Facebook Twitter

Creative budgeting not enough to close gaps, principals say

Principals are famously told to “be creative” during school budget season. This year is no different, but with cuts to city, state, and federal funding all taking their toll, some school leaders are saying creativity isn’t enough.

Some of them are pushing back, filing appeals with the Department of Education to restore hundreds of thousands of dollars back into to their schools.

Joseph Nobile, a veteran principal at P.S. 304 Early Childhood School in the Bronx, said he and his budget liaison tweaked projections, shuffled funds, and excessed staff to stretch his $4.7 million as far as it could go.

“After all of the moving around, we were still down $350,000,” Nobile said. So for the first time in his 12 years on the job, Nobile said he had no choice but to file an appeal.

Nobile said the money he requested would go toward retaining the school’s lone curriculum coach, as well as four special education specialists. The additional personnel is especially important at P.S. 304 because it is part of a citywide pilot to move as many special education students as possible into mainstream classes.

Schools are feeling the pinch more than ever because of third consecutive year of budget cuts. Adding to that, the city made it tougher for some schools with large percentages of poor students to qualify for federal aid.

As a result, the number of appeals this year could far outnumber last year’s total of 166.

A DOE spokeswoman said she wouldn’t know how many appeals are being filed until July 22, when the final budgets are due.

At P.S. 3, a growing school in the West Village, principal Lisa Siegman said her budget would not have allowed her to open in September.

“I couldn’t staff the school for the classrooms,” Siegman said of her $5.4 million baseline budget.

Enrollment from students zoned for her school was projected to increase and she is required by law to provide seats for that population. To satisfy those mandates, Siegman has to hire to new teachers, but there wasn’t money in her budget for it.

Siegman, who estimated that her appeal was for about $245,000, said her hands were tied when it comes to these budget requirements and class size limits.

“I can make creative decisions. I can have a teacher doing two different jobs within a school. I can decide to have  a literacy coach or not a literacy coach,” Siegman said. “But I can’t allocate more funds. I can’t go to larger class sizes.”