The damage of these pending closures, coupled with years of the mayor’s political teacher bashing, has made being a public school teacher in New York City difficult. What is worse, the quality of education of our students will be put at risk unless we can ensure that the teachers hired in this massive shuffle will be hired because they are the most qualified teachers - not the least expensive.
Last month, I introduced New York City Council Resolution 1294 to require that the Department of Education calculate teachers’ salaries against the entire DOE operating budget and not that of an individual school. This policy would relieve principals from having to worry about finding the funds to hire more experienced - albeit more expensive - teachers and protect senior level teachers from a current unfair hiring policy.
Since 2007, the Department has been using the Fair Student Funding (FSF) formula to distribute its $4.8 billion operating budget among schools. Individual principals are responsible for balancing their school’s budget and hiring staff at their discretion.
As the Bloomberg Administration continues with its plan to close and re-open underperforming schools throughout the city, this current policy potentially increases the number of less experienced teachers in classrooms of new schools. The principals at new schools, in particular, feel pressured to select inexperienced and less educated teachers and therefore, less expensive teachers, over more experienced teachers with advanced education.
Schools that have opened since 2007, following FSF, are also ineligible for receiving Legacy Teacher Supplement funds, which are given to older schools as a separate allocation for teachers to fund the salaries of experienced teachers. Without these funds, principals in new schools are often forced to choose less experienced teachers in order to work within their budget.
During its early stages, a new school demands the expertise and background experience of senior-level educators. Teachers employed in these new schools will face a multitude of challenges. Compared to the ity as a whole, 23 of the schools to reopen this fall have historically served higher proportions of special-education students and students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches, as well as lower proportions of students proficient in math and language arts.
As Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott continue to close and reopen schools at an unprecedented rate, our schools only stand to become more unstable under the current policy. If we do not address it now, the DOE will slowly force out our most qualified teachers and create even more setbacks for students.
By issuing units of appropriation from the DOE’s central budget, rather than using an individual school’s budget, principals would have more leverage in their hiring choices. In the NYPD, FDNY and most city agencies, units of appropriation are used. We would never ask police precinct commanders to choose new officers over experienced ones due to cost saving measures.
Similarly, we should not ask principals to choose teachers based on salary. Under my proposed policy, principals would have more leverage and could hire the teachers they think will be the best, not the least expensive. Principals should have the freedom to choose the best teacher for the students, not the best teacher for the budget. Ultimately, this would relieve principals from having to sacrifice teacher quality in their effort to work within the budgetary confines.
Having a qualified, experienced teacher in the classroom can mean the difference between a student’s academic success versus failure. The current policy hurts students and puts new schools at a serious disadvantage. Despite a great deal of challenges, our teachers work extremely hard to build our children’s foundation and open opportunities for them in the future.
Perhaps, this week, we can all take an opportunity to thank a teacher and think about new ways in which we can help them succeed in preparing our children for the future. Let's send a message to the Mayor that treating our classrooms like they are corporate entities is wrong for our city and our future and pass Resolution 1294.