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September 4, 2018
What Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to not seek re-election means for schools
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to drop his reelection bid has serious implications for several big public education initiatives in Chicago and for…
March 24, 2016
36 principals join public push for funds, saying gaps hurt special ed, English learners
Principals told Chalkbeat that they would use the funds to solve a tough problems: Not having enough staff members to work with students who are farthest behind.
June 5, 2014
With the new contract in place, schools face long to-do lists and tight timelines
Now that the new teachers contract is in place, schools must make a series of time-sensitive choices to comply with new rules or participate in new programs.
March 22, 2013
City schools budget still in flux, but rainy-day funds are restored
Principals who were in the final stages of a school-supplies spending spree might want to put their wallets away. Back in January, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals that they would not be able to save any of their school's funds from this year to use next year, a practice that allows schools to plan ahead in an uncertain budget climate. That gave the principals an incentive to spend down their last dollars this spring. But hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a state budget deal earlier this week, bringing the Department of Education's financial situation into clearer relief, Walcott announced that he had retracted the decree.
January 14, 2013
After backlash, city tweaks new special education funding rules
The Department of Education is rolling back some special education policies that drew sharp criticism last week from many principals. The principals were alarmed by a deadline, originally set for today, to "clean up" data about students with disabilities. The deadline raised concerns that the department would take back funds from schools whose students fell into lower-than-anticipated funding tiers. "The last-minute data capture has left us scrambling to account for potentially massive cuts to our budgets halfway through the school year,” 20 principals wrote Thursday in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott. In an email sent late Friday, the department's chief financial officer, Michael Tragale, told principals that the department would push back the deadline and relax a particularly anxiety-inducing rule so schools could retain their special education funds.
September 18, 2012
Education is not spared in city's latest round of budget cuts
To make up for an unexpected budget shortfall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is bringing city agencies under the knife—and for the second year in a row, the Department of Education will not be spared from midyear cuts. On Friday, Bloomberg announced that the city's agencies would have to collectively cut $2 billion, and the department's share in the burden would amount to 1.6 percent of its own budget this year, and 4 percent next year. Last fall, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the central offices would take the brunt of midyear cuts, but he skirted the issue of the city's budget shortfall, which numbered in the billions and portended more cuts for 2012. This year, the schools budget was held flat—a fact that was hailed as an improvement by city officials and councilmembers, but still felt like a cut to many educators, who saw the costs of supplies, special education services, and teacher salaries continue to rise. As we reported last year, midyear budget cuts like the ones being prepared for now are especially disruptive to schools because most expenses are fixed for the whole year. That means that only certain costs, such as after-school programs or tutoring, can go on the chopping block. And four straight years of budget cuts have already left class sizes on the rise and principals struggling to make ends meet. "If we've got to cut, we're going to be very tight, midyear, which would be a shame," one principal who asked not to be identified said this afternoon.
August 1, 2012
Major payroll improprieties alleged at Fort Hamilton High School
The principal of Fort Hamilton High School is under investigation for underpaying more than a dozen new teachers, sources say. A scheme to underpay more than a dozen teachers at a Brooklyn high school has landed the school's longtime principal under investigation. The scheme, which investigators have been probing since this spring, could also put Fort Hamilton High School on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay to teachers so desperate for a position that they accepted one with low pay, no benefits, and little security. The Department of Education's Office of Special Investigations is in the process of investigating Jo Ann Chester, principal of the Bay Ridge school since 1999, a department spokeswoman confirmed. Sources close to the investigation say investigators have been digging into payroll practices at the 4,200-student high school since at least April. The school was already under investigation because of test scores that the city deemed suspicious. Last week, a grievance from a teacher who had been underpaid was sustained, entitling him to back pay, union officials confirmed. The scheme allowed Chester to circumvent three-year-old hiring restrictions and blocked the school from being assigned short-term substitutes from the Absent Teacher Reserve, the city's pool of teachers without permanent positions. It also saved the school hundreds of thousands of dollars.
