human capital

Klein to principals: Hiring restrictions probably won't be lifted

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein warned of “unacceptable financial consequences” today if principals do not accelerate their hiring.

In an e-mail today, Klein encouraged principals to list and fill their open positions as soon as possible to help reduce the number of teachers without jobs. If a principal can’t pay for a teacher, the teacher goes into a pool of “excessed” teachers whose salaries are paid by the department. If the size of the pool swells, the department could end up shouldering thousands of teachers’ salaries — all while the teachers aren’t officially on a school’s staff.

Klein emphasized that principals should plan to fill their vacancies with teachers who already work in the system, especially the more than 2,300 who currently lack a permanent position. “You should be aware that excessing conditions make it unlikely that we will lift hiring restrictions across the board,” he wrote. Restrictions have been lifted in a handful of specific license areas, most recently in special education, where the hiring freeze was lifted yesterday.

Some have speculated that principals might try to evade the hiring restrictions by not listing their open positions publicly before the “open market” period of teacher hiring ends next week.

“That’s maybe what some of them were trying to do and that’s why we had Joel send out the e-mail today,” said Photo Anagnastopoulos, the department’s chief operating officer.

There are currently about 2,400 teaching positions open in the city schools and about 2,340 teachers who don’t have positions, according to data released by the Department of Education today.

Nearly 2,000 teaching positions were cut at the end of the school year, the “overwhelming majority” because of budget cuts that totaled as much as 8 percent of schools’ budgets over the course of the last school year, department officials said today. The numbers released today marked the first time since principals submitted their budgets June 18 that the department disclosed how many positions had been cut.

Since the end of June, fewer than 400 of the teachers whose positions were cut at the end of the school year have been hired by other schools, according to the department.

The city’s excess pool currently has 1,570 teachers whose jobs were cut this year and 770 teachers whose jobs were eliminated in the past. The latter number is down from about 1,100 teachers in the pool at the end of April. About 300 of those teachers were offered permanent positions at schools since then.

Department officials say they are “pretty confident” that the number of teachers without positions will settle back to about 1,100 by shortly after the school year begins. “Right now it’s pretty much where we thought it would be,” Anagnastopoulos said today.

In addition to the 2,340 teachers currently without positions, there are also 300 school psychologists and social workers who do not have jobs at schools but whose salaries are being paid by the department.

Teachers are protected from layoffs, even if they do not land a position in a school. No such protection exists for the 900 excessed school aides, paraprofessionals, and other people who do not belong to the city teachers union. There are only about 100 openings for those kind of positions. 

Here’s Klein’s complete letter to principals:

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to give you an update on the hiring restrictions and how they impact our overall budget situation for the upcoming school year.

When we implemented the hiring restrictions in May, we did so to ensure that the size and cost of the excessed staff pool did not grow to the point where even more cuts would be required. I am aware that these restrictions limit your choices, but this policy is the only way to preserve your ability to select your own staff, a hard fought change in school hiring that we sought and achieved based on your feedback.

We continue to monitor the excess situation on a daily basis. A number of you have already selected internal candidates, including excessed staff, to fill your vacancies. But even with these hires, we still have many teachers in excess. As a result, we need to work together before the start of the school year to avoid any year-to-year increase in the number of teachers in excess and avoid unacceptable financial consequences. I am sure some of you are waiting to either declare or fill vacancies with the hope that hiring restrictions will be lifted soon. While I understand your desire to staff your schools with the candidates you feel will be the best fit, you should be aware that excessing conditions make it unlikely that we will lift hiring restrictions across the board in any other subject areas. To date, we lifted the hiring restrictions for almost all districts in special education and for all schools in other shortage areas, such as bilingual special education, speech, and most sciences.  Prospectively, there may be some targeted lifting of restrictions – in specific districts and subjects – but I anticipate even those targeted exceptions will be very limited. As we continue to monitor the situation, we may even need to re-impose some hiring restrictions in areas where we have lifted them.

Given these circumstances, you should not hold back on creating and filling vacancies. The best internal candidates – both teachers in excess and other teachers seeking transfers – are available now and the widest possible pool exists during the Open Market Transfer period, which by contract closes on August 7. It is crucial that you are staffed appropriately for the opening of school and therefore should create and fill vacancies as quickly as possible from the current pool of available internal candidates. Your HR Partner and the Office of Teacher Recruitment & Quality can assist you in identifying internal candidates. Many of the teachers in excess are relatively new teachers who you and your colleagues hired one, two or three years ago; many others are also dedicated teachers who could be a good fit for your school. Some excessed teachers can be hired with a subsidy, whereby central will bear a significant part of the cost even after you hire them.

I am aware that some schools will have staffing needs for short and long term absences. Please remember that you cannot use per diems and F-status staff to cover vacancies; this is something we will be monitoring. Per our agreement with the UFT, if you need to fill a vacancy caused by a leave or a sabbatical, you can hire excessed staff on a provisional basis. A provisional hire means that you are hiring the individual for only this coming year. At the end of the school year, that teacher will return to the excess pool unless you both agree he or she should remain on your staff. Questions about this process, subsidies or other matters pertaining to excesses should be directed to your HR liaison in the ISC or CFN.

Only by working together can we successfully navigate this challenging situation. I realize that you have already had to make difficult and painful decisions as a result of current budget conditions. In the case of staffing, however, critical steps remain. To the extent that vacancies are not scheduled or that the process of filling them is being delayed, the actions of individual schools have the potential to negatively impact all of our schools. I am deeply grateful for all that you are already doing to make the best choices for your school under difficult circumstances, but I ask that you please move expeditiously to schedule and fill your vacancies.

Sincerely,

Joel I. Klein

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

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.”