UNION PRESIDENTS SPEAK
A Warming Trend Despite Cold Economic Reality
It was cold in Albany as I listened to Gov. Eliot Spitzer deliver his State of the State address early last month, but I was warmed by his words as he outlined his efforts to temper the effects of an increasingly troubled economy on his commitment to education. Two weeks later, he proposed an increase in state aid of $1.46 billion, the largest increase in history.
So it was with shock that I received the news late in January that the Department of Education had unilaterally decided to cut all school budgets by 1.75 percent, pulling the money from Principals’ budgets, and leaving school leaders to sort out the chaos of this mid-year change. (Let’s see.... to save $50,000, I can eliminate my art program, but who’s going to watch those kids during Periods 2, 5 and 7 every day, and how will I pay them? Guess I’ll have to cut the after-school program instead).
I understand that the city is facing financial difficulties. I understand that budgets need to be balanced. I do not understand how the city forged ahead with millions of dollars worth of testing initiatives and data-gathering initiatives as well as paying business consultants millions of dollars to evaluate the school system’s financial health only to suddenly wake up and say, Gee, we’re out of money. Guess the Principals will have to make some cuts. Didn’t anyone look ahead and ask, “How are we going to continue funding these initiatives in tough times?” Did they really think the revenue balloon was going to float upwards forever?
Let me be clear: We will not go quietly into the night about these cuts. We will be asked to make suggestions and we will. For starters, how about cutting back on some of the testing programs? How about firing some of those business consultants, you know the ones who changed the bus routes midwinter last year to save money? How about emptying out the rubber rooms and putting some of our educators back to work? How about spending less on foolish investigations and treating people with dignity and common sense?
A major highlight of Mr. Spitzer’s proposed budget is an increase in universal pre-kindergarten funding by $79 million. I hope the legislature sees eye-to-eye with the governor on this. Regardless of how much eventually flows from Albany, it is time for NYC, the Department of Education and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to fully use the money the city receives to strengthen early childhood education. It is simply unacceptable for the city to return funds to the state when many more NYC students could be, and need to be, served.
Meanwhile, ACS is closing “underutilized” community-based Day Care Centers while many of our public elementary schools can’t accommodate the influx of students. Quite a paradox. But we need to stop having meetings to solve the problems of individual Day Care Centers, crisis by crisis, and develop a bold strategic plan. We don’t want to force parents to return to the days when young children were kept in unregulated and rarely inspected neighbors’ homes.
Frankly, one reason we are finally turning the corner on student achievement is because our students are arriving in first grade ready to learn. Our city-funded Day Care Centers provide a quality education with appropriate supervision in a safe environment designed to enhance the educational experience. Our Day Care supervisors are early childhood educators. Many have the qualifications to become DOE employees and run schools but resist the temptation to “cross the street” and earn more money because they are dedicated to the early childhood education school setting. The city needs more of these professionals, not fewer.
CSA has declared February Early Childhood Education month. Our theme: “Invest in New York’s Future!” It’s time to place these schools under one agency’s umbrella. It’s time we treated these centers as pre-schools. And it’s time to pay these educated and credentialed supervisors a salary commensurate with their education and their experience.
Ernest Logan is the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.#