Testimony

Testimony on FY 2010 budget projections

Testimony of Michael Mulgrew, UFT Chief Operating Officer, before New York City Council Education and Finance Committees

Good afternoon Chairman Weprin, Chairman Jackson and members of these two distinguished committees. My name is Michael Mulgrew, and I am the Chief Operating Officer of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents more than 200,000 members, including some 100,000 educators employed in the city’s public schools. Thank you for this opportunity to address your committees today on this important topic.

My message here today is simple: We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

Just last week, our 1,500 schools received their preliminary budgets. Normally, schools would have had their budgets much earlier, but the complexity of our city’s budget situation, and the desire by all parties to minimize cuts, delayed the process.

That delay turned out to be helpful. We have been working with the DOE to mitigate the cuts, and we are finding that for the most part, schools are being cut between 3.8% and 5%, depending on whether they were able to roll over funds. That’s an improvement over the 8% to 12% cuts many schools were bracing for just a few months ago, but it is still a significant sum. The overall cut to schools stands at a proposed $405 million, or $310 million once the rollover funding is factored in.

We have made a great deal of progress since January’s preliminary budget, which included $1.4 billion in education cuts and the potential for 15,000 teacher layoffs. The key to that progress was teamwork. Working together with the community and our elected representatives in Washington and Albany, the UFT and its partners were able to help secure federal stimulus dollars and a new progressive state income tax top rate that will generate additional revenues. Both of those measures helped avert that initial disastrous scenario. It took a lot of hard work to get to this point, and I want to commend our partners, our state and federal elected officials, the Mayor and the Department of Education for all of their efforts.

I cannot stress enough, however, that our work is still far from over. These cuts average approximately $266,340 per school. Thirteen schools are looking at cuts over $1 million, and 101 schools are looking at cuts of between $500 thousand and $1 million. The largest cut is $1.65 million at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. Some of the districts being hit hardest: Districts 2 and 31 both are looking at $23 million in cuts; District 10 is looking at $26 million.

Under this scenario, we fully expect class sizes to rise sharply. According to last week’s report by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, almost half of all schools are already overcrowded, so if schools excess teachers, the situation will be even worse.

We’re already hearing from schools about what they fear could be lost because of these cuts. Everything from the elimination of after-school activities, Saturday classes, academic intervention programs and tutoring to the possible lay-off of paraprofessionals, many of whom work with our most challenged students. Supplies, materials, books, and equipment would also be scarce, and cleanliness and routine repairs would be compromised.

For example, at IS 125 in Woodside, Queens, teachers there fear that clubs, school plays, after school test prep programs and Saturday programs will also be eliminated, as will most money for school supplies. At PS 230 in Brooklyn, their academic intervention program that supports ELL students during the math and ELA preparation would be dismantled. At Thomas Edison HS in Queens, a CTE school, their after school and Saturday tutoring programs would be affected. The loss of the Saturday program would affect almost 500 students, many of whom are considered at-risk.

The true magnitude of the proposed cuts will be come clear in the coming weeks as many more stories like these emerge.

MOVING FORWARD

We know the economic challenges the city faces mean that education will probably not go unscathed. But we also know that by working together in Washington and Albany, we were able to achieve great things, and with that same can-do attitude and creative thinking, the city can restore even more funding for schools. I am here today to ask the Council and the Mayor to restore as much education funding as possible, and to pursue alternative strategies such as raising additional revenues to offset these cuts. We implore you and your colleagues to be aggressive in this regard. The current reductions will be at the expense of classroom instruction and support staff who help the most vulnerable students. We have come too far to let that happen.

Part of our collective work is to ensure fiscally prudent decisions are made. We are pleased that the DoE implemented a new hiring policy that will maximize, not waste, existing talent. That move was a clear example of good management. At the same time, we also strongly believe that the Department of Education can go farther still in streamlining its central bureaucracy and thus further minimize the cuts that schools need to make.

