Klein lays out which teachers would be fired first to cut budget

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein argued before the City Council today that firing teachers, perhaps en masse, is the only strategy left to handle expected budget gaps next school year. “There is very little fat left to trim,” Klein said, discussing a gap that his top budget official said will be at least $600 million and at worst $1.2 billion.

It’s still unclear whether state budget cuts to education will necessitate layoffs at the scale Klein described — a total of 8,500 teachers in the most draconian scenario. The state legislature is working towards an April 1 deadline to pass a budget, and while the Senate and governor’s proposed budget would cost the city schools more than $400 million at a minimum, the Assembly is reportedly planning far less severe cuts.

But at the City Council today Klein stuck to his doomsday predictions, outlining how the 8,500 layoffs would hit each school district. Under the state’s current “last in, first out” method of cutting the most recently hired teachers first, neighborhoods from the South Bronx to the Upper East Side — which have the highest density population of younger teachers, due mainly to either high turnover rates or enrollment spikes — would lose nearly a fifth of their teachers immediately next year, Klein said.

Eight other districts in those areas, mainly in Manhattan and the Bronx, would all lose more than 15 percent of their teachers to layoffs. (The Department of Education’s full list of how each district would be affected by layoffs is below the jump.)

Testifying after Klein, teachers union president Michael Mulgrew argued that mass firings are unnecessary, even under severe budget cuts. He accused the chancellor of exploiting the city’s dire financial situation to achieve the political end of changing the city’s hiring and firing practices, a strategy he called “distressing.”

But Klein characterized the DOE’s fiscal situation as so dismal that officials have no choice but to fire teachers. Half of the DOE’s $22 billion budget is comprised of costs the department cannot control, like pensions and debt obligations. Central administrative costs have been reduced to three percent of the DOE’s budget, Klein said, and cannot be reduced much more without hurting schools — an argument critics will no doubt contest. The remaining $8 billion is controlled by principals, who spend most of that money paying teachers.

Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are aggressively lobbying Albany to change the last-in first-out policy. Today Klein argued that the requirement forces schools not only to fire outstanding younger teachers, but also to make layoff decisions without regard to teachers’ expertise and individual schools’ needs.

He forecast a huge shuffling of teachers from school to school, as teachers at schools that are not eliminating teacher positions but who are the most junior in their districts are fired and replaced by older teachers. “What you get is this bumping musical chairs effect which is chaotic across the board,” Klein said.

Klein also argued that the firing regulations will lead to increased class sizes because the city will be forced to fire more teachers for the same savings. (For the same amount of savings, the system could either fire a single, expensive senior teacher or several less expensive junior teachers.)

Council Member Lewis Fiddler countered that Klein’s line of thinking creates an incentive to fire older teachers. “Aren’t you putting undue pressure on principals to lay off the most senior teachers?” Fiddler asked.

Klein replied that a better system of teacher evaluations would prevent outstanding senior teachers from losing their jobs.

“Schools are held accountable, so they’re not going to lay off their best senior teacher,” Klein said.

Here are the city’s estimates for the percentages of teachers each district could lose, based on how principals have chosen to excess teachers in the past. Note that although the column says “percent positions lost,” the chart actually tracks the number of current teachers in each district who would risk losing their jobs. If layoffs do happen, it hasn’t yet been determined exactly how schools would lose their most junior teachers, DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte said today. But in any layoff scenario, districts that have hired more teachers in recent years — hard-to-staff districts with lots of turnover and the districts that have seen large spikes in enrollment — would be most disrupted.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the department's FY2019 budget. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.