It looks like our early-morning high hopes for the schools budget were premature at best: Chancellor Joel Klein held a press conference this afternoon to explain why, despite increased overall funding for schools, predicted expenses still outweigh available funding by a cool $300 million. The DOE has found ways to restore $200 million of the shortfall that it says won't overtly impact students in the classroom, like less frequent Quality Review reports for strong schools and the paring away of 80+ jobs at the DOE. But that leaves $99 million unfunded.
Millions due to the city from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement -- 14 years in the making, or longer than the academic career of most city students -- are legally restricted by Albany and targeted to high-need schools, often on the State Education Department's failing-schools list. Because of these legal obligations, under the current budget, some schools are due to receive more money than others. In practice, this means that some schools could actually see increases in their budgets, while about 400 could experience cuts of 3% or greater, including 68 schools -- notably, prized high schools like Stuyvesant, Townsend Harris, and Millennium -- could suffer cuts in excess of 5%. For schools with budgets of $10,000,000 -- a reasonable ballpark for some of the city's largest schools -- that means a loss of about three-quarters of a million dollars.
Klein's proposal, which he plans to take to Albany for approval, involves changing the law to spread the budget pain across the city's schools. He says sharing the burden will mean a far more modest 1.4% budget cut for all schools, and he claims to have the support of the city's principals. (He will meet with principals tomorrow afternoon to describe his proposal; the actual, individual school budgets won't be posted until Thursday evening, after the meeting.)
Representatives of the Keep the Promises Coalition were on hand to criticize Klein's budget revisions. UFT head Randi Weingarten decried Klein's actions as "the height of chutzpah. The CFE is not to blame for the budget shortfall. He has not gone to the mayor to beg for money. You have a $4 billion surplus [in the city budget] -- I have to believe there is money to help the schools. If we are being true to the kids who are always being left behind, the state has to say 'No, you have to put in what you promised.'" Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, stressed that the CFE allocations were about more than money. "It's about money AND accountability," said Easton. "He's passing the buck. The state has delivered on its commitment. The city's not delivering on theirs."
Stay tuned. In the interim, we'd love to hear from principals who are facing potential budget challenges and weighing Klein's "share-the-pain" plan.