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Klein to principals: real cuts to schools as high as $750 million

Real cuts to schools could be as high as $750 million, but projections for next year’s school budget are still plagued by uncertainty, and the Department of Education is still figuring out how cuts will affect individual schools.

That was the message of a webinar Chancellor Joel Klein held yesterday for the city’s principals to update them on next year’s dire budget scenario.

Listen to Klein’s webinar with principals:
Klein explained that in addition to the nearly $500 million city officials are projecting will be cut from state school aid, the school system’s uncontrollable costs, like special education and scheduled salary increases, will also rise by $250 million.

But it’s still unclear how those cuts will be spread around to individual schools, Klein said. The chancellor pledged to send schools preliminary budgets by June 1, giving principals at that time the information they will need to plan for next year.

Klein also gave detailed descriptions of two possible methods for deciding how many teachers in each license area will be laid off. “If you think this was written by Kafka, you’re right,” Klein said.

In the first scenario, principals would make individual decisions about which positions to eliminate in their schools. The principal of a school with greater need for math than science teachers could decide to let go the most junior science teacher, for example. But in the case of citywide layoffs, this method would create a “bumping” process of teachers throughout the city, Klein said. If the junior science teacher at the first principal’s school is more senior than a science teacher at another school, the first teacher would move to the second school to take the more junior teacher’s place. The second principal would be left with the same number of science teachers, but different staff.

The alternative to that process, Klein said, is for the DOE to centrally decide how many teachers should be let go in each license area. Under that scenario, schools who have the most junior teachers system-wide would lose those teachers, regardless of how essential the principal deems those teachers’ subject areas to be. A principal who feels that her school needs more math than science teachers, for example, may nonetheless lose more math teachers if the math teachers were hired recently.

“We’re trying to balance these competing interests,” Klein said. “Neither one, in my view, is optimal.” Klein invited principals to send him feedback about the best way to plan for layoffs.

Throughout the session, Klein emphasizes that no details are yet carved in stone because of the lack of a state budget, which is six weeks overdue.

The webinar is about 40 minutes long, and I sped through it just once. Please post interesting points you hear that I’ve missed in the comments.

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