During this tough fiscal climate, we have frequently suggested alternatives because we firmly believe that there are less onerous and more just ways to save on school spending. Given the current economic crisis, it is crucial that every dollar be spent wisely. For example, other strategies that could be pursued include suspending the Leadership Academy for one year, which could save $10 million; reduce the number of F status employees, which currently stands at about 1,800 people; further review and replace external consultants and contract agencies with DOE in-house staff; use the existing New York State data systems in lieu of ARIS, which could save up to $20 million savings; downsize the Office of Accountability, which could save up to $22.8 million; eliminate the McGraw Hill “Acuity” program of periodic assessments ($25 million); and suspend bonus programs.

Additionally, we recommend that the Department of Education pursue a retirement incentive for veteran teachers. While no one wants to lose experienced teachers, a retirement incentive would not only save the school system money by replacing higher paid veterans with new hires, but it might allow for a partial lifting of the hiring freeze, which would give the next generation of great teachers a chance to begin their careers in New York City public schools. There would be approximately 25,000 people eligible for a retirement incentive.

Since we know the federal government will be closely monitoring the use of stimulus funding, the Council should also again push for a more open, transparent budget process that includes actively engaging School Leadership Teams (SLTs) as real partners at the school level.

Whatever solutions the city chooses to pursue, we know one big thing: The city can’t make up for the gap in revenues caused by the collapse of the financial sector and its impact on real estate and business services simply through efficiency savings and cuts to vital services. Increased revenue streams are vital, given that the Independent Budget Office’s calculations of city revenues are consistently lower than are those of the mayor’s Office of Management and Budget through Fiscal Year 2012.

EDUCATION PROGRAMS

Two Council programs require your special attention. These are initiatives that were funded by the Council and are part of the Council’s legacy to city residents.

We urge you to reauthorize funding for the Teacher’s Choice school supply program — originally intended for classroom items for special projects that teachers felt their students needed but the school did not supply — but now are used for basic supplies. Teachers have always spent sizable amounts — the average teacher spends $400 to $500. This school year they spent even more after the allocation was trimmed by a third to only about $150, about 30 percent of what an average teacher spends. Our teachers, like everyone else in this city, share the pain of the brutal national recession. Without supply money, they will either spend less on their families or less on their students. I don’t think that’s something we can ignore.

The Provider’s Choice program for home child care providers also needs your continued support. Quality early childhood care is critical to a child’s development, and cutbacks in ACS and city-funded day care will mean that these providers take on even larger roles in caring for and educating young children in their neighborhoods. That means the need for age-appropriate educational materials and supplies will only grow. Both these programs, widely viewed as successes, should be reauthorized and if possible, enhanced.

We also want to stress the importance of the ELL Success Incentive grants and the Middle School Success grants, both of which the Council financed last year for $7 million and $12 million respectively, and both of which were positive additions to our schools. We want to see these programs continue.

CONCLUSION

We all still understand very clearly that our city’s economy and its citizens are still struggling. Businesses are still downsizing or closing, and jobs are still being lost at an alarming rate. All of us have neighbors, colleagues, friends or family members who are really hurting right now, and many of them have school-age children.

We all understand the importance of a quality education to a child’s future. Strong schools are integral to our neighborhoods, and veritable lifelines to New Yorkers straining to survive this economic downturn.

That is why we are here today urging the Council once again to step up and protect our classrooms and the social services on which so many New Yorkers depend. We make the same appeal to the Council as do our partners in the One New York: Fighting for Fairness Coalition; that in economic hard-times, it’s the duty of public officials to ensure that the city’s most vulnerable — the aged, the infirm, low income families and children — survive and thrive. Everyone here today is invested in our public schools, whose strength is vital to our communities. We are all stakeholders. The city needs to spend frugally, but it needs to spend wisely, too. Its social safety net of services, including its public schools, can’t be allowed to fray.

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