We Celebrate Black History Month 2009
CSA President Ernest Logan Addresses City’s Education Budget Crunch
Despite multiple wars and harsh economic realities—with huge city and state budget deficits threatening our schools—I stood united in hope with millions of fellow Americans at the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month. In the days leading up to the inauguration, I, too, sensed this universal optimism, whether I was chatting with a Michigan auto worker and his family who had taken the long drive to DC or meeting Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of a former president. I sensed the same enthusiasm as I spoke to a young African-American couple who’d driven from Rhode Island though they’d never before been politically engaged or took the Metro with the aide to a powerful Republican senator or rode Amtrak with broadcast news legend Dan Rather and violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.
In our nation’s capitol, all seemed to share a sense of the perilous times in which we live but an even greater sense of possibility. That paradox was best captured by our new President: “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America—they will be met.”
Just a few days before this historic inauguration, the House of Representatives took its lead from Barack Obama by releasing an $825 billion stimulus bill. It was exhilarating to learn that the bill included $141.6 billion for education, with $79 billion intended to prevent education cuts at state and local levels, $41 billion intended for additional aid to schools and a variety of hefty provisions for early childhood education. Of course, it was more than the stimulus that lifted our spirits: Barack Obama, our first African-American president, had been elected against all odds, on a tidal wave of hope, after rising from the ranks of community organizer.
This nearly universal hopefulness comes from our renewed faith that greatness can spring from anywhere. A community organizer is, in the deepest sense, “one of us.” Whether we’ve organized through our faith-based communities, our schools, or our unions, most of us have taken up a social cause at some time in our lives. As educational leaders, we’ve also fought for children. So the community organizing past of the new president has a special resonance for us: Barack Obama gave up a comfortable life as an attorney to organize with the Developing Communities Project (DCP) in South Chicago. He and DCP stood up for their community by developing, among other things, employment training services, playgrounds, after-school programs, and school reforms.
At the inauguration, I remembered that throughout Obama’s campaign, he never failed to hold up education as one of his top three priorities. Often, he singled out early childhood education as the foundation on which all else rests. Considering the President’s priorities, his choice of Chicago Schools Superintendent Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education doesn’t come as a surprise. Like the President, Mr. Duncan is known for his collaborative style of management and his work with inner-city, community-based programs.
As leaders of our school communities, we have a sound basis for rejoicing in a new national leadership that is rooted in community service and seems to measure part of its effectiveness on the progress of its education system. As school leaders, we have reason to take heart in this economic stimulus bill. However, as realists, we have to bear in mind that we do not know exactly how much will flow from that bill to our schools, when it will arrive and if it will be distributed proportionately.
Wisdom dictates that we plan for budget cuts as if there were no contingency and remember that our new President, and economists of every political stripe, are warning us that this time around dire economic conditions could last for several years. The NYC Department of Education has launched budget cuts centrally in a variety of ways that include reducing the cost of standardized assessments and restructuring staff.
You too, as leaders of individual school communities, need to look closely at your priorities and do the hard work of planning cost reductions that will not deprive children of the resources they need in the classroom. These choices will not be imposed upon school Principals; rather you will need to work collaboratively and judiciously with your school communities to make those tough decisions yourselves. CSA’s Executive Leadership Institute is now offering a variety of workshops to help you with this process, which you must complete by July.
As you make these choices with care and with faith in our children’s future, you may be inspired by the messages of shared responsibility in our President’s inaugural speech, especially by: “…a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.” #
Ernest Logan is the President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.