budget bump

New York City’s education budget has jumped over 40 percent in 10 years. Here’s why.

PHOTO: Monica Disare
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, center endorses Mayor Bill de Blasio for re-election.

Michael Bloomberg may have been the education mayor, but Bill de Blasio is spending a lot more money on it.

City spending on education has grown from nearly $17 billion in 2008 during Bloomberg’s reign, to a projected $24.3 billion for next year. In the last five years of Bloomberg’s tenure, education spending increased 13 percent; by the end of his first term, spending under de Blasio is projected to jump 27 percent.

That boost, according to a new Independent Budget Office analysis of the city’s preliminary 2018 budget, is largely attributable to two main categories: spending on staff salaries and payments to charter schools and non-public schools often used for special education.

“When we look at the proposed growth for 2018 in the mayor’s preliminary budget, these two items account for almost all of [it],” said Ray Domanico, lead author of the IBO report.


De Blasio’s 2014 contract with the UFT is having a ‘major impact’

Salary and benefits for the city’s 75,000 teachers comprise the largest share of the education budget: $15.3 billion. Next year alone, staff salaries (which include non-teachers) are set to cost the city an additional 5.7 percent — or $823 million — almost as much as the five-year cost of the mayor’s Renewal program for struggling schools. During the last four years of the Bloomberg administration, by contrast, salaries grew only about 1.3 percent per year.

The reason for that large discrepancy, according to the IBO, is a contract de Blasio negotiated with the United Federation of Teachers months after taking office, which gave teachers retroactive pay to make up for a salary freeze.

“The cost of the salary increases and retroactive pay embodied in the 2014 contract settlement have had a major impact on the DOE’s budget,” according to the report.

Another reason for the growth in staff costs is, well, more staff. Nearly 13,000 more people are projected to be drawing education department salaries next year, compared with the last year of the Bloomberg administration.

Charter payments continue to grow

Despite smaller personnel costs during the final Bloomberg years, what did increase significantly were payments to charters and non-public schools. Those payments rose from $1.3 to nearly $2.5 billion between 2008 and 2013, a growth rate of roughly 13 percent each year.

That trend has continued under de Blasio. As charter school enrollment has grown to over 100,000 students —10.5 percent of the city’s public school student population — payments have also increased.

Payments to charters and non-public schools are set to cost $3.5 billion in 2018, up roughly 1 billion since the last year of the Bloomberg administration.

The IBO’s Domanico said staff salaries and charter payments are likely to increase in the future — and might help explain why de Blasio’s vision for the city was relatively light on education proposals this year.

The education budget “is going up by a billion dollars for 2018, and it’s being driven by these two items,” he said. “One has to wonder how much is available to do other things.”

Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said in an email that the city was proud of its investment.

“This investment supports an education agenda that serves every student, and we’re seeing the results – pre-K for every 4-year-old, the highest-ever grad rates, lowest ever dropout rates, and the highest rate of students going to college,” she said. “That’s money well spent.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a response from the mayor’s office.

tie breaker

Sheridan school board discussion heats up as date is set for final vote on new superintendent

Sheridan board member Juanita Camacho was sworn in on April 10, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Sheridan School District)

With a new board member who can cast a tie-breaking vote, the school board of the tiny Sheridan district is set to pick its first new superintendent in 10 years.

Finding a replacement for Michael Clough has been a contentious process, with community members pushing for an outside candidate who might be more responsive to their concerns and bring faster change and with veteran board members favoring a candidate who already works in the district.

At a meeting two weeks ago, Clough shouted at the community and the president of the teachers union. The president, who is also a district teacher, had been standing with community members who rose to express support for the outside candidate, a Denver Public Schools administrator named Antonio Esquibel. Clough and the board president called the display “totally disrespectful.”

On Tuesday, the meeting started in a small room where a staff member stood at the door and turned away members of the public, including a reporter who went in anyway. But there was still shouting, this time between board members frustrated with the process and each other.

One issue in dispute: the role of the newly seated board member.

The Sheridan board is divided between two veteran board members, Bernadette Saleh and Sally Daigle, who want to see the district continue on the path Clough set, and two new members, Daniel Stange and Karla Najera, who are allied with the parents and advocates who want to see a new direction.

