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Fariña insists that flat school budgets still a 'win' for principals

Chancellor Carmen Fariña defended the city’s proposed education budget on Thursday night, arguing that principals will find their schools in good financial shape next year—even though that they won’t receive any extra money in their school budgets.

“It’s still a win,” Fariña said during a discussion with members of the Panel for Educational Policy, referring to next year’s additional $730 million in state education aid. That money has been allocated for pre-kindergarten, after-school programs, and arts education, among other programs.

Fariña was responding to PEP members who questioned whether the city was appropriately disbursing funds. Brooklyn representative Fred Baptiste said that while he appreciates the large spending increases for new programs, school budgets don’t give principals enough discretion.

“The chancellor is saying that there are pots of money that will help schools, but I’m still concerned,” Baptiste said after the meeting.

At a City Council hearing this week, Fariña and education officials noted that the citywide after-school, pre-K, and arts education spending would save principals money by replacing some costs previously borne by individual schools. On Thursday, Fariña added that principals would also be able to free up money by slashing outside professional development because of a contract agreement that would allow more time in the school day to do in-house teacher training.

Fariña said she knew of some schools, particularly large high schools, that spent as much as $100,000 to outsource teacher training.

“That will not be needed anymore,” Fariña said, “because that amount will be embedded in the contract. So principals won’t need to pay for that.”

But finding that money might not be as simple as Fariña has suggested. One principal, who asked to remain anonymous because he wasn’t familiar with details of the budget, said that schools will likely still need to outsource teacher training in some cases, especially if staff needs to be trained to use a new classroom technology or adopt a new strategy to teach literacy.

Before the panel meeting, Fariña held an eight-minute question-and-answer session with reporters—the first time in nearly two months that Fariña took questions from the media on her own. The chancellor’s availability to reporters has become increasingly scarce after she faced criticism for making a few off-the-cuff remarks early in her tenure.

There, Fariña discussed the city’s new teacher evaluation system, though she admitted that she was still unfamiliar with some of the changes embedded in the proposed teachers union contract.

Fariña was asked about the decision to use teachers, rather than independent evaluators, to evaluate other teachers after they’ve been rated ineffective. Fariña initially said that the other teacher would be present for additional support, although the role of the evaluator in this specific case is to verify if a teacher’s ineffective rating, which could result in his or her termination, is valid.

“To be honest with you, I have to go back to that to make sure that I answered correctly,” Fariña said after reporters asked for clarification.

At the panel meeting, the city approved more than 200 contracts for pre-K providers, ranging in size from $95,000 to $3.7 million. The panel also approved a $280,000 contract to conduct background checks on pre-K providers.

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