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A Queens principal fears his budget trimming will cut into scores

Clemente Lopes is trying to keep his head above water.

As the principal of I.S. 10 in Long Island City for the last six years, Lopes is now in a situation familiar to principals across the city: trying to increase scores with fewer teachers, less money, and more students.

“As budget cuts increase and I have to make my classrooms bigger, I’m not so sure how my scores are going to reflect all those cuts,” Lopes said. “It’s getting to the point when I’m running out of options.”

Since the 2005-2006 school year, he’s eliminated 11 positions, even though he’s gone from a low of 849 students in the 2006-2007 school year to 957 students last year.

Facing the third straight year of citywide budget cuts, I.S. 10’s budget for this coming year is $6.49 million, down from a peak of $7.26 million for the 2008-2009 school year.

Lopes’ solutions to the budget crunch have been common ones: cutting instructional coaches, deans, after-school activities, tutoring, and textbook purchases. Now he’s worried that the trimming will cut into academic performance, too.

Lopes is careful to say that he sees the economy, not the city, as the cause of the repeated cuts. But he emphasized that the staff reductions are now too deep to be mitigated by shifting responsibilities among the remaining teachers and school personnel.

“It’s almost like a juggling act. What do I move to the left hand to not affect the right hand? But then I might have to cut a few fingers off my left hand too,” Lopes said.

Accountability reports show that scores did increase under Lopes. And even though scores citywide are now considered to have been inflated in recent years, Lopes says his school’s improvements were real and caused partially by the work of both a math coach and a reading coach, who worked with teachers to boost instruction. Lopes can no longer afford either one.

“We’ve gone from a class size of 24 to 26 kids to 30 or better within the last three years,” he said.

Lopes says he has been lucky that more than half a dozen of his teachers have retired, allowing him to eliminate salaries without excessing teachers. His teachers have also picked up after-school activities and lunchtime tutoring sessions without pay, allowing him to slash the school’s per-session funding — from $84,000 two years ago to $56,000 just last year and to nearly nothing starting this fall.

But he knows that demands on his teachers have been increasing, and this year he’s not going to be able to spend any money on professional development sessions to help them get better.

“Eventually, slowly but surely, we will see the difference in the performance of the kids,” he said.

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