcement. In effect, it means that if you exercised budgetary restraint this year, you will be penalized by losing 50% of your savings next year unless you spend everything now. Your students would really be the losers if you chose not to spend the money; they would not benefit from  these funds in the future. In addition to undermining your incentive to be frugal going forward, the DOE seems to be employing this “use it or lose it” option as a way of keeping more money at Central. It would be interesting to know if the DOE would use your savings to hire additional high-priced consultants or to maintain the many very generous senior management salaries that CSA has observed in the DOE’s Management Pay Plan. In the meantime, you should feel free to express your concerns and outrage over this policy with the Chancellor and the public.

As we explore this matter further, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to wish you all a peaceful and enjoyable winter break.  You’ve earned it.


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.