Tuesday, May 25, 2010

City Says Strapped Schools Can Go Without Parent Coordinators by Philissa Cramer - GothamSchools

Joining 6,400 teachers on the chopping block are 350 parent coordinators whose schools will no longer be required to employ them, Chancellor Joel Klein announced today.

For the first time since the position was created in 2003, high schools will be allowed to go without a parent coordinator, Klein told principals today, saving up to 350 schools just over $40,000 a year each. Parent coordinators whose jobs are eliminated will be at high risk of layoff, according to Department of Education spokeswoman Ann Forte. Elementary and middle schools are still required to keep a parent coordinator on staff.

The instruction is a stark example of how budget cuts could undo some of Mayor Bloomberg’s most ambitious education initiatives. The creation of the parent coordinator position in January 2003 was a central element of Bloomberg and Klein’s early reforms.

Klein also announced today that the Fair Student Funding formula the city devised to fund schools according to their students’ needs no longer covers some schools’ essential costs. To compensate for the outsized cuts at those schools, the department will redistribute money from schools with less lean budgets. While the shift technically does not deconstruct Fair Student Funding, it effectively makes it moot for the time being.

“No school’s FSF budget will be reduced as a result of the shift, and we are, of course, working to ensure it will have only a minimal impact on your schools,” Klein told principals in an email this afternoon.

Klein said the changes don’t mean the city is backing down from its commitments to parent engagement or to funding schools equitably.

But a spokeswoman for DC 37, the union that represents parent coordinators and other non-teaching school staff, said that’s exactly what allowing parent coordinators to be laid off will mean.

“Just a few months ago, the Mayor was heralding the importance of parent coordinators as a response to critics who were agitating for more parental input into the schools,” said D.C. 37 spokeswoman Zita Allen. “Parent coordinators were then intended to serve this critical function. Now, the Mayor has moved on disregarding the importance of parent coordinators as he indiscriminately slashes budgets.”

Here’s the email that Klein sent to principals today:

Dear Colleagues,

This morning, I testified before the City Council’s Education and Finance Committees about our budget for the coming school year. As I told the Council, our budget situation remains uncertain due to Albany’s failure to pass a budget. In fact, it’s not much clearer than the last time we spoke two weeks ago.

I encourage you to read my full testimony, available here, carefully. In it, I explain a funding change that will affect some of your schools. With the large cuts to Fair Student Funding over the last two years, the FSF budgets for a number of schools-particularly middle schools-are now well below what is needed to cover basic operations with these dollars. While funds from sources other than FSF have helped to sustain schools’ operations during these declining budget times, we must bring all schools’ unrestricted budgets to a basic operating level before we implement another large cut to 2010-2011 budgets. To do this, we plan to shift unrestricted, non-FSF dollars from schools where FSF allocations combined with other unrestricted funds are above a minimum operating threshold, and redirect them to the severely under-funded schools. No school’s FSF budget will be reduced as a result of the shift, and we are, of course, working to ensure it will have only a minimal impact on your schools.

In my testimony, I also describe our enrollment projections for next year. Our most recent estimates predict increases of about 5,000 general education and 7,300 special education students. However, actual enrollment figures could be higher. I understand a potential increase of this magnitude will have a significant impact on your schools, and we are currently determining the best way to factor it into your budgets.

Finally, I want to note that while we believe parent coordinators are critical to our schools’ success, we have decided that at the high school level, principals should be able to consider parent coordinators as they review their overall budgets. As such, a high school principal may decide to excess a parent coordinator to retain a teacher or an after-school program. Parent coordinators, however, remain mandated for all elementary and middle schools.

I know many of you will have questions about what all this will mean for your schools. We still hope to release your budgets by June 1, but our situation is very fluid and some issues remain unresolved. I will schedule another Webcast soon after your budgets are released.

I look forward to talking with you soon. And, as always, thank you for your hard work.


Joel I. Klein