Jill Levy, President of the Council for Supervisors and Administrators, has Many Questions of the Current DOE Policies
Testimony of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators
Jill S. Levy, President
At Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields'
Hearing on "Children First"
September 7, 2004
Good morning Borough President Fields and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you. I am Jill Levy, the President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, CSA. We represent more than 6500 active and retired New York City public school Principals, Assistant Principals, Supervisors and Administrators.
On behalf of CSA I commend the Borough President for providing a forum in which to discuss and assess the first full year under the Children First reform initiative. Your work here today is absolutely critical as we move forward.
Many of my members have grown weary of the top-down changes and micromanagement style. They are frustrated by the difficulty getting responses and resources from their Regional Operation Centers and are concerned that there is no longer an advocate who understand their individual schools and individual school needs. No two schools are the same and no effort to treat them in such a manner will ultimately be successful in putting "children first".
Now that we have experienced one full year of this latest reorganization, I have been asked many times to offer a "grade" on various aspects of the reorganization and the performance of the Chancellor and his staff. The only area for which I would give a grade of "A" is in the administration's skill at obfuscation. There is an overwhelming disregard for openness, truthfulness and respect for the public and the professionals who are committed to serve our children.
Today, in the spirit of constructive criticism, I will offer my thoughts on the Chancellor's 'Report Card' offered by Joel Klein in the New York Post on July 19th of this year and the promises he made throughout his tenure.
The following is a quote from his article:
"The single most important change that Mayor Bloomberg gave us in our 'Children First' reform agenda was to bring accountability to a system that had seriously resisted accountability."
That statement is particularly true for almost every Principal and CSA member, but certainly not for the Chancellor. It is symptomatic of the farcical wool the Chancellor consistently tries to pull over the eyes of the public and policy makers. For instance, in the spirit of such accountability, the Chancellor gleefully claimed that he fired 45 incompetent Principals and was prepared in unprecedented haste to release their names to the public.
As it turned out, after the Principals' public humiliation, most were highly regarded, had never had any previous disciplinary action brought against them, some had retired on their own volition and were not "removed' as the bully chancellor proclaimed. Others were dismissed during their probationary period and did not get appointed to their position - precisely why we have a probationary period and not a cause to grandstand. The Chancellor, like the mad Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, confuses accountability with an unbridled public mean spirit.
Klein's public statements that he would give Principals more autonomy combined with greater accountability gets lost in his actual policies. For instance, let us look at the hiring of 1200 coaches who did not answer to the Principals in the schools where they worked. Translation: Principals were held accountable for student outcomes resulting, in part, from the work that coaches did in their schools without being given the autonomy of mentoring, training nor influencing their coaches. Written out of their own rating equation, they were denied their roles as educational leaders. Yet, for a Chancellor driven by the word, "accountability", it was hypocritical that the very people who he had implementing his curriculum carried no accountability. From theory to practice, the gap is outstanding. After much open criticism and a challenge from CSA, coaches will be reporting to Principals who will hold them accountable for their work in the schools.
Klein's self-evaluation included the following:
"The restructuring also allowed us to redirect some $250 million in bureaucratic spending into our classrooms for literacy programs and coaches, books, computers, teacher training and many other education uses."
Yet, no one we have spoken to can attest to the validity of that $250 million dollar figure. No one can actually trace the claimed savings and, if the DoE has made those calculations public in a reasonable and functional manner, where is it? Accountability or obfuscation in accounting - what are we to think?
And, what about accountability in the overspending of 60 million dollars in the first year of the reorganization? But now that they have overspent, our schools and children are being forced to make up for the shortfall this year. This raises the question, are schools being forced to compensate for a new form of bloated bureaucracy?
As we sit here today, there are plans by the DoE to hire at least 10 additional Local Instructional Superintendents at a salary of $135,000 not counting an additional 22% for benefits, bringing the additional expense to almost 3 million dollars while Principals have to cut their support staff.
CSA surveyed the Principals regarding their school budgets. The response has been overwhelming regarding the slashing of school budgets, many close to 1 million dollars and several over a million. After CSA brought the budget shortfall issue public, the DoE instituted an appeals process that required Principals to make a case for their respective schools, resulting in a less than full return of dollars to some schools, but not all.
