UNION PRESIDENTS SPEAK
The Cost of Education Cuts
In recent years we’ve been told that New York City principals and assistant principals have become so empowered that they might as well be CEOs and other high-ranking officers of their schools. In the old days, when the economy got shaky, the chancellor advised district offices what to slash. Today, budget decisions are allegedly up to principals, and they’re the ones who take the heat about what gets cut first and which children get hit hardest, as they did when the number of school aides was recently reduced. The truth is that many budget decisions are dictated by the Department of Education, and the principal is left holding the bag. It may have seemed great to be empowered in good times, but it may not be so great in bad times.
Here’s a new year’s resolution: I’ve been carrying on about budget cuts and I’m not going to stop. Our principals and assistant principals spent all summer dealing with city cuts. Some of them were hit so hard that they had to throw themselves on the chancellor’s mercy with budget appeals before they could open their doors in September. In January, they will be hit with another 1.5 percent city cut and, in April, with a 4 percent state cut. The governor has also recently announced immediate cuts in school aid to keep the state solvent until the new year. Many of our principals have cut to the bone and now need to figure out how to cut right through the bone and still maintain high standards for their students.
It could get worse. Partly because of global competition, President Obama is making a colossal investment in education. President Sarkozy is trying to do something similar in France, as are Prime Minister Hatoyama in Japan and Prime Minister Gillani in Pakistan. Yet while our federal government is pouring cash into education, states are drowning in so much red ink from the banking crisis that they can only use the president’s dollars to backfill holes in the states’ education funding. These are dollars he sent our way for only two years. The third year might be a lot uglier.
Whether they’re in an affluent, middle class or poor district, our school leaders are dreading the cuts to come. Ultimately, their most impoverished students — mainly minority youngsters, part of the emerging American majority — will suffer most. Their parents won’t be able to provide them with tutors and many cultural opportunities outside of class. If they are in districts that are economically disadvantaged, their parents associations won’t be able to hold auctions and fairs to pay for such “extras.”
Extras aren’t extra, of course. They’re our lifeblood: cultural subjects and sports help children become better people and make many of them want to go to school. Tutoring for regular course work, AP classes and the SAT determine where students go to college or if they go at all. Part of the lifeblood is also the support services offered by guidance counselors and social workers, which keep kids straight so that serious harm doesn’t befall them. In the worst of times, this could be considered an “extra,” too.
If principals have part-time teachers for gym or cultural subjects like music, poetry, painting, theater — the arts that have humanized us since the dawn of civilization — they soon may have to let them go. If they’re in an elementary school, middle school or small high school without PSAL funding, they may have to give up the after-school athletic instructors who help those children fight obesity and illness and sometimes discover a true talent for sports. If a guidance counselor retires or moves to another town, will a principal’s first choice be to find a replacement? If their intervention programs are taught by after-school instructors, could principals get stuck foregoing remediation for struggling youngsters and college prep for the more advanced? School leaders may even have to question whether they can offer AP classes during the day if class size soars above the number that works for AP.
In these fiercely challenging times, we all want to work with the chancellor to find solutions. No question we want him to cut contracts and consultants at Tweed before anything is cut elsewhere. We also want to work with elected officials and the rich and powerful, many of whom send their children to private school, and convince them to make sure that funding for public education never gets cut at all. Slighting public education won’t ever benefit society, democracy or our economy. To emphasize that succinctly, I’ll quote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who called our crisis in education “the greatest national security crisis.” He also said, “If America is to maintain its leadership position in the world and provide a first-rate quality of life for its citizens here at home, the educational achievement of American youngsters across the board needs to be ratcheted way up.” #
Ernest Logan is president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.