Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hey City Council, what are those $800 million in "nondiscretionary" DOE cost increases?

I recently sent this letter to City Council Member Dan Garodnick, and similar letters to Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Alan Gerson, with copies to Council Member Robert Jackson of the Education Committee. I encourage other parents to do the same. Dramatic cuts to school budgets are being negotiated in the City Council right now, and the cost basis for these cuts deserves to be challenged.

UPDATE: See full detail on Tweed's $809 million in "non discretionary" cost increases here and $154 million in "discretionary" increases here.

Dear Council Member Garodnick,

It was good to meet you last week and convey some of parents' concerns about the DOE budget.

I mentioned when we spoke that many parents following education issues feel that the overruns in the FY 09 budget identified by the DOE as inevitable cost increases are in fact discretionary. I attach an exile file from the DOE detailing their claimed cost increases. You'll see that very few of them are milk and fuel. Several fund increases in controversial and untested programs. Items that could be considered non-compulsory include:

- $70 million in growth for charter schools
- $64.3 million in growth for CTT programs
- $30 million for expanded school closures
- $26.7 million to maintain school level funding for Fair Student Funding

Of these reputed overruns only about $380 million is increased staff expenses, and $2 million of that is a CSA bonus created by Chancellor Klein. Only $43 million is increased transportation costs.

Under "necessary improvements":

- $25 million in expanded merit pay for teachers (the first year of this program, which was privately funded, has not been evaluated)
- $20 million in "school support reserve": what is this?
- $10 million more for ELA and math test scoring. Why?
- $2.3 million more for "Talent Intitiatives": what is this?
- $2 million more for G&T classes

In their budget cuts document (also attached), DOE claims they are cutting periodic assessments and children's first intensive programs at a savings of $1.4 million and $2.45 million, respectively. But under "necessary improvements" these programs are identfied as increasing by $3.6 million and $2.8 million, respectively, in costs.

Additionally, according to Principals' Weekly, DOE is doubling the size of data inquiry teams. This cost does not appear in the budget.

The accountability office and the quality reviews could also be cut. Their value in relation to their cost has never been convincingly demonstrated to the public.

DOE officials are saying to parents and officials all over town that they are obliged to make draconian cuts to high performing schools because they are burdened by increasing costs. But these are costs of their own devising. Before we sacrifice successful schools, and challenge salutary influence of the CFE funds on our struggling schools, we should look to how much these expensive programs are really doing for us. And we certainly should not allow them to be disguised as necessary increases in basic operating costs.

Many thanks for your attention,
Ann Kjellberg


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