A highly heralded agreement between the New York State Assembly and the Mayor resulted in an additional infusion of $300 million to ostensibly fund schools to their initial budget status of last year. But Principals are still reporting massive cuts to schools and services to children. Principals are forced to cut staff - Assistant Principals, teachers, school aides, librarians, guidance counselors, and secretarial positions. After-school services, special programs and other activities are being eliminated. Class size will be increased. Among our more affluent school populations, parents are increasing fundraising while our most needy students become more needy.
Because the DoE's new budget formula is almost solely based on numbers of children, the allocation of funds simply does not support the educational needs of the children. Once again, children are seen as "things"- widgets, if you will. Not only are children unique, but also the physical plans of schools are unique. Just compare the number of buses delivering and picking up children at one school with another. Some schools run on double or triple session. Others have multiple buildings. None of these factors were included in the strictly formula-driven budget construction. Once again, children end up bearing the brunt of the impact and Principals bear the entire responsibility of such impact.
When we review the way in which the DoE budget is constructed, there is an underlying assumption that a Principal in elementary and middle schools with only one Assistant Principal in each high school can manage the administrative and instructional needs of a school. All other Assistant Principal positions are deemed to be "administrative overhead". This is an historical and, if I might add, hysterically peculiar vision of the role of Assistant Principals who are charged with supporting the Principal in the supervision and support of instruction and overall educational plan for the schools. Given how the budget is constructed, Principals with serious budget cuts and little experience often are led to believe that they must diminish their own leadership support. This administration is heading right back to the dark ages in NYC education by not revisiting and aligning the budget to the reality of our schools.
The response to the cutting of Assistant Principals is to remove teachers from the classroom to take over the important administrative tasks of a school. First, our children lose the benefit of their most experienced teachers. Second, teachers cannot supervise other teachers and cannot provide the supervision necessary to improve instruction and support the Principal, leaving only the Principal to engage in observing the quality of the teaching staff, determining individual professional development needs of personnel and evaluating each and every staff member in the school. Third, without a fully staffed, qualified team of Assistant Principals, Principals cannot be expected to effectively implement their educational plans. Finally, CSA will not permit this practice to continue and has been upheld on every challenge to teachers taking over our members' professional duties.
Yet, too many Principals will be held to ever increasing levels of student performance with fewer resources. An odd form of accountability, wouldn't you say! With a surplus in our city's overall budget, we find it incomprehensible that schools will be shortchanged.
Let's continue to look at the construction of the DoE budget, its promises and reality. They have said,
"Children First has espoused the following changes to better empower and support principals: Principals will: Have increased control over school budgets; Have reduced administrative burden;" www.nyleadershipacademy.org
First, you need to know that some 90% of the money in the budget is mandated to cover salaries and textbooks. This leaves very little discretion for the Principal.
Given the budget shortfall and the categorical placement of Assistant principals in "Administrative Overhead", can a Principal really decide to add an Assistant Principal to support a large special education population in the school? Not without going into a category of "instructional support". LIS's, Regional Superintendents and finance personnel don't want to explain such cuts to the public. In fact, LIS's make the final determination of school budgets with the designated - not real - Community Superintendent simply signing off. Autonomy for Principals – only accountability without appropriate resources! Having no control over a pot of insufficient funds is a far cry from increased control!
In addition, unless we stop thinking about instruction as only teachers and classrooms, we will continue to diminish the effectiveness of our Principals and our school organizations.
Here are some more examples of promises not kept:
"Principals will... receive ongoing management and support in instruction and teacher development from new Local Instructional Superintendents (LIS) who will each manage a network of 10 to 12 schools." www. Nycleadershipacademy.org
Does the support include getting money for a paraprofessional? NO! a teacher? NO! or special program? NO!
But these "supportive people" have been ordered to meet a quota in grading Principals unsatisfactory. Perhaps, the Jack Welch model of firing a certain percentage of your management staff worked for GE, but it only serves to destabilize schools and the system.
How does the DoE intend to fulfill its promise to have "1200 excellent schools led by 1200 excellent Principals"?
"Effective, accountable schools require empowered, accountable leaders. So, we launched the nation's largest effort to train new principals, and with more than $60 million in private support we are recruiting, training and placing a new generation of school leaders." - Chancellor Klein
Conceptually, we agree with the mission of the Leadership Academy. CSA sponsored legislation currently enacted into NYS law that compels the city to develop and fund Professional Development Centers to recruit, train and support our Principals and the instructional leaders who require additional professional support. However, the DoE has unilaterally developed their academy without regard to the law. Ultimately, Joel Klein will not admit to his accountability for the outcomes as he has denied his accountability for the utilization of its funds, claiming that it is a not-for-profit organization disconnected from the DoE. There is bridge in Brooklyn I need to sell......
