April 27, 2012
Slashing parent coordinators, charging rent to charter schools, and limiting time spent in the Absent Teacher Reserve are among the menu items that the city’s budget watchdog said could save the city hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Independent Budget Office released its annual list of options that it believes city government officials should consider as they head into their final negotiations before adopting a budget for the 2013 fiscal year. The Department of Education, an agency that eats up about one-third of the $67 billion citywide budget, was listed in 10 of the 72 recommendations.
The IBO estimated that the city could raise $53 million in revenue by charging rent to charter schools and save $28 million if it slashed its summer school program.
The ideas reflected policy positions from all corners of the ideological map. Some of the proposals can also be found on a list of contract demands the city made in 2010. But others are straight from the teachers union’s wishlist.
“Mostly bad ideas,” a spokesman for the union, Dick Riley, wrote in an email, referring specifically to the summer school cuts. “And a few promising ones – like charging rent to charter operators.”
James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center, disagreed.
“Charter schools are public schools, so asking them to pay rent is like asking the fire department to pay for their firehouses or the NYPD to pay for their precincts,” Merriman said in a statement.
Others options on the table are to eliminate all parent coordinators – and save $70 million – and end a $32.6 million teacher coach program.
The proposal to charge charter schools rent has emerged as a contentious issue in the last year. Last February, the IBO estimated that charter school students in public school buildings received about $700 more than their DOE counterparts, largely because the schools don’t have to budget for rent and other building-related costs. This summer, education advocates filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education for not collecting an estimated $100 million for these costs.
One item that Riley declined to comment on was a proposal to cap the number of years that excessed teachers should be allowed to collect salary as part the Absent Teacher Reserve . That proposal would save the city $53 million annually.
The issue has been buoyed by the Department of Education and The New Teacher Project in the past, but it has not gotten as much attention during budget talks in recent years. Last year’s budget negotiations to save thousands of teaching positions yielded an ATR deal that required excessed teachers to replace substitute teachers by filling short- and long-term vacancies.
Previously, the IBO has generally left education cuts alone when it publishes the report, but it has bulked up its education division after legislators named it a data watchdog for the Department of Education in 2009.
This year’s report reflects the closer scrutiny. Seven of the 15 budget options added to the 2012 version were education-related. There’s even a proposal “encourage” teachers to complete jury duty in the summer months so they don’t have to miss as much time ($2.4 millionin estimated savings) and one to eliminate a “Banking Time” mandate that gives DOE central staff 20 minutes every two weeks to cash in their checks at a nearby bank ($1 million).
IBO officials said the point of the report isn’t a popularity contest, but rather a tool to help key budget negotiators during their final round of talks on the adopted budget.
“Budgeting is a series of tradeoffs as the Mayor, City Council Members, and other city officials seek to balance the level of services that can be provided with the revenues that must be raised to fund those services,” said IBO Director Ronnie Lowenstein. “This volume is designed to help city officials and the public consider how some of the tradeoffs can be achieved.”
A full copy of the report is embedded below. Here’s all the education-related cuts and their projected savings (*denotes new option)
- Eliminate Public Funding of Transportation For Private School Students* ($39 million)
- Eliminate Elementary and Middle Summer School Program ($28 million)
- Impose a One-Year Hiatus on the Creation of New Small Schools ($14.4 million)
- Eliminate City Dollars and Contracts for Excellence Funds for Teacher Coaches ($32.6 million)
- Eliminate Hiring Exception for New Schools ($12 million)
- Institute Time Limits for Excessed Teachers In the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool ($50 million)
- Eliminate the 20-Minute “Banking Time” For Certain Education Department Staff ($1 million)
- Encourage Classroom Teachers to Serve Jury Duty During Noninstructional Summer Months ($2.4 million)
- Charge Rent to Charter Schools in Shared Facilities ($53 million)