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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.”

Although the state and city budgets had not been finalized when principals received their budgets last year, Bloomberg had a day earlier announced a plan to avert teacher layoffs by canceling a planned 2 percent raise for teachers. This year, Bloomberg has sounded a harder line on layoffs, and a potential compromise that would have raided a union health care fund to pay teachers fell apart yesterday.

Some principals are adapting their approach to budgeting because of the delay and the presumptive cuts that are driving it.

“I certainly would have loved to have received [the budget] earlier. That’s for sure,” said Noah Lansner, the first-year principal of Brooklyn Preparatory High School. “Now we’re just focusing on the needs right now and we’ll worry about the wants once we get the money.”

Chancellor Dennis Walcott said earlier this month that he would be communicating with principals “over the next couple of weeks” about their budgets.

“As I said to the principals, they’ll be hearing from me over the next couple of weeks as far as how we’ll be dealing with the budget and how we want them to deal with it,” Walcott told reporters after a June 4 event instructing principals about new curriculum standards.

The most recent edition of the Principals Weekly email newsletter, sent Tuesday night, gave no indication of when principals would see their schools’ budgets in Galaxy. Ominously, it included a request for principals to collect contact information for their teachers, in case they don’t know they will have to eliminate a teacher’s job until after the school year ends.

“Since release of school budgets has been delayed, reaching your staff with news that they are in excess may be unavoidable,” the newsletter said. “This contact information will be essential in the event that your staff need to be notified that they are being placed in excess or for other reasons related to school budgets and such notification cannot be accomplished prior to the end of the school year.”

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