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.

Sincerely,
Ernest

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.”