June 16, 2011
Principals report mounting anxiety about not knowing budgets
With just weeks before students and teachers disperse for the summer, principals are still without any official word of how much money they'll be working with next year. "No word of budget at this point. Not even summer school. I have no idea what’s going [on]," said a high school principal, who reported being told originally that the budget would arrive at the end of May, and then the first week of June. "I have no idea on what next year looks like at this point." Every year, the city enters a budget for each school into Galaxy, the Department of Education's budgeting data system. Principals use the system to allocate those funds for the next year according to their needs and also city, state, and federal regulations. But because of up-in-the-air negotiations over the city's budget, which are centering on Mayor Bloomberg's plan to lay off 4,100 teachers, school-level budgets haven't yet been uploaded. That means principals don't know even how many teachers they will be able to afford next year. Last year, principals received their budget June 2 — and that was late, then-Chancellor Joel Klein told principals at the time. "Even though Albany has yet to pass its own budget, we can wait no longer to release school budgets," Klein said. "We know you need as much time as possible to decide how best to spend the dollars available to your school."
March 8, 2011
Message to spend, not save, unfamiliar to principals, one writes
The Department of Education’s decision to go through with its bid to take back some of the funds that principals save represents a “fundamental policy…
March 7, 2011
City rolls back but doesn't abandon bid to cull schools' savings
Responding to principals' ire, the Department of Education is reducing the portion of funds it plans to recoup from schools that save for next year. Schools will now get to keep 70 percent of the money that principals elect to roll over to next year's budget, according to an email that Chancellor Cathie Black just sent to school leaders. That's up from the 50 percent that the DOE originally announced last month it would reclaim for administrative spending. Principals still have until March 18 to decide whether to participate in the rollover program, known as the Deferred Program Planning Initiative, or go on a spending spree right now. The take-back plan angered principals and parents who felt penalized for budgeting prudently in tough times. It was in response to their "thoughtful feedback" that the change was made, Black wrote. Last year, then-Chancellor Joel Klein also made a bid to take back every cent principals set aside in rainy-day funds for the subsequent year. After protests, Klein reversed his decree. Mayor Bloomberg yesterday suggested that he favored a similar change this year, saying during a radio interview that criticism of Black's plan contained "some merit" and that he would be discussing the plan with Black early this week. Today, Bloomberg said in a statement, “The chancellor came in this afternoon and briefed me on her plan, and I immediately signed off on it." Black's complete email to principals is below:
March 3, 2011
Begrudgingly, principals prepare to spend fast or lose savings
Principals who want the full benefit of the funds they've squirreled away have just weeks to spend it all. The Department of Education's announcement last month that it would take back half of any funds principals choose to save for next year gave principals the incentive to spend down their last cent. The city has extended until March 18 the deadline for principals to choose between spending their entire budget this spring or saving money for next year — and losing half of it. But while principals technically have until the end of the school year to spend any funds they don't roll over, DOE spokeswoman Barbara Morgan confirmed today, their spending sprees actually have to take place in the next eight weeks. That's because the city's school budgeting system requires principals to lock in their spending plans by the end of April. "The department has all but ensured that a hasty spending spree on non-essential items will in two months decimate the reserves principals have built over years, leaving everyone (from the the most prudent to the most reckless) equally unable to cope with even larger budget cuts to come," the principal of a small high school told me today. The principal's comments are worth reading in full. Here they are: I am not sure the public fully appreciates the implications of the recently announced change to the "Deferred Program Planning Initiative." Deadlines on purchasing computers and furniture are in three weeks and deadlines on most other purchases are in mid-April. Given the late announcement of this shift in policy, principals have no choice but to give back 50 percent (something I can't imagine any significant number doing) or spend the bulk of it on equipment and supplies (even facilities upgrades will be made impossible due to the timing). Last year, principals saved $80 million. This year, I'm sure it would have been substantially more.
June 2, 2010
Klein instructs principals to cut budgets, but not teachers
The city is moving forward with Mayor Bloomberg's plan to avoid educator layoffs by freezing their salaries by writing it into school budgets for next year. Neither the teachers union nor the principals union has agreed to Bloomberg's plan, but budgets that principals are receiving today assume that the plan will become a reality. In an email to principals this morning, Klein said Bloomberg's plan would save the city $400 million and eliminate the need for teacher layoffs. But the city would still lose about 2,000 teachers through attrition, and schools will still see their budgets cut by about 4 percent, he wrote. Klein will answer principals' questions about the budgets during a webcast tomorrow morning. One question might be how exactly the city calculated its savings. In January, when the city cut the raises it had planned for teachers and principals unions in half, Klein said the city would save $148 million. It's unclear how cutting the other half of the raises could yield the city $400 million. Klein's email, which is posted below, also includes an update about the hiring freeze.
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