Moreover, the funding of the academy is only temporary under this administration. There is no institutional foundation for its continued existence beyond this Mayor's tenure. When funders lose interest, the academy is doomed to disappear. Even today, with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg's departure, our prediction seems alarmingly real.
Why does such a program cost 25 million dollars a year - an extraordinary expenditure by our calculation?
And why has the program been shrouded in secrecy?
Notwithstanding all of these questions, the goal of the DoE and CSA is the same. However, our view of the program differs from our view of the people passing through the program. These aspiring and new Principals are critical to the success of our schools in meeting the needs of our children. Running a school is a complex job and those put in charge must be adequately prepared. The success of the academy will be measured by the success of its candidates during their tenure as school leaders.
Continuing with the Chancellors Report Card, this time on school safety:
A wide range of safety and security strategies were focused on improving the learning environment in some of the city's mot unruly schools. As a result, we have seen a 10 percent drop in criminal incidents and 48 percent drop in major crimes each day in the first 12 schools we targeted in January, and a 66 percent drop in incidents and major crimes in four schools added to our list of 'Impact Schools' in April."
The upsurge in crimes and safety issues were initially directly attributable to the reorganization, which dismantled the existing system for suspensions and discipline and did not replace it. In spite of CSA and UFT warnings, in its haste to reinvent the wheel in record time, the DoE forgot a few of the spokes and let the suspension system literally fall apart. And that is one of the very things wrong with this administration. As my mother would say, "They think they know it all." So, why listen to anyone and avoid problems. Let's move in, have additional and probably unnecessary expense, but make a splash in the media at the expense of school personnel and reputations.
And what about the highly touted new small schools with some of the most ridiculous themes given their location and actual availability of resources!
"Dozens of small secondary schools and chartered schools were launched to begin the reform of large, unproductive high schools and to give parents more choices in a system of far too few high-performing schools."
There are too many questions about the efficacy of creating small schools within existing structures. Their reliance on the "host school" brings additional problems to the host Principal and staff including shared space, safety, construction, etc. Special education students requiring self-contained classes often swell the ranks of the larger schools because the smaller ones cannot accommodate them. Let us remember, too, that the success or failure of a school includes how well our special education students achieve. Does anyone here see the discrepancy and the unreality of these situations?
Questions: Are new, smaller schools draining the larger schools of resources and dollars?
To continue to look at Special Education in the context of the first year of Children First brings several questions to mind. First, why was it necessary to rid the system of the expertise and advocacy of Supervisors of Special Education for children in elementary and middle schools? Why not build and capitalize on that resource? How has Children First addressed the issues of inappropriate placements? And why are we constantly hearing, behind closed doors and curtains, that the intention is to mingle funds and provide inclusion programs except for District 75? The DoE has an obligation to put his plan out in the open with all of its details - instructional and fiscal.
As for the "Summer Success Academy", it accomplished exactly what was accomplished in years past. The same percentage of children moved on to the next grade as in years past. The question yet to be answered is if these children simply had a temporary boost up in skills or if their skills will enable them to keep up with their peers during the course of this next academic year. Then too, we need to determine the impact of the stress for academic performance on our children as they get tested more and more frequently.
Just recently, we heard that the Chancellor wants to establish a new "ZONE" of high schools. This is not a new idea and one that was rejected under a previous Chancellor. This new management structure would do away with the LIS and the Regional Superintendent as a carrot on the stick for schools wishing to enter the zone. The promise of more autonomy in curriculum and professional development is farcical, at best. If, in less than a year, the DoE is experimenting with another management structure, what does this say about systemic stability and their own view of the current system that is in place?
Finally, the success of this reorganization will be determined by how well our children do in terms of test scores, earning diplomas, getting into and completing a college career and how well they do when entering the business world. Joel Klein and the Mayor may or may not be around to reap the rewards or the blame, but we have an obligation to hold them accountable for every child in our schools and in our city-funded day care centers. We have too much at risk to play with our children's education.
# # #
(718) 852-3000 x211
(646) 261-9543 cell
(718) 403-0278 fax
Richard@csa-nyc.org Brian Gibbons
(718) 852-3000 x273
(914) 484-0224 cell
(718) 403-0278 fax