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A rise in bureaucrats at DOE? That depends on the bureaucracy

The Daily News reported yesterday that Tweed Courthouse, the Department of Education’s headquarters, added bureaucrats to its staff as the city schools underwent millions of dollars of budget cuts. That’s true: Official records show that there were 30 more people working at Tweed this January than in January of 2008.

But outside of Tweed, in a set of administrative offices scattered across the five boroughs, DOE bureaucrats are losing their jobs. These other offices — a mix of “integrated service centers” and “school support organizations,” which help schools with tasks like managing payroll, providing food, and teacher training — lost a combined 114 staff in the last year. I don’t know the breakdown between SSO and ISC cuts, or what kind of jobs were lost; I’ve asked the DOE, and would love reader advice on this.

School officials argue that the drop in non-Tweed bureaucrats makes the Daily News story, which was headlined “Bureaucrats and class size are up sharply,” flatly wrong. The net number of bureaucrats, they argue, has fallen, by about 84. The case makes sense, but only if all bureaucrats are equally useful to schools. Principals, teachers: Are you feeling the hit from the ISC and SSO cuts?

Another important question is, How did Tweed manage to get more employees amid the worst financial hit the city’s taken in years? The increase is especially mysterious given that, as the scope of the crisis was sinking in late last year, Chancellor Joel Klein ordered every department at headquarters — from teaching and learning to the press shop — to draw up a proposal under which it would cut 10% of its budget.

But the plans were precautionary to begin with. According to David Cantor, a DOE spokesman, every department hoped it wouldn’t have to make all of the cuts it proposed. As school officials began to get a sense of how much money they had available, they decided the full 10% across-the-line cut would not be necessary. Cuts happened according to a master priority list crafted by top school officials, who decided which programs should be the first to go and which should be the last.

Specific offices were also allowed to make a kind of cut that doesn’t show up on headcounts: They could simply fail to replace staffers who had recently left. The press shop, for instance, did not replace a deputy press secretary and a staffer who handled communications with teachers when they quit last year. Its headcount only dropped by one when Cantor fired one of the office’s two secretaries.

Cantor said more cuts from Tweed will come down the road. One cut that won’t be made: the position vacated Friday by another deputy press secretary, Maibe Gonzalez-Fuentes. The press office is looking to hire a new deputy who is fluent in Spanish to fill her spot.

I’ve asked for more details on other departments at Tweed, and Cantor and another deputy press secretary, Will Havemann, said they’ll get back to me.

UPDATE: I updated this post to reflect new information from Cantor about how the budget-cutting process worked internally.

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