The fifth seat had been vacant for more than 10 years before Juanita Camacho put in her application earlier this year. Initially board members wanted to wait to seat her until after they chose a new superintendent, but when it seemed like they were headed for deadlock, she was sworn in.

Tuesday, Saleh, the board’s president, argued that Camacho was not seated to help select a new superintendent, while Stange argued that it did appear that way.

Camacho said she did not think about the superintendent search when she initially applied, and she almost considered backing out of the role when she knew she would be a tie-breaker.

“I’m going to make that deciding vote,” Camacho said. “It’s not going to be an easy thing for me.”

Camacho will have one more week to review the qualifications of the three finalists for the position before the board vote at 5 p.m. on May 1.

Part of the division in the community and on the board centers on the perception of the district’s progress. Many community members and teachers say they want drastic changes to improve the district, while others have said they want to continue the district’s current momentum.

Sheridan, a district serving about 1,400 students just southwest of Denver, has improved enough on state ratings to get off the state’s watchlist for chronic low-performance and avoid state sanctions. But by many measures, including graduation rates, the district is still considered low performing.

“You don’t know what we’ve been through,” Daigle told Stange, who she accused of bad-mouthing the district. “We came out of the turnaround long before we were ever expected to.”

Several teachers and parents have spoken to the board during public comment at multiple meetings, asking them to “listen to the community.” Most of them support Esquibel, the only one of three finalists who is from outside the district.

Saleh and Daigle also argued that if other board members wanted a candidate who was from outside the district, they should have voiced that opinion before they collectively narrowed the candidates to the three finalists announced in March.

While many community members and board member Stange prefer Esquibel, they have said that the other two candidates aren’t bad choices to lead the district, and none of the board members disputed that they agreed on the three as finalists.

Future of Schools

What time does school start? Some IPS parents concerned about coming schedule changes

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

Dozens of parents filled the Indianapolis Public Schools board room Tuesday afternoon for a last-minute meeting about changing school start times, a sign of how disruptive many believe the changes could be.

Next year, the district is rolling out a new all-choice high school model, where students choose schools by focus area rather than neighborhood. In order to bus students from around the district to those schools without swelling costs, the administration is shifting start and end times for elementary, middle, and high school campuses.

Ultimately, the district says the new schedule will make it more likely that buses will arrive on time.

“With the all choice high school model, there has to be some modification,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said ahead of the meeting.

The administration’s recommendation, which was developed after feedback from parents, aims to limit the number of schools with significant changes in start and end times. For about 80 percent of schools, bell times will not change by more than 10 minutes, according to the administration. Under the latest proposal, most middle and high schools will run from 7:20 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. Most elementary schools will run from 9:20 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. The board will vote Thursday on new school start and end times.

The process for developing the plan inspired significant criticism from parents at the transportation meeting.

Dustin Jones, who has two children at the Butler Lab School, said he was particularly concerned that the district was still deciding on the new schedule in April after many parents already made school choices for next year.

“The appearance is the all choice model was ideologically kind of the direction to go, and then that the transportation to support that decision is lagging behind,” Jones said. “That shows a lack of ability and foresight.”

For months, the district has been holding meetings and asking parents for input on the schedule for next year. The administration, however, has struggled to develop a plan that would balance myriad challenges, such as containing costs, limiting disruptions for families, and handling a shortage of bus drivers that is posing significant challenges.

“There’s been an ongoing discussion of the transportation dilemma and challenge,” said board member Mary Ann Sullivan at the board meeting after the discussion. “I think this reflects a very good resolution to most of the concerns. It does not address every concern of every family or every commissioner.”

Initially, leaders were also considering flipping school start times so high schoolers could start at a later time because research shows adolescents benefit from sleeping later. But in the face of practical concerns, such as high school student work schedules, the board abandoned that goal.

That was a disappointment for Molly McPheron, a pediatrician and parent in the district.

“The evidence is really clear that when high schools start later, children have improved health outcomes as well as improved graduation rates, better grades,” McPheron said. “We are going through a lot to make sure high schoolers have choice, have all these options. And then there’s kind of this simple thing that we could do that could potentially substantially improve their lives.”