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DOE Cost-Saving Measure Will Punish Thrifty Principals

By Julie Shapiro on March 8, 2011 6:09pm | Updated on March 9, 2011 6:18am

Students at P.S. 276 in their new cafeteria in the fall of 2010. All schools in the city that have extra money will lose 30 percent of it at the end of the fiscal year, under the Department of Education's new budget measure.
Students at P.S. 276 in their new cafeteria in the fall of 2010. All schools in the city that have extra money will lose 30 percent of it at the end of the fiscal year, under the Department of Education's new budget measure.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — A new cost-saving measure that will punish thrifty principals is drawing outrage downtown.

Under the Department of Education's plan, principals who don't spend their entire budget this year will have to give part of it back to the city. In the past, schools were able to roll the extra money over to the following year, and many used it to offset future cuts.

"None of the money should have to be returned," said T. Elzora Cleveland, president of the District 2 Community Education Council. "This is not acceptable…Constantly taking funds from our schools causes them unnecessary stress."

Schools Chancellor Cathie Black initially proposed that schools give back 50 percent of their unspent funds. But after hearing from concerned principals, Black announced Monday that schools would only lose 30 percent of their saved money.

"Over the last few weeks, I heard thoughtful feedback from principals across the five boroughs about how we can help them continue making prudent, long-term budget decisions, and we've crafted a solution to let them do that," Black said in a statement.

Cleveland and others, though, said schools should be able to keep every penny they have saved, since they are already facing other budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

"Once you have a contract in place, you don’t all of a sudden pull that money back," said Paul Hovitz, a retired teacher and co-chairman of Community Board 1's Youth and Education Committee. "Where [principals] have been able to maintain funds, they should not lose them."

Last year, schools across the city rolled over about $80 million in funds from one budget to the next, a DOE spokeswoman said.

This year, though, it is possible that fewer schools will have excess money, because some have used everything they have to avoid losing programs and teachers.

That's what happened at P.S. 150 in TriBeCa. Principal Maggie Siena said she used to roll over money from year to year, but now she is spending all of her budget and even needs supplemental PTA funds just to pay the staff.

"In the past, it would have hurt," Siena said of the rollover policy change.

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