News stories

Bad-times budgets cut to the bone

Budget cuts reported in percentages are troubling enough, but budget cuts reported in the words of teachers in the schools convey the flesh-and-blood wounds that cuts can cause.

A new UFT survey of chapter leaders showed teachers fear for their students’ futures as class sizes ballooned over three years and schools lost tutoring, academic intervention services, enrichment classes and support staff.

“Many of our students are not getting the tutoring or the extra classes they need in order to graduate,” wrote English teacher Charles Di Benedetto of Richmond Hills HS in Queens.

On Nov. 1, the UFT held a press conference outside PS 1 in Manhattan’s Chinatown to announce the survey results. The beloved community school, where English language learners constitute nearly half the population, has maximum class sizes and is short of many basic supplies following three years of budget cuts, said PS 1 Chapter Leader Christine Wong.

Bad-times budgets cut to the bone

Mounting stress

Wong was one of more than 850 chapter leaders from every borough and district who responded to the UFT survey between Sept. 14 and Oct. 12. They painted a picture of a school system under mounting stress.

“No AIS positions, no afterschool classes. First year our school will not have band or chorus. No Project Arts monies, no paras in kindergarten. And classes are at max,” Diane Chiauzzi wrote in the comment line of her budget survey, ticking off the repercussions of the cuts to PS 153 in Maspeth, Queens.

Dwindling supplies, packed classes and loss of intervention programs topped their list of concerns. Nearly two-thirds of the chapter leaders reported that class sizes have swelled. More than one-third said their schools were resorting to instructionless “mass preps” instead of hiring substitutes. Twenty percent reported decreased services for English language learners and special needs students, and lost art and music classes. Two-thirds said their schools are short of instructional supplies.

This September’s 3.2 percent cut, an average of $176,000 per school, marks the fourth straight year of budget cuts.

The first round, in 2008, followed several years of flush budgets early in the Bloomberg administration. It elicited a “can-do” attitude from school staff. But a relentless succession of yearly and midyear cuts — a cumulative 15 percent since 2008 with another 2 percent set for midyear 2011-12 — is pushing the system to the edge, chapter leaders report.

More with less?

No matter how much harder they work, the chapter leaders wrote, they are finding they cannot continue to do more with less.

“More with less … resulting in less,” North Queens Community HS teacher Griffin Quirk wrote, summarizing a common view.

“We are now cut to the bone,” Liberty HS English-as-a-second-language teacher Kathleen Farrell reported from Chelsea. “Despite the hard work (made increasingly harder by these cuts) of the school staff, we have reached a tipping point. Much as we try to shield our students from the damage, there is only so much we can do.”

The years of cuts have resulted in decreased academic achievement. Many teachers said test scores have gone down and families are losing confidence in the schools — a frightening reminder of the suburban flight that took place when the school system suffered devastating cuts in the 1970s.

“Class sizes increase and no extra help,” wrote PS 126 teacher Wichemonde Tremont. “Scores have gone down and many of the children are moving out of the area,” she said of her school in the Highbridge section in the Bronx.

The cuts have also taken a toll on teachers’ spirits. Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts Chapter Leader Anthony Klug said his Harlem school has lost 10 teachers and a guidance counselor over the last three years, compromising college acceptances. “We no longer have a full-time band or media arts teacher,” he continued, “and the overall mood of the school has declined as ‘doing more with less’ has taken an emotional and physical toll on students and staff.”

Scrounging for supplies

Several chapter leaders said the teachers in their schools are paying for needed supplies themselves after Teacher’s Choice was suspended this year. Others are helping their schools scrounge for funding.

“We are writing mini-grants, soliciting donations and spending a portion of our salaries to pay for the things that we need to serve our students,” wrote Amanda Erin Green, the chapter leader at PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights. “But we should be focused on teaching, not hunting for resources.”

As Rebecca Ovadia, the chapter leader at PS/MS183 in Rockaway Beach, observed, “We are trying to do more with less but the ‘less’ is becoming overwhelming.”

Cuts to Classroom Supplies
My school
has fewer
% Elementary
Schools Affected
(N=458)
% Middle
Schools Affected
(N=140)
% High Schools
Affected
(N=186)
Textbooks 36% 43% 41%
Other instructional
supplies
64% 60% 52%

 

Cuts to Programs
My school
has fewer
% Elementary
Schools Affected
(N=458)
% Middle
Schools Affected
(N=140)
% High Schools
Affected
(N=186)
After-school
programs
60% 63% 60%
Weekend programs 40% 46% 38%
Tutoring programs 24% 43% 46%

Professional
development
43% 53% 34%
Extracurricular
activities
42% 59% 51%

 

Cuts to Personnel
My school
has fewer
% Elementary
Schools Affected
(N=458)
% Middle
Schools Affected
(N=140)
% High Schools
Affected
(N=186)
Fewer teachers
this year
45% 42% 48%
My school population
has also stayed the
same or increased
27% 22% 24%
Lost other important school personnel 38% 41% 53%
My school population
also stayed the same or increased
24% 26% 32%
Read more: News stories
Related topics: budget, chapter leaders
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