November 21, 2008
I’m at the City Council and will give updates as they happen.
4:09 p.m. Hearing is over, on a sad, mixed with let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves, note.
4:02 p.m. Another thing being cut is general maintenance. There will also be 71 skilled trades workers who are based centrally and then deployed to help with repairs — plumbers, carpenters, for instance — who will lose their jobs. And Grimm said earlier that the budgets given to custodians based in schools will be reduced by about $4 million this year.
What will that mean? Likely it will mean that some assistants to custodians will lose their jobs, Grimm said. And there’s another thing: the floors. “I always say we have the best floors in New York City; our floors sparkle,” she said. “Maybe they won’t sparkle quite as much.”
3:54 p.m. For such a big-deal kind of hearing, where the DOE is giving more details on planned cuts than ever yet, the room is shockingly empty. Guess that’s what you get for being a watchdog late on a Friday afternoon.
3:50 p.m. The DOE has already alerted principals to the cuts it expects to make during the middle of this year and then next year. But of course, those cuts aren’t real until the City Council approves them. Nevertheless, this hearing keeps sounding like it’s a done deal: Grimm was just explaining that today is the deadline for principals to submit a plan on how they’ll cut their budgets this year; then, we were told, the DOE will review those plans. Finally, Susan Olds, the department’s director of budgeting, said the process will be “complete” in just a few weeks, when the review process is through.
And what about council approval? Grimm cut in with a chuckle: “Of course, the process will not be totally complete until the council votes on the package.”
3:37 p.m. John Liu, of Queens, also asked a question about the federal No Child Left Behind law. Echoing the criticism of Democrats that the law has been an “unfunded mandate,” he asked how much un-funding is happening in New York – in other words, how much isn’t New York getting. “We need to know the number so that we know how much to ask the new president for,” Liu said.
3:27 p.m. Just want to clarify, because even City Council members keep asking: No layoffs at the schools! Teachers at schools stay at the schools, and so do guidance counselors and art teachers and parent coordinators. Only administrative personnel — bureaucrats — are being fired.
3:14 p.m. John Liu of Queens is interrogating Kathleen Grimm on the DOE’s decision not to centralize kindergarten admissions, after all. He asked Grimm how much money was “wasted” moving toward that goal before it was abandoned. “I would guess it’s a least a couple of million dollars, maybe more than that,” he said. Grimm said she would have to look into it.
3:06 p.m. A council member summarized the new “empowerment” budgeting that allows school to pick a support organization to be work with, paying a fee for each organization depending on their preference. The organizations then provide help with professional development and budgeting. The member said he likes that new setup, but wonders whether the empowerment idea could be expanded, so that schools could opt out of paying for support services altogether. “Why not really do it?” he asked, adding that he visited several schools recently that said they would rather spend the money on something else, like a new art teacher. Grimm said that is something the Department of Education is considering.
2:51 p.m. Council Member Lew Fidler said that a neighbor of his replaced all the light bulbs in hise house with energy-efficient ones — and reduced his energy bill 15%. He asked whether the Department of Education could do that in schools. Grimm said the energy budget is $202 million annually for schools and said she’d look into energy-efficient light bulbs.
2:40 p.m. Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s public advocate, stopped in and sparred with Grimm over the report she commissioned from the Independent Budget Office, asking how much accountability initiatives cost. She complained that her office requested the report in February, and it only came this month. She said disagreements with the Department of Education caused the long delay. “You all were arguing with the IBO to such an extent that we felt, I felt, from hearing from them that the things you were arguing about just weren’t making a whole lot of sense, and that you really didn’t want to show us how much money is being spent on accountability,” Gotbaum said.
2:20 p.m. Kathleen Grimm, the deputy chancellor in charge of budgets, is testifying. She broke down the 475 personnel cuts the department has said are coming. From the central offices at Tweed Courthouse, 284 jobs will be cut. She said “every single office” is experiencing a reduction. Not all 284 cuts have been made yet, but she read off a list of sample jobs that have already been identified. I heard her list the Office of Communications three times, meaning at least three jobs cut from there. Also the Office of Portfolio Development, which manages new small schools and charter schools; a few technology office jobs, and at least one from the Office of Family Engagement.