mind the gap

IBO report hints that school spending could take another hit

The city’s budget watchdog predicted less money making its way to classrooms next year, even as it said the city’s overall economic outlook could be rosier than what Mayor Bloomberg has previously suggested.

The Independent Budget Office yesterday said that rising costs for contracts, employee benefits, and charter school payments appear poised to cut into the funds that the Department of Education is free to allocate to schools. The IBO analyzed this year’s budget and Mayor Bloomberg’s November financial plan and determined that spending for classroom instruction and school administration could drop by $300 million in 2013, a 3.3 percent decrease.

That’s because funds would likely have to be redirected to other areas of the DOE where costs are soaring, according to the report: pre-kindergarten special education contracts with private schools are set to increase by 10 percent, to $100 million; fringe benefits for school employees are expected to increase 2.5 percent, to $68 million; and payments to charter schools, which are enrolling more students each year, will go up 5.6 percent to $46 million.

City officials disputed the IBO’s projections of next year’s spending as premature.

“It’s impossible to say what we’re spending next year because we haven’t put out a budget, for schools or any other agency yet,” said City Hall spokesman Marc LaVorgna. A preliminary budget for the 2013 fiscal year is expected in January or February.

The report’s drop in classroom spending did not appear in the DOE’s October cost-cutting plan, in which the DOE proposed to lop off about 6 percent from its projected 2013 budget. Unlike last year’s plan, which focused on eliminating teacher positions, cuts from this year’s plan focused on reducing contract costs and securing more aid from the state and federal governments.

In October, Bloomberg instructed all city agencies, including the DOE, to prepare for a 6 percent cut in the fiscal year that begins in July. Unlike last year’s cost-cutting plan, which focused on eliminating teacher positions, the DOE’s plan this year focused on reducing contract costs and securing more aid from the state and federal governments.

Cuts in next year’s budget would mean a fourth consecutive year that principals have less money to spend on their schools. This summer, principals said a 2.7 percent reduction meant their schools were stripped to the bone. As a result, class sizes increasedschool supplies dwindled,  more principals filed for appeals, and some came up with other creative ways to save money.

“If they would give me another $10,000, I tell you, I could make some stuff happen here,” Diahann Malcolm, a principal at High School of Law Enforcement and Public Safety, told GothamSchools this summer. Malcolm was so restricted by her budget that she resorted to teaching summer school physical education classes for students who failed during the school year.

Citywide, the IBO report paints a slightly better economic picture than what Bloomberg projected in November. Job growth, fueled in part by more jobs in the private and higher education sectors, and tax revenue would be better than expected, the report estimated, and as a result, the budget gap would be about $800 million less than Mayor Bloomberg estimated for 2013 and $1.7 billion less for 2014.

Forecasting the economy is an inexact science. Two other budget monitoring agencies – the state and city comptrollers – have already projected that the deficit is actually wider than what Bloomberg estimated.

A number of factors could still swing education funding one way or the other. A proposal to reform the state aid formula would distribute more money to lower income districts, which would could bring in significantly more money to New York City.

And economic conditions are still shaky.  The IBO warned in its report of uncertainties surrounding the European debt crisis and the political stalemate in Washington that would affect how federal education funding. Given these factors, the report said, “it would not be hard to be thrown off course.”

2012 Department of Education Programs to Eliminate the Gap

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”