budget breakdown

Bloomberg's proposed layoffs would slash arts education

City Councilman Robert Jackson speaks at a protest against cuts to arts education on the steps of City Hall.
City Councilmember Robert Jackson speaks at a protest against cuts to arts education on the steps of City Hall.

Roughly 350 arts specialists will be among the 4,000 teacher layoffs next year if the City Council signs onto Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed budget, according to a report released today by an arts education advocacy group.

Building on 135 arts positions eliminated this school year, the layoffs would amount to a 20 percent reduction in the number of arts teachers working in city schools in just the last three years.

Eight City Council members and dozens of angry parents came to City Hall today to announce the report, prepared by the Center for Arts Education, and to protest the potential cuts.

Gretchen Mergenthaler, whose eight-year-old son Declan attends P.S. 98 in Inwood, said that he is offered either art or music once each week, but no dance or theater.

“We have a gorgeous auditorium that we don’t even use,” Mergenthaler said. “This is a picture of P.S. 98 before any budget cuts. Can you imagine it after?”

Today’s report is an analysis of data that the city has been releasing since it overhauled the way arts funding is allotted to schools.

The overhaul gave principals the freedom to determine their own arts spending, but required that they report their decisions in more detail than had happened previously. The idea was that reporting requirements would serve as a way to hold principals accountable for investing sufficiently in the arts.

“We’re going to help them,” CAE director Richard Kessler said in 2007, adding, “And hold their feet to the fire.”

Kessler was vocal in his criticism of the changes then, which prompted the Center for Arts Education to move from working with schools to evaluating the city’s arts programs.

The city has maintained that the changes have not hurt the quality of their arts offerings.

In a statement, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that in the last eight years, city schools have become models for arts instruction and the number of students receiving arts instruction has increased.

“So even with impending layoffs, I am confident we will be able to build on the significant progress we have made revitalizing arts in the schools,” he said.

But today’s report paints a dismal picture of what has happened since. In addition to losses in the number of arts teachers, funding for art supplies also dropped to about $2 per student in the 2009-10 school year.

“What can you buy with two dollars? A box of chalk? A couple of paintbrushes?” said Doug Israel, the director of research and policy at the Center for Arts Education. “Especially here in New York City, it’s surprising and shocking that this would occur.”

During the rally, Council Member Robert Jackson, who chairs the council’s education committee, held a paper microphone and a sad-face mask up to his face and pretended to cry. “I need my programs in art and music and theater!” he said.

Jackson, whose daughter is a dancer, said, “If children couldn’t sing, dance, play instruments, they’d be crying.”

Other parents said that’s already happening. Carlton Curry, whose seven-year-old daughter Carleta attends P.S. 126 in the Bronx, said that cultural nights at his school have had to be rescheduled because of problems getting supplies.

After the rally, Jackson said that he still believed that it was possible to fend off the cuts if elected officials and parents keep the pressure on the mayor and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“I think it’s realistic, it’s possible, if the parties are willing to be flexible,” Jackson said. “The game plan is to continue the press conferences, the rallies, the phone calls, all the things necessary to communicate how important this is.”

Center for Arts Education Report, 6/9/11//

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”

D.C.

What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said