Cut Scores

UFT survey details how years of budget cuts hurt city schools

Union officials presented findings from a survey outside P.S. 1 in Chinatown today.

Years of budget cuts have slashed academic programs, increased class sizes, and shortchanged teachers of classroom supplies, according to results of a survey conducted by the United Federation of Teachers.

The cuts hit after-school programs and elementary class sizes particularly hard, according to the survey’s findings, which were compiled from anecdotal accounts from UFT chapter leaders at more than half of the city’s roughly 1,700 schools.

The city’s budget environment has been grim since the start of the economic recession in 2008. As the city’s costliest agency, the Department of Education – and especially its individual school budgets – has shouldered a hefty burden of the cuts. This year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott cut school budgets by an average of 2.4 percent, or $178 million. That followed 4 percent cuts in 2010.

The survey confirms what the UFT had already known – and what the DOE had already had acknowledged – about class sizes: They are up. In September, a UFT study reported that 7,000 classes citywide were too crowded.

Three out of four elementary schools reported that class sizes were on the rise, with some classes increasing by more than 10 students, according to one anecdote.

“We’re used to 18-21 students in a class. Now we’re at 31 and 34, with 28 in a kindergarten class,” a chapter leader from Mosaic Preparatory Academy in East Harlem replied on the school’s questionnaire.

More than 60 percent of all schools in the survey reported that after-school programs had been cut. The survey also documented significant drops in spending on textbooks and instructional supplies.

The survey was intended to put a microscope on how the cuts were affecting school operations and pressured elected officials to put an end to the cuts, according to UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who presented the results at a press conference today.

Standing outside P.S. 1 in Chinatown, surrounded by some of the school’s parents and teachers, Mulgrew said students were “being hammered” by the cuts.

“What we are hoping today is that all city, state, and elected officials understand what these cuts are doing to the children,” he said.

City and DOE officials have blamed the smaller budgets on state-level cuts. Last year, the city lost $812 million in state education funding and $853 million in federal funding.

Responding to Mulgrew, DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz suggested he spend more time in Albany pressuring legislators to restore those cuts this year.

“Last year he stepped aside and remained silent, and the result was massive cuts in state and federal funding we couldn’t fully cover,” Ravitz said in a statement.

“We’re glad Mr. Mulgrew now understands that budget cuts have a real impact on students, and we can only hope that this year, he makes a clear statement to Albany that they must not cut our education funding again,” Ravitz added.

Much of the UFT’s budget advocacy last year focused on Mayor Bloomberg’s threat to lay off more than 6,000 teachers, a threat made before state budget cuts were announced.

Walcott has already projected another 2 percent in cuts to next year’s DOE budget. In a series of public statements, Walcott said he expects the DOE’s central administration to sustain the majority of the cuts.

All of the union’s findings are below